Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004. Show More
If you've heard it once, you've heard it a thousand times from baseball managers: Don't believe what you see in March and September.
One of those managers is the Mets' Terry Collins, who has learned over the years to take spring training and late-season stats with a teaspoon of salt.
When the Mets struggled to score in their first few games after leading MLB with an .817 OPS in spring training, Collins said: "We knew we were swinging good in spring training. But we knew it was spring training."
Can a strong spring at the plate translate into success during the regular season? According to a study on Nate Silver's website, FiveThirtyEight.com, it can -- and that's good news for the Mets' playoff chances.
Rob Arthur, in an article titled "Spring Training Matters," checked each team's spring training stats from 2010-14 and found "a weak but consistent relationship" between a team's offensive performance in spring training and its average regular-season OPS.
"The teams that bash in spring," Arthur wrote, "tend to continue doing so through the summer."
Arthur combined sabermetric projections and spring training stats and found that on average, a 100-point increase (from the pre-spring training projection) in OPS raises a team's expected regular-season OPS by 15 points and an individual player's by six points.
Arthur concluded that the Mets' performance in spring training raised their expected OPS for 2015 by 11 points.
Not a big deal, you say? Well, that translates into about two extra wins. Two extra wins could be enough to get the Mets into the playoffs.
Last season, the Royals won two more games than the Mariners to earn a wild-card berth and then made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series.
So that's what the stats say. What do the players say? We asked some Mets this past week if they believe spring training matters.
"The stats?" said leftfielder Michael Cuddyer (.283, six home runs in spring training). "The actual stats? Not much at all. I think the feeling and the confidence that the stats bring add a lot. But I don't think those numbers translate into the season."
Curtis Granderson had an incredible spring training with eye-popping numbers (.442 batting average, 1.243 OPS) after being reunited with his former batting coach, Kevin Long.
"I don't think they matter at all," Granderson said of spring stats. "Good, bad or indifferent."
Batting mostly leadoff, Granderson brought an on-base percentage of .356 into Saturday night, thanks to 11 walks. But he was batting only .147.
In general, young Mets players tend to believe that spring training stats matter more than the veterans did.
"I think for young guys, having a good spring is huge," Cuddyer said. "One, because it helps them make the team. And two, it helps them feel they belong. But even that is more mental than the actual numbers."
Arthur's study showed a stronger relationship for team OPS than for individual players, which makes sense because the team numbers are a much larger sample size.
The Mets had 1,137 at-bats in an exhibition season in which they went an NL-best 19-12.
Juan Lagares (.359 with a 1.046 OPS) and Wilmer Flores (.266 with a .757 OPS) had the most at-bats of any Mets (64 each) during spring training. Entering Saturday night, Flores was batting .182 and Lagares was at .233.
The Mets' team OPS going into Saturday night was .673, which was 17th-best in baseball. After spring training, Arthur projected their regular-season OPS would be .707.
So the Mets have some work to do if they are going to bash the way they did before the games started to count.
But hey, they were 8-3 going into Saturday night. Spring training must matter a little.
"I think spring training can help you believe in yourself as a team," Cuddyer said. "Help you believe that you can win ballgames and you are a good team. I think that foundation gets laid in spring training. No question about that."