After more than a week in spring training in Florida this year, I have one simple message for spring training travelers—the back fields are the hidden gems of spring training.
I'm old enough to remember when spring training major league games were a simpler affair. For the price of a minor league ticket, you could see the big leaguers round into shape in a relaxed environment.
Spring training baseball is still more relaxed (and much less important) than a big league game, but the prices of the games are no longer the same as a regular season minor league ticket. Spring training has become big business and a bigger revenue stream for clubs. At various ballparks in Florida, you could pay $10 to park. At most spring training games you're likely to pay $25 or more to sit anywhere other than the outfields for a game.
But at the same time that the masses are lining up to see the big league game, teams are putting on two minor league games just a few thousand feet away at the club's minor league spring training facilities. With few exceptions, the games are open to the public and free. It does require a little work to track down the schedules of games and rosters and you may not have a scoreboard that shows who is winning or losing—but since the games are exhibitions, who cares on that part? And with two (or more) games going on, there's almost always something going on worth watching.
Thanks to Eric Rothfeld for this week’s question. As always if you have a question for Ask BA, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q:Can you provide an update on Dylan Bundy? I have not heard his name at all this spring, almost a year after his surgery.
Eric Rothfeld, Livingston, N.J.
BA:The fact that you haven't heard all that much about Bundy this spring isn't all that surprising. He's at the point in recovery from Tommy John surgery where there just aren't a lot of significant developments.
Bundy suffered an elbow injury during spring training last season. He attempted to rehab the injury, but by the end of June it became clear he needed ulnar collateral ligament surgery. Because he didn't have the surgery until the end of June, he's looking at a midseason return at best. Usually, Tommy John surgery takes between 11 to 15 months for recovery.
Bundy has been throwing off flat ground during spring training. Before long, he's expected to move up to pitching from a mound, but he's still a couple of months or more away from making a rehab assignment.
Bundy himself gave an interesting interview this month to Fangraphs.com's David Laurila about his rehab and some of the questions that have arisen in his mind in the aftermath of his surgery.
“We were trying to get my arm in a higher position. They say your arm needs to be at a certain angle when your foot makes contact, and mine was at a lower angle. We tried to change that a little bit. I got my hands moving… really, I just got away from the things I did in high school. I changed throughout the course of my first full minor league season. and I don't think I should have.
"That's the only thing I really regretted — changing those minor things my first year in pro ball. I should have stuck to what I did best. I should have just picked up a ball and thrown it. I'm a big believer in that; pick up a ball and throw it. If that's how you throw, don't change it."
In April of 2012, when Bundy was just making his minor league debut, Orioles director of pitching development Rick Peterson talked about the changes that Bundy had made after a full biomechanical analysis in a Baseball America story about how to handle young pitching prospects ($).
"More than anything else it was range of motion and I would say rhythm. It wasn't that his movements were off, but some timing mechanisms were off," Peterson said. "Once we showed him some of these minor adjustments, he got it right away. He said 'this feels so much better.' "
There is no way to know whether the adjustments Bundy and the Orioles made to his delivery had anything to do with the elbow injury he sustained less than a year later. It's quite possible that Bundy would have suffered the same injury with his old high school delivery. The evidence is purely anecdotal—Bundy made some changes to his delivery, and then he got hurt.
But the Bundy injury is a big setback for the Orioles, and yet another example of the idea that even the best efforts to keep young pitchers healthy don't always succeed. The Orioles did a full biomechanical analysis of Bundy, were extremely cautious with his pitch counts and innings pitched in his first full pro season, and he still suffered a significant injury. Pitchers get hurt and we still don’t have a great idea as to why.
As Pirates pitching coordinator Jim Benedict said in the same 2012 Baseball America story, as much as everyone wants to reduce pitching development to a science, there is an art to it as well.
"You have a $10 million investment. If you are doing the art part and the art backfires, then no one is doing the art part again. It's so much easier to do the math," Benedict said. "There is less accountability (that way). There aren't a lot of artists anymore. We've been fortunate enough to have management trust the process here."