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Phillies March Madness: Spring Training MVPs

If the Phillies had been handing out team MVP awards for Spring Training these past several years, who would have won?

Chooch, Spring 2012
Chooch, Spring 2012
Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Given that Spring Training is a small sample, we can be pretty sure that some minor leaguer or non-roster invitee will hit much better than expected this spring. And that will undoubtedly lead to calls from many to bring him north with the team. How much weight should be given to ST stats in determining the opening day roster? Should they be treated as evidence of what a player can do against major league competition? Or does it make more sense to look at a player's recent past performance, along with scouting reports, rather than what they do in a 30-game sample against a mix of major league and minor league pitching, many of whom are more interested in working on their mechanics than whether they actually get people out?

Certainly there is more to watching someone in Spring Training than the stats they end up with, such as how healthy they are, their mechanics, temperament, or work ethic. And ST performance certainly provides a piece of information to consider along with the rest of their body of work, but basing a decision solely on a "Spring battle for a job" seems equivalent to throwing up your hands in confusion and flipping a coin.

In any case, looking back over the past several years, if the Phillies had been handing out team Spring Training MVP awards based on players' stats, who would have won? Below is one guess for the years since 2006, which is the period for which has spring training stats. In general these are based on OPS, with some weight given to home runs and RBIs (as in a typical MVP vote), and where the hitting stats are close, fielding position is also considered.

2013 - Dodging the Yuni Bullet

In Spring Training a year ago, Yuniesky Betancourt used a .435 BABIP to hit .447 with a 1.025 OPS. The Phillies thought enough of him to invite him to camp -- would they be dumb enough to also give him a roster spot? Thankfully, no.

He carried his hot streak into the start of the season, hitting .276/.304/.543 with 8 home runs in his first 30 games. After which he put a MiniMart-esque .189/.215/.287 in his last 107 games to finish the season at .212/.240/.355.

2012 - Chooch Hints at the Year Ahead

Carlos Ruiz had a very impressive Spring, compiling a .479/.500/.771 line. He had had good springs before, such as in 2008 (.348/.396/.522) and 2009 (.326/.380/.558), but unlike in those years, his 2012 regular season kept going where the Spring left off.  Martinez also deserves special mention for putting up a .916 OPS.

One battle for a bench spot that year was between outfielders Juan Pierre (.377/.433/.426 and 4 steals in 8 attempts), Scott Podsednik (.309/.377/.455, and 5 for 5 in steals), and Luis Montanez (.347/.411/.490). Pierre won out and had a resurgent year with the Phils. Hector Luna (.302/.351/.528 and 3 HR) also had a good Spring, and while he didn't travel north with the team, he was called up in May and played in 28 games.

2011 - Ben Francisco Treat

Ben Francisco had a very strong Spring Training for the second year in a row, and then also OPS'ed .793 with 4 HR and 18 RBI in April, and the Phillies hoped they had found a replacement for Jayson WerthThere was some rationale for thinking Francisco could follow in Werth's footsteps as a late bloomer. While he didn't have the same pedigree, his stats through age 28 were similar to Werth's at the same age:

J. Werth (1129 PAs): .259/.352/.430 (.344 wOBA, 106 wRC+)
Francisco (1221 PAs): .263/.329/.446 (.339 wOBA, 105 wRC+)

Alas, it was not to last, and he hit only .231/.337/.314 with 2 HR from May 1 on. John Mayberry Jr. also had a very good Spring, and followed that with a torrid second half of the regular season after he took over for Francisco.

2010 - Francisco! That's Fun to Say!

In his first Spring Training with the Phillies following the trade from Cleveland the previous July, Francisco gave glimpses of a possible bonus from that trade.

Greg Dobbs also had his 2nd strong Spring here. In his four springs with the Phils, he hit .294/.344/.516 (.860), with 10 HR and 45 RBI in 244 PAs, which works out to 27 HR and 120 RBI per a full season of 650 PAs.

2009 - Howard, Werth, and Bruntlett: Murderers Row

In addition to two hitters we expect to see at the top, there was also the unlikely Eric Bruntlett, who batted .355 but also walked 15 times in 94 PAs, the most walks by any Phillie in the spring since 2006.

2008 - Big Piece Likes it Hot

Ryan Howard has a history of doing better as the weather heats up in the summer, but he's also done well in the Florida warmth of Spring Training.


2007 - Utley is The Man; Calloway is Some Guy

Who, you say, is Ron Calloway? An 8th round pick by Arizona in 1997 out of Cañada College (Redwood City, California), Calloway was a lefty hitting outfielder. He was traded by Arizona to Montreal, and was the Expos' 4th outfielder in 2003, hitting .238/.282/.374 in 369 PAs. Calloway spent most of 2004 in the minors before being released and bouncing to the Mets and Red Sox organizations. He was 30 when the Phillies signed him to a minor league contract before the 2007 season, with an invitation to camp. Despite a hot Spring, riding a .457 BABIP to a 1.003 OPS, he was assigned to AAA Ottawa, where he hit .200/.265/.233 in 31 games before retiring from baseball in May. Little Cañada College, described by wikipedia as one of the smallest community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area, has also produced Moises Alou, Harold Reynolds, Bob Melvin, and former Phillie Kevin Jordan.

2006 - Coste Breaks Through

The feel-good story of Spring 2006, Chris Coste was a 33 year-old career minor leaguer who tore up the Grapefruit League, with a .463 average (helped by a .485 BABIP), 3 HR, and a 1.305 OPS. He followed that with a .881 OPS in his first season in the majors; the only time he had ever hit better was a .923 OPS in 1999 with Fargo-Moorhead of the independent Northern League.

So in summary: In eight years, we would have seen MVP awards given to Betancourt, Coste, and Francisco (twice), as well strong showings by Calloway, Martinez, Dobbs (twice), Taguchi, Mayberry, Bruntlett, and Schneider.