I'm going to start a new tradition. From now until the end of my baseball-writing days, I'm going to start March off by recounting the Fable of Barry Zito. Here goes.
Last year in spring training, coming off the worst season of his career, Barry Zito allowed 44 baserunners in 19 innings. Then in his first start of the regular season, he threw the first shutout of his six-year Giants career. It was only the 19th shutout in the history of Coors Field. Then for the rest of the year he was pretty much Barry Zito.
Thus endeth the Fable of Barry Zito. There's a sequel that has to do with small-sample fun, but for now we'll focus on the spring he had last year. It was completely meaningless. He had a new delivery out of the stretch. Best shape of his life. Probably learned a new pitch. Maybe there was a new diet? The works. And it meant nothing.
When you get too excited or antsy about spring successes or failures, remember the Fable of Barry Zito.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to ignore it and list the three pitchers whose spring performances and stats I'm actually going to pay attention to. Because I'm stupid.
I want to talk myself out of paying too much attention to Chapman's stats, at least at the beginning. He threw two scoreless innings on Thursday, for example. That's great. We knew Chapman could throw two scoreless innings. Also: Mike Trout is fast.
But as he gets stretched out, he becomes a pitcher of interest. He was a fastball/slider guy last year because that's all he needed. But now he's experimenting with a change and refining a split-finger:
"That was nice," pitching coach Bryan Price said. "He was able to repeat some good pitches. He threw different pitches for strikes -- the fastball, the slider and the [split-fingered pitch]. He was pretty sharp for this early in camp."
Chapman also threw one changeup, for a total of four pitches used in the game.
And it's worth paying attention to his stats. Well, almost. If he struggles, no one will care. Just a guy fiddlin' around when he has the chance. Pay no mind. He'll get it together.
But if he uses all of his pitches effectively, showing good command and control with his split, slider, and change, and he puts up gaudy spring stats …
Yeah. Try not to notice if that happens.
If you're going to look up in August and see the Indians in the playoff hunt, they'll need to have a pitcher or two worth a damn. And while there are risks and rewards with guys like Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Zach McAllister, none of them strike me as the type to break out and dominate.
That would be Bauer. And there's no reason his spring stats would mean anything, except they would probably dictate if he can take the fifth spot in the rotation away from Carlos Carrasco. And Bauer in the rotation instead of sulking in Triple-A could be a mistake. But it's also the only high-reward move the Indians have left with their starting five.
Alright, maybe not the actual Jonathan Sanchez, who is something of a longshot to make the Pirates' rotation. But Sanchez is synecdoche for an entire class of down-on-their-luck pitchers with control problems last year. Sanchez is one. Ricky Romero is another. Did you know Scott Kazmir is battling Bauer for the last spot in the Indians' rotation? And even though I made this in response to concerns about Tim Lincecum, you can be sure I'll pay close attention to his walk rate.
And that's all you're looking for with this group. Do they have bad control? Hey, it happens. But do they have miserable, completely untenable control problems? You can ignore when a high-strikeout guy has a low-strikeout spring. You can ignore when, say, Roy Halladay issues a bunch of walks in March. But when Jonathan Sanchez walks four batters in two-thirds of an inning -- which he did on Thursday -- that's going to make you think what's broken with Sanchez isn't fixed. Walks for high-risk pitchers are something you should pay some attention to, at least.
You know, just like Barry Zito's walk rate last March.
Spring training is a beautiful thing, but it's also kind of annoying. For three pitchers, though, I'll have fun pretending their spring stats are more interesting than they probably are. Just don't think about Barry Zito, and you'll be fine.