Spring is the ultimate season for optimists. The chill of winter is receding, snowbound regions are on the verge of seeing green grass again (really -- we promise!) and nature’s annual renewal picks up speed as the sun shines longer and the air regains a hint of warmth and moisture.
Spring training is the ultimate season for baseball fans, for all of the reasons stated above -- and for the hope of a magical summer to come. Last season’s disappointments are dead and buried, replaced by dreams of record-chasing superstars and hot-shot rookies leading the hometown nine through a pennant chase for the ages.
But how much stock should those fans put into when these two mix? We took a look at the past 10 years, and compared composite spring training records with regular-season records for all 30 franchises to see which teams routinely create the most false hope and which squads tend to lie in the weeds, waiting to strike when the games count most.
The top spring overachievers are the Kansas City Royals, whose average spring winning percentage of .553 the past 10 years led to an average regular-season winning percentage of .419, a drop-off of .132 percentage points -- the only team with a triple-figure decline in winning percentage.
Other top teases include the Colorado Rockies (.076 worse from spring to regular season), Detroit Tigers (.050), Minnesota Twins (.048) and Cleveland Indians (.044). That’s four AL Central teams among the five biggest spring training teases. In other words, if you’re a Chicago White Sox fan and your team isn’t stacking up with the rest of the division this month, don’t sweat it -- the competition is likely to come back to the pack.
And the White Sox are likely to improve -- along with the Philadelphia Phillies (.104 improvement), the Sox (.101) are one of two teams with triple-digit increases in their winning percentages from spring to regular season the past 10 years. They’re followed by the Los Angeles Dodgers (.079), Boston Red Sox (.058) and New York Yankees (.057 improvement) among teams whose spring performances shouldn’t set off alarms among their respective fan bases.
Not that spring training performances are always meaningless -- in the past 10 years, the team with the best winning percentage in spring ball made the playoffs five times (2004 Twins, 2005 Los Angeles/Anaheim Angels, 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, 2009 Angels and 2010 Rays). And in that same span, the team with the worst record in spring training has never made the playoffs.