Spring Training baseball is notorious for two things: fans over-exaggerating the triumphs and failures of their favorite players and teams by using small, meaningless sample sizes, and unless a person happens to lurk within the dark depths of a team’s farm system, extremely boring baseball past the fifth inning. In an attempt to cure that boredom for the casual fans, and feed the always important spring training hype, I set upon trying to figure out who have been the best spring training Brewers of the past 10 years.
Luckily, MLB.com has been keeping track of spring training stats since 2006. Due to their frivolous nature, I’m not sure why, but for this niche situation, it proves rather helpful. The bad news, there is no combined spring training stats, just individual years, meaning hand calculation will be necessary.
The criteria to be considered for the “King of Spring” title are at least 3 seasons in Brewers camp and at least 15 at-bats in all three of those seasons.
|Tony Gwynn Jr.||3||117||40||8||1||7||27||10||15||0||3||0.341||0.384||0.606||0.990|
Wildly enough, only 21 Brewers meet that criteria. For Brewers junkies, this list is a real blast from the past. But, in an effort to consolidate a bit, let’s chop off the obvious pit dwellers.
As a side note, Aramis Ramirez playing in his age 34 to 37 seasons clearly had no passion or ambition for March success, which earns him the King George award for last place in the race for the King of Spring crown.
|Tony Gwynn Jr.||0.341||0.384||0.608||0.990|
Now comes the whittling process, and the first person to get the ax is Prince Fielder. While his 17 home runs and 18 hit-by-pitch numbers were impressive, it’s embarrassing that he was out-slugged by 7 of the 21 people. The former home run derby champ obviously didn’t have his violent swing totally thawed out by the Arizona sun, and it cost him his shot at the crown.
The next person to go is Rickie Weeks. This one hurt since Rickie played the second most seasons and had 129 more at-bats than anyone else. Also, I’m sure it hurt him since he was plunked 24 times over those nine years and has nothing to show for it. But, the stat that did him in was his 140 strikeouts. He struck out on 28 percent of his total at-bats, a number only the endless mediocrity of Corey Hart could surpass.
To get down to the final three a tough choice had to be made, but Ryan Braun, despite his spring training record 1.052 OPS, is on the chopping block. The reasons are his lack of at-bats and occasional stinkers. In 10 years, Braun only averaged 37 at-bats, a far from kingly number, especially considering most players on this list averaged upward of 50 or 60. And, he only had a measly 6 hits in 23 at-bats back in 2013. A true king doesn’t have off years. Braun may look flashy with his 31 home runs, and 94 RBI; while it’s impressive it only took him 371 at-bats to accomplish those feats, he can’t coast and by and win a crown by barely suiting up.
The final three: JJ Hardy, Tony Gwynn Jr, and George Kottaras.
It might seem odd to favor this group, who only played in 10 total Brewer spring training seasons, in lieu of the previous three who had a combined 25. But, spring training is all about celebrating the under-appreciated and starved for attention players that have seemingly miraculous springs which, in turn, causes fans to be more excited about their potential than they should be.
After heavy contemplation, it’s time to announce the final two: JJ Hardy and George Kottaras.
Tony Gwynn Jr. made a strong push, but his less than stellar 2006 spring training, where he was just 5-21, was the worst season from any of the remaining three. His final two seasons, where he was 35-96 with 5 home runs and 20 RBI’s, and impressive .606 overall slugging percentage, made his final stats look good. However, in a competition this stiff, even the deepest closeted skeletons make a ghastly appearance.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the final rose: The official Brewers “King of Spring” is J.J Hardy.
What is boiled down to was Hardy’s consistency. In his four seasons, he had 60 or more at-bats three times, never hit below .300, and had at least 7 extra base hits and 2 home runs. Further, his .611 slugging percentage and 1.003 OPS were out of this world, and he was the only person on the original list of 21 that walked more times than he struck out.
Kottaras was good, consistently above .280 in all three of his seasons, but the eye-popping, Hardy-style numbers just weren’t there.
Sadly, Hardy’s MLB time with the Brewers never quite matched his spring training escapes. From 2006-2009, Hardy posted a .265/.322/.437 slash line and .760 OPS. But, spring is all about hopeful potential, not harsh reality, and who wants to focus on that.