As the 2016 Oakland Athletics complete their first week of games in spring, it’s important to remember why we cannot read too much into the results of these exhibition games. It’s more important to play well as the month of March progresses, and in the end, the team’s win-loss record doesn’t really mean much in terms of predicting regular-season performance.
Last year, for example, the A’s had the best record (22-11) in spring ball of all MLB teams, along with the best run-scoring differential (plus-59), too. Yet when the dust settled in the fall, it was Oakland sitting at the bottom of the American League standings with a 68-94 mark. What went wrong between March and October? Anything and everything.
Ten seasons ago, the situation was somewhat reversed: The A’s finished under .500 in spring with a 15-17 mark, and then Oakland rolled to the AL West Division title with 93 wins and its only appearance in the AL Championship Series since 1992. How did that happen? There’s no simple answer, of course, but it really teaches us that exhibition games are just that: practice games.
The A’s have a 3-2 spring record coming after today’s win over the Kansas City Royals, and there’s nothing to see in that right now. For example, Oakland starter Jesse Hahn is learning to pitch without his slider this season in order to reduce risk of injury. He gave up a home run today in the first inning, but Hahn didn’t allow another hit after that: He’s adjusting, and he will continue to do so throughout spring in order to be ready for April’s meaningful games.
Does anyone really care that he gave up a HR?
“I felt great today,” Hahn told MLB.com after the game. “I was really excited about that. I think the stuff was there. Obviously, this early on I think there’s a little rust I need to work out, need to get the ball down a little bit. But still, in my mind I’m healthy, and that’s all I really cared about, was to go out there for the first time and feel good.”
Other players—like outfielder Coco Crisp, for example—are working their way back from 2015 injuries, and they may be limited at first. The team wants to get them playing time, but not at the expense of a few meaningless exhibition wins. Thus, Crisp and players like him might not play a lot of innings, and when you’re giving at-bats and innings to raw kids from the minor leagues, the win-loss record becomes less important.
So, as Oakland piles up wins and losses this month, don’t read too much into it. Just remember, the games that matter begin in April, and until then, this is all just practice.