Half Empty or Half Full?

added 2/26/2009 by Scott Barzilla

Open a spot for Russ Ortiz and Drew Sutton in the Astros clubhouse. It looks like the Astros have a new third baseman. Will Danny Graves get his walking papers already? These are some of the more foolish thoughts that might be running through some Astros' fans minds this morning. I suppose most of us are so starved for baseball we just can't help it. February is usually a bit early to be asking these questions, but the WBC has thrown it's monkey in the wrench.

One of my favorite parts of Spring Training are the tangents that form in our mind. Only a minority of fans pay attention to the wins and losses in the Grapefruit League, so you can get a real glimpse of what fans focus on and what type of fans they are. As with most things, you can break fans into several categories depending on their reaction.

Some fans are what we would call the bandwagon fans. No, they don't jump teams, but they jump on the bandwagon of the newest young stud to come through Spring Training. Two years ago it was Hunter Pence. Pence ripped through the Grapefruit League like he was the second coming of Ty Cobb (maybe without the caustic personality). Of course, his performance turned out to be prophetic. Then, there is the case of Luke Scott four springs ago. He looked like Ted Williams, but opened up the real season looking more like Ted Nugent.

In most of these cases these players ended up looking good only through about mid-March and then they turned into pumpkins. This year, it will be interesting to see how long the fairy tale last for guys like Drew Sutton and Chris Johnson. They certainly opened up like gang busters yesterday. With the WBC, they might have a little longer on the gravy train than normal. At least, some of the better pitchers will be plying their craft elsewhere until late March.

The difference in fans comes in how much stock they put in these performances. Some recognize that these guys usually rake against AAA guys, but look mortal against the established big leaguers. I guess you could call it the Jason Lane syndrome. Others get excited and call them the Rookie of the Year frontrunner. As Pence and Scott showed, both sides can be right in individual circumstances. Will Johnson and Sutton be more like Pence or more like the 2005 version of Scott?

The next set of fans are the alarmists. No, they don't care about wins and losses so much as who causes the losses. If a star player is hitting .120 or a pitcher has an ERA over nine then we need to sound the alarms. Through game one, only one pitcher really got drilled and that was Danny Graves. Graves only prayer of making the team is with a Delorean. Yet, there will be games where significant pitchers like Jose Valverde or Wandy Rodriguez look bad. It hasn't happened yet, but it will. So, do we panic, or do we realize that there is perhaps a good reason why an established player might look bad?

So, do we as fans focus on specific position battles or do we soak in the whole picture? You could easily keep yourself entertained by watching the battle at third base or catcher. You could also watch individual players that are cause for concern. Michael Bourn will be high on that list as well as many of the pitchers (say Mike Hampton). Who or what you focus on says a lot about you as a fan.

Despite my perclivities towards pessimism and statistical analysis, I find myself searching for optimism this time of year. I am a big believer in the fact that a team that loses 10-0 can still find something to be happy about. It might be a scoreless inning by a reliever or a 2 for 4 performance by a young player. In the case of yesterday, you can't help but feel good about Hampton, Ortiz, Sutton, and Johnson. One Spring game means little in the grand scheme of things, but when its the only one you've got, you look for positives where you can find them.