Spring outliers? A deep dive into some intriguing Bucs numbers
TAMPA, Fla. -- Spring Training is all about the allure of small sample sizes.
A good chunk of numbers are outliers and won’t stick during the regular season. Take Bryan Reynolds, for example. This Spring Training, he has a .545 OPS across 27 plate appearances. In his Major League career, he has an .842 OPS across 2,014 plate appearances. Once the season rolls around and the numbers stabilize, Reynolds will begin looking like himself.
This is not to say that Spring Training is a useless exercise. Other numbers, even in a somewhat inflated state, could be indicative of a larger trend that’s unfolding.
Here are some of the most interesting numbers of Spring Training thus far:
1. Cruz’s strikeout rate
For all of Oneil Cruz’s elite tools, detractors constantly pointed to his unsavory 34.9% strikeout rate last season, which would’ve been the worst mark in baseball if Cruz qualified. The final number wasn’t great, but Cruz quietly trimmed his strikeout rate down the stretch, posting a 29.8% mark in September/October.
During Spring Training, he’s appeared to say, 'The heck with strikeouts all together.' Across 31 plate appearances, Cruz has struck out just five times -- a 16.1% strikeout rate. For context, José Abreu’s 16.2% mark with the White Sox last season ranked in the 82nd percentile.
Is Cruz going to leap from the 1st percentile to the 82nd percentile in 2023? Likely not. But can Cruz get his strikeout rate under 30% in his first full season? That’s well within the realm of possibility.
2. Brubaker’s increased sweep on curveball
JT Brubaker hasn’t introduced an entirely new pitch into his repertoire like some of his teammates, but the right-hander has transformed his curveball. The pitch isn’t quite a slurve, but Brubaker has gotten far more horizontal movement on his curveball during Spring Training compared to last season.
Per Brooks Baseball, Brubaker’s curveball has no fewer than 3 inches of extra horizontal movement compared to last season. With a curveball that can dart farther away from righties and a sinker that can dart away from lefties, Brubaker possesses the means to attack batters on both sides of the plate.
3. Contreras’ fastball velocity
Velocity during Spring Training should be taken with a grain of salt, because pitchers are still ramping up. That said, it will be worth monitoring Roansy Contreras' fastball velocity for the rest of camp, as well as the regular season.
Contreras has had four starts since the start of Spring Training -- two of which have been for the Dominican Republic, including an exhibition game and a World Baseball Classic start against Israel -- and pitch-tracking data was available for three of those starts. Across those three outings with pitch-tracking data, Contreras has thrown 50 fastballs with an average velocity of 94.6 mph. Last season, by contrast, Contreras’ average fastball velocity was 95.6 mph.
While velocity does not matter as much during this time of year, it’s worth monitoring Contreras’ velocity because his fastball velocity dipped over the course of the season. During parts of April and May, Contreras averaged around 97 mph on his fastball. By September, Contreras was down to 94.5 mph.
4. Hayes' average exit velocity
While not necessarily reflected in the power numbers, Ke'Bryan Hayes regularly struck the baseball with force last season, with his average exit velocity of 91.0 mph ranking in the 85th percentile. This spring, he’s done even more damage. In six games, heading into Thursday, Hayes had an average exit velocity of 96.1 mph. Of the 14 balls he had put in play, he hit six at least 100 mph.
For Hayes, an average exit velocity of 96.1 mph is, in all likelihood, unsustainable -- that would’ve led the entire league, a couple ticks above Aaron Judge’s 95.9 mph. That said, with Hayes having bulked up a bit this offseason, it wouldn’t be surprising if he improves upon last year’s exit velocity this upcoming season.
5. Suwinski, Reynolds' outfield playing time
This one isn’t necessarily a stat, but it’s still a number worth pointing out. Last season, Reynolds played one game in left field, almost exclusively playing center field. This spring, he’s played seven games in left field.
Last season, Jack Suwinski played 19 games in center field, spending most of his time at the corners. This spring, Suwinski has played nine games in center field.
Manager Derek Shelton said the Pirates still view Reynolds as a center fielder, adding that Suwinski is frequently starting in center field so he can become more acclimated with the position.