The Best, Worst, And Weirdest Spring Training Hitters Of Our Age

Herein, we visit the most remarkable Spring Training batting performances of recent times, and stumble upon a startling discovery: years after his retirement, pitcher Mike Maddux appears to have caught a Spring Training game.

Spring Training stats are generally only available dating back to 2002, they offer limited sample size, and they reflect the performances of hitters who are facing pitchers who are experimenting and trying new things. They are not at all reliable indicators of how a player will do in the regular season, or anything else of importance, really. I guess we'd better look at them in-depth, right?

Here are the five best Spring Training performances of the last 10 years, the five worst, and -- most importantly -- one of the weirdest, least explainable box scores I've ever come across.

THE BEST

5. Greg Norton, Rockies, 2002
43 AB, .512 AVG, 5 HR, .930 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .405 SLG

Norton, who spent his playing years as a journeyman outfielder and corner infielder, slugged .419 throughout his career. He more than doubled that mark during these 21 magical games.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
The Antivirus, Good Ol' Greggy, Great Ol' Greggy, Great Greggy, Greggy

4. Sean Rodriguez, Rays, 2010
43 AB, .474 AVG, 6 HR, .873 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .397 SLG

Entering 2010's Spring Training, Rodriguez had slugged .333 in 71 career games. We're only talking about 43 at-bats, of course, but 29 hits and six home runs are pretty damn good for a guy who hits a home run every 41 Major League at-bats.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
S-Rod, Rowdy Roddy Riguez, SR-71, SR-71: The Sensational Rock And Roll Band: The Baseball Player

3. Jeff Bagwell, Astros, 2002
56 AB, .446 AVG, 7 HR, .946 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .518 SLG

I looked through every Spring Training stat table since 2002, and I couldn't find a single Spring Trainee who hit more than seven home runs. That surprised me, because while seven home runs in, say, 56 at-bats is pretty damn impressive, players have certainly found themselves on more dramatic home run tears in the regular season.

Jeff Bagwell was later denied entry to the Hall of Fame because everyone found tons of evidence that he did steroids.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
Jeff Bagwell Who Will Never Enter The Hall Of Fame, Jeff The Steroid-Doer, Steroid Face, Steroid Butt, Steroid Buttface, Fraud, Clown, Clownfraud

2. Todd Helton, Rockies, 2004 and 2009
2004: 43 AB, .442 AVG, 6 HR, .953 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .620 SLG
2009: 40 AB, .525 AVG, 4 HR, .950 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .489 SLG

Helton makes this list by virtue of two different Spring Training performances in which he absolutely destroyed opposing pitching. Actually, he crushes almost every Spring Training. Here are a few of his other performances:

2011: .372 average, .905 OPS
2008: .415 average, 1.195 OPS
2007: .396 average, .923 OPS
2006: .424 average, 1.263 OPS

Add these six Spring Trainings together and you have 240 at-bats -- about half a season's worth of hitting .430. Helton might well be the best Spring Trainee of his generation.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
Veteran Catcher Mickey Toddhelton

1. Erubiel Durazo, Diamondbacks, 2002
43 AB, .535 AVG, 6 HR, 1.047 SLG
Subsequent regular season: .550 SLG

This is the single best Spring Training I was able to find from a hitter since 2002. Durazo was a great batter, in fact, and if injuries hadn't set him back, I think he could have been one of the better hitters in baseball.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
Fans just stared at his name on the scorecard and stared and stared and stared and stared and then just called him K-Dog

THE WORST

5. Adam Everett, Tigers, 2010
48 AB, .083 AVG
Subsequent regular season: 89 AB, .185 AVG, .247 SLG

Most responsible managers would see someone like Adam Everett go 2-for-30 and cut him off. Jim Leyland just kept serving him, and the result was a tragic 4-for-48. Regardless, Everett was penciled into the Opening Day lineup anyway, after which it became evident that he had regressed from a bad hitter to a really super-bad hitter.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
A For Everett

4. Ben Davis, Mariners, 2004
35 AB, .057 AVG
Subsequent regular season: 208 AB, .207 AVG, .347 SLG

This one's kind of a bummer. Throughout his career, Davis managed to be a not-horrible hitter for a platoon catcher. Then, at age 27, he had an absolutely terrible Spring Training, and after managing only three hits in his first 33 at-bats, the Mariners shipped him out of town. He spent several years in the minors before retiring in 2010.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
Used To Be Davis

3. Engel Beltre, Rangers, 2011
17 AB, .000 AVG
Subsequent regular season: did not play in majors

A month after his hitless Spring Training, Beltre was suspended for fighting with fans in double-A, and he was pretty disappointing when he did play. Scouts still have very nice things to say about him, however, and he's only 21.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
The Crow: Shitty of Engels (the worse you are, the further fans are willing to stretch to give you a derisive nickname)

2. Lars Anderson, Red Sox, 2010
18 AB, .000 AVG
Subsequent regular season: 35 AB, .200 AVG

Lars Anderson has already hit a grand slam in 2012's Spring Training, and good for him, because he seems to have plenty of talent.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later:
Lars Hitless Collider

1. Ray Olmedo, Blue Jays, 2007
21 AB, .000 AVG
Subsequent regular season: 51 AB, .216 AVG

Olmedo was never really able to hit to save his life, and he doesn't seem to be an especially good fielder either. He hasn't appeared in the Majors in five years, but he's still in the minors, plugging away and slugging .340 year after year. In some cases you don't really mourn a player's ability to make in the Majors, so much as you celebrate the implausible circumstances that got him there in the first place.

Nickname fans probably gave him and then completely forgot about a month later: Welp

THE VERY WEIRDEST

Mike Maddux (???), Astros, 2003

With some help from Al Yellon, I've found two pieces of evidence indicating that a "M. Maddux" played in an Astros Spring Training game in 2003 (this stat sheet, and this box score). Baseball-Reference turns up only one "M. Maddux" who played in the majors or minors in the history of baseball. That, of course, is Mike Maddux.

Here's the thing: Mike Maddux retired from playing baseball in 2000, three years prior to this game.

Here's the second thing: This "M. Maddux" was penciled in as a catcher, which means this was more than just a single at-bat. He apparently took the field behind home plate.

Here's the third thing: My guess was that Maddux was a pitching coach for the Astros at the time, and everyone just decided to have a little fun and let him play. But as far as I can gather, Maddux was actually the Brewers' pitching coach in 2003. The Brewers were nowhere near this game.

This, as far as I can determine, narrows the possibilities to these:

  1. Mike Maddux really did play catcher for the Houston Astros for some damn reason, despite a) being retired, b) being employed by another team, and c) never having played anything but pitcher in his Major League career.
  2. There's a different "M. Maddux" who is so thoroughly forgotten in the sands of time that there are no records of his existence apart from this game.
  3. The scorekeeper made a really weird mistake.
  4. The scorekeeper is totally screwing with us, the "us" being some knucklehead baseball writer who just happened to come across it nine years later.

I'm afraid I must leave this case unsolved. I am too confused. I do, however, encourage you to let us know if you know ANYTHING about this incident. Did you witness this? Are you in a position to ask Mr. Maddux himself? Please let us know. It is impossible to overstate the gravity of this situation.

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