The Indians have been enjoying a fantastic Spring, but it is always tempered by the adage that Spring training success or failure does not continue into the regular season. While this seems to be common knowledge at this point, it is worth it every once in awhile to look back and see whether or not it is true.
To start, there is the straight up win/loss record and the Indians have a good one to this point, leading the Cactus League with 15 wins. Of course, this has happened before at the Tribe won the Cactus League in 2010 with 19 wins. A chart comparing the winning percentages of the regular season compared to Spring Training of that and the other seasons between 2006 and now is listed below.
As becomes immediately obvious, there seems to be no correlation between Spring Training winning percent and the regular season. The Indians best seasons in this span, 2007 and 2013, where just average Springs and the best Springs (2006 and 2010) have not really turned into great seasons. One reason for this is that great teams don't care about winning Spring Training games and will play their starters just enough to get them ready for the regular season. The different strategies of different managers is apparent here as well. Eric Wedge always placed a great emphasis on winning early in the season and had multiple great Springs before realizing that it didn't continue on past May. Manny Acta was looser in Spring and had mixed results there, but never found success in the regular season. Most recently, Terry Francona had success in both Spring Training and the regular season, but that was largely due to having a very deep roster and starters who had to work through Spring to make the club.
The second part of the win/loss discussion is whether being the best team in Spring means anything at all. Going back, last season, the top team was Kansas City, who finished third in the Central in 2013, just missing the play-offs. Prior to that, the Blue Jays lead everyone in 2012, the Giants in 2010 and 2011, the Angels in 2009, the Mets in 2008, Tigers in 2007 and Marlins in 2006. None of these teams made it into the play-offs during the season they lead the league in winning percent during the Spring, except the Giants, who won the World Series in 2010. Many of these teams were actually in a similar place as the Indians this year, moving out of the rebuilding phase and into contention, but most were not quite ready to contend.
There is another factor of interest to see if it continues into the regular season. While the team as a whole may not be able to maintain Spring success all season, could a single player? Rather than just assuming one way or another, we can look back at the last five seasons to see if any of the top players continued their prowess past March. The top hitters since moving to the desert in 2009 were Jhonny Peralta in 2009 (.394, 13 RBI, 21 GP), Shin-Soo Choo in 2010 (.393, 16 RBI, 19 GP), Travis Buck in 2011 (.393, 12 RBI, 20 GP), Jose Lopez in 2012 (.327, 10 RBI, 23 GP) and Lonnie Chisenhall in 2013 (.400, 12 RBI, 24 GP). This list isn't very conclusive as Peralta and Choo were both successful, but Buck, Lopez and Chisenhall struggled during the regular season. More telling than those who were great during the Spring is the ones who weren't. In 2013, the Indians best regular season hitter, Jason Kipnis, batted just .179/.230/.339 during the Spring of that year. Luckily for Cleveland, he had been named the starter before the Spring had begun, or they could have missed on on one of the greatest season by an Indians second baseman in team history.
While this is not a proper statistical study on the correlation between the exhibition season and the regular season, there is so little evidence that it is not worth looking into any further. The Giants in 2010 showed that at least there is no Madden like curse on the winner of the Cactus League and plenty of hitters have continued slugging from March onward, like Ryan Raburn did last season. In the end, the people who say to ignore Spring Training statistics are absolutely right. It may seem exciting that the Indians are winning right now, but if they don't continue it in April, no one will remember what happened during March.
Is Ryan Raburn's 2013 season the exception or the rule?
Or the exception that proves the rule?