Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Is Cactus League Bad for Batting?

In the Fan's daily perusal around the state of baseball, a stop at's sortable team stats seemed interesting. While the Fan has stated over and over again that pre-season stats are meaningless, it was noticed that the top eleven teams in batting average this spring played in the Cactus League (Arizona). It isn't until the 12th position do you find the first Grapefruit League team (the Blue Jays). Going further, it was noticed that the top seven teams in team slugging this spring played in the Cactus League. You have to go to the eighth place team to find the Phillies from the Grapefruit League. That led to a couple of questions. First, is training and evaluating pitchers and hitters in Arizona more difficult than it should be? And secondly, does the hitting conditions in Arizona adversely affect a team's batting once they get back to where they belong?

The answer to the first question is: It has to make it more difficult to evaluate pitching and offense when playing in Arizona. Eleven of the bottom twelve pitching teams this spring have played their spring games in Arizona. That has to make it very difficult to figure out where your pitching stands when the conditions are so conducive to hitting. For that reason alone, the Fan would tell Texas Rangers' fans to calm down a bit about their pitching. They are not alone in this Arizona effect.

The teams that play in Arizona are: the Giants, the Rockies, the Mariners, the Royals, the Braves, the Reds, the Angels, the Indians, the Rangers, the Athletics, the Padres, the Cubs, the Dodgers, the White Sox, the Diamondbacks and the Brewers.

The second question involves whether training in such a hitting-friendly environment affect team performance once the teams return to their home ballparks. The answers there seem to be mixed. If a team is originally from the west, the teams seem to have their best batting months the first month of the season. The teams from more eastern locales seem to struggle early in the season upon returning home. The Giants, Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Brewers all had their best offensive months the first month of last season (judging by OPS). The Braves, Reds, Rangers and White Sox had their worst offensive months the first month of the season after returning home from Arizona. The Cubs had a middling month of April last year, declined the next two months and then picked it up for the rest of the season.

This post doesn't attempt to answer deep such deep seated questions as its writer is not qualified enough as a researcher to tackle the data. This post only attempts to open the question to writers and analysts with the talent to answer the questions. A second thought on the little data this writer did cull is if these western teams had their best month the first month of the season after training in Arizona and went downhill the rest of the season, were they coming down from an artificial high created by their spring? And conversely, did the more eastern teams suffer a letdown at the beginning when going home and then build from there?

All this Fan can do is pose the questions. Other talented people would have to answer the questions.

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