Clubs snoozing, not losing, in Spring Training

Several teams push back start times during camp to aid players' rest

February 18th, 2018

You snooze, you lose? Not in the modern Major League camp.

Only the sleep-deprived among us would fail to notice a brewing Spring Training trend in which multiple teams are beginning their morning workouts up to an hour later than they previously did. More teams are awakening to the idea that sleep impacts performance, and that rest is a key part of preparing for a long, grinding 162-game season.

And so, they're hitting the snooze button in Yankees camp -- where this idea was first dreamed up a few years ago. They're doing it in the camps of the Rays, Cardinals, Mets, Phillies, Royals, Giants and Mariners, too.

"I'm all for it, dude," Royals left-hander Danny Duffy said. "I'm not what you [would] call a morning person anyway. I mean, 90 percent of our games are night games during the season, so who wants to get up early?"

That's a simply stated counter-argument to the old-school approach of the cracks of bats beginning shortly after the crack of dawn.

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For as long as anybody can remember, it has been typical for morning workouts to begin with a team stretch somewhere in the neighborhood of 9:30 a.m., with the full workout beginning by 10 a.m. These rituals are preceded by the anticipatory affair known as early work -- infielders taking ground balls in the 7 a.m. hour, batters hitting in the indoor cages, etc.

We in the media have long lionized those who are the first through the door and the last to leave. But, in recent years, teams in all major professional sports have been rethinking rest patterns -- in terms of in-game usage. It only stands to reason that the concept would extend to spring preparation, too.

Back in 2016, the Yankees pushed their morning workout back to 11:30 a.m., as a result of a sleep study conducted by Stanford professor Scott Kutscher -- who posited the so-simple-it-ought-not-be-revolutionary idea that the spring schedule should more closely reflect the regular-season schedule.

"These are still young men whose primary job is a nighttime job," Kutscher told the Wall Street Journal that year. "So you want to get in line with how their bodies are going to respond, and how you want to perform."

Now, the alarm is sounding later for multiple clubs.

The Cardinals conducted a sleep-efficiency study on their players last spring and decided to push both the earliest optional and mandatory report times back an hour as a result. Players aren't allowed in the clubhouse before 7 a.m., and they can arrive as late as 10:30 a.m.

"As we went through our sleep trackers last year, we found our guys were getting less than seven good hours of sleep a night," Cards manager Mike Matheny said. "That's just not enough for what we're asking them. ... For us to get that information and not do something with it -- and not do something proactive -- I think is a misuse of the information."

There are other practical reasons to push things back, as articulated by Matt Klentak, general manager of a Phillies team that has pushed its workouts back an hour.

"If your workout's beginning at 9:30, that means your early work is getting done between 7:30 and 9:30," Klentak said. "You know what happens on a humid Florida night? The field gets really wet, and it's not optimal conditions to do early work."

But it's not just about sleep itself. Some teams are taking a closer look at the volume of work that occurs within their workouts.

The Mets, who are no strangers to the injury bug, recently hired a "high-performance director" to oversee medical and training issues. New manager Mickey Callaway has also pushed workouts back a half-hour and shortened them.

"Before, guys were sitting around for 15 minutes before their next station," Callaway told the New York Post. "They're sitting there talking, and guys were getting hurt. The next thing you know ... you're tight and you've got to go run. I want to get on and off the field. You can't have [players] standing around; that leads to injuries."

The Twins, with new pitching coach Garvin Alston, have adjusted the throwing programs of their pitchers to be more mindful of wear and tear. They are more careful about warmup patterns prior to bullpen sessions and taking better measure of the volume of throws on a given day.

"That's one area, as an industry, where we've been a little bit less attentive," Twins executive vice president and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey said. "We think about the amount of throwing a guy would do in July, coming back from an injury or whatever it is, and we're very attentive to it. But in Spring Training, it's just this huge volume of throwing. Catch, PFP [pitchers fielding practice], ground balls, long toss, bullpen. Day off, do it all over again. If you added that up in the regular season, people would be screaming about the abuse of how much throwing [a player has] had in the game. We just have to be careful about the volume, especially early in camp."

The Spring Training schedule, centered around day games, has long been the antithesis of the regular-season schedule. But while that fundamental flaw does not appear to be close to changing anytime soon, teams are pushing back against tradition for tradition's sake by pushing back workout times and increasing the efficiency of their prep work.

Maybe bankers can't afford to hit the snooze button for an extra hour. But baseball players? Sure.

"There's no real downside to pushing it back," said Klentak. "It's not cutting into anybody's day, and we feel we're getting pretty productive work out of it."

You snooze, you lose? In MLB, they're hoping quite the opposite.