It's easy to lose yourself in the noise of Spring Training statistics. They mean nothing, and we know they mean nothing, and yet as the regular season appears on the horizon, offering itself as a playground full of both delights and horrors, we mutter in our heads "It doesn't matter that every starting pitcher has been awful this spring." Our legs twitch and our brains run amok and we tell ourselves "These performances never correlate with the regular season." And we repeat the refrain that we know by heart, hear and say every spring, and never quite believe: "Let's not overreact to some small sample size Spring Training numbers."
Anyway, let's overreact to some small sample size Spring Training numbers.
Former first round pick Chris Stratton has been lighting it up this spring, which is a little surprising, since he hasn't been good at preventing runs from scoring since he was in Augusta in 2013. He spent most of 2014 in San Jose, where he was able to strike guys out without actually being good. Near the end of the year, he was promoted to Richmond, where he got slightly better results with worse peripherals; when he came to Sacramento around the middle of 2015, he again moderately improved his run prevention while again being worse at striking out batters. And now it's 2016, and we're two weeks away from the start of the season, and so far, he's doing even better.
Sample size caveats apply, of course. We're talking about just 10 innings in the spring where Stratton has a 1.80 ERA. That wouldn't mean a whole lot in the regular season, much less now. And his peripherals are, again, nothing special; in those 10 innings he's recorded seven strikeouts and walked five. But this isn't just about stats. It's also about the way he looks in the spring, which is probably the more important part of a player's performance. And by that measure, Stratton's grading out very well:
Lot of ugly pitching numbers for #SFGiants, but Chris Stratton just carved up the Diamondbacks and has thrown 9 scoreless IP this spring.— Andrew Baggarly (@extrabaggs) March 23, 2016
Don’t see many pitchers break down Goldschmidt’s swing the way Stratton just did with breaking ball. #SFGiants— Henry Schulman (@hankschulman) March 23, 2016
And now Chris Stratton strikes out the side.— Alex Pavlovic (@AlexPavlovic) March 23, 2016
HE GOT PAUL GOLDSCHMIDT OUT ONE TIME SIGN HIM TO A 70 YEAR CONTRACT QUICK QUICK BEFORE ANYONE NOTICES.
The organization's impressed, too. Bruce Bochy told CSN Bay Area that:
"He was really good," Bochy said. "The ball was coming out of his hand nice tonight ... He's a guy that's on our radar."
This is a big step up for Stratton, who's mostly been dismissed over the last year or two. In 2014, BP's Ron Shah said, "I do not believe he will be able to miss enough bats to profile as anything more than a back-end starter." Last spring, I described him as "the former first-round pick whose prospect star is fading," and over the most recent offseason, Baseball America's JJ Cooper offered the tepid not-really praise of "He wasn’t horrendous in 2015." And over at Fangraphs yesterday, Stratton's slider was described as average, "but the rest of his arsenal and command are fringy."
So what's the rebuttal to all of that? What counterpoint could there be to "scouts and stats have both found him to be mediocre over the last two years"? Well, basically, the counterpoint is that the Giants see something in him. They promoted him to Richmond when he wasn't good in San Jose, they promoted him to Sacramento when he wasn't especially impressive in Richmond, and he has a 40-man spot. There is something that the organization likes that no one else does. It's possible that it's nothing more than his draft pedigree, but it's also possible that all of the information that they have and we don't is telling them that Chris Stratton could be better than we all expect.
We don't know and we can't know. Stratton will start the year in the River Cats rotation, and on the Giants' 40-man roster. Maybe he'll prove the doubters right, or maybe he'll prove the team right. Let's just start some real baseball games already, so we can find out.