It’s often said that “Spring Training results don’t matter.” I wanted to put that idea to the test. I got curious about the discrepancies between Spring Training records and regular season records. With that in mind, I began with the 2010 season and finished through the 2020 season. Once each record was compiled, an average winning percentage was determined for both Spring Training and the regular season between 2010-2020.
Firstly, there were some outliers. For example, during the 2016 season, the Nationals went 19-4 during Spring Training, good for an .826 winning percentage. During the regular season, the Nationals had an excellent 95-67 record, which resulted in a .586 winning percentage. Obviously, the Nationals weren’t going to reach 134 wins during that season.
That outlier resulted in somewhat skewing the data, with the winning percentage taking a -.240 hit in the regular season.
There was a similar occurrence in the opposite direction in 2012, however: During the Spring Training of 2012, the Nationals amassed a 12-17 record, which is a .414 winning percentage. During the regular season, the team went 98-64, which resulted in a .605 winning percentage, or a +.191 difference between the two.
With that said, the average winning percentage through Spring Training over those 11 seasons was .484. Winning 48.4 percent of games during a standard, 162-game regular season will yield 78 wins. The average winning percentage during the regular season over those 11 seasons was .533. Winning 53.3 percent of games during a standard, 162-game regular season will yield 86 wins.
In other words, the Nationals increased their winning percentage, on average, by +.049. If the Spring Training results were extrapolated over the course of a full regular season, then compared to the actual regular season results, the Nationals obtained, on average, eight more wins per season.
It goes without saying that eight additional wins would make a massive difference on what the ultimate outcome would be with regard to the postseason. To put that further in perspective, a removal of eight wins during the Nationals’ 2019 World Series season would’ve made them 85-77, placing them in third place in the National League East and four games out of a Wild Card spot.
We know that there are a lot of factors that go into producing a final record during a Spring Training slate of games versus a regular season schedule, but I wanted to attach some figures to see how those differences actually play out. While there are certainly more comprehensive techniques that could’ve been used to really flesh out the differences between Spring Training and the regular season, this methodology seemed to be a decent jumping off point.
Perhaps it would also be worth it to select a player – or group of players – and compare their performance(s) between a series of years in both Spring Training and the regular season.
As of this writing, the Nationals are 6-6 (.500) in Spring Training games in 2021. If we are to believe the averages laid out in this article, then we should expect the Nationals to win around 89 games. That would be six more wins than what FanGraphs projects and five more wins than what Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projects.
Time will tell (but I like my very scientific* projection more).
* = not very scientific