Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/8/14
They say that, when it comes to understanding anything about the subsequent regular season, you should never pay attention to numbers in March. That’s good advice, and it doesn’t even bother to mention numbers in February. Today is February 25, spring-training competition has only just begun, and nothing matters. To whatever extent any baseball matters, February baseball matters less than April baseball, which matters less than September baseball, which matters less than October baseball. Today’s baseball is only one step ahead of intrasquad action, and there’s not much of anything to be read into. But even meaningless baseball can generate baseball highlights. It’s been a long time since we were given fresh, new baseball highlights, and earlier Monday, Miguel Cabrera did a mean thing to a Jonathan Papelbon delivery. It doesn’t matter that the game was meaningless; Papelbon wasn’t trying to give up a home run, he threw a normal pitch, and Cabrera blasted it out. Within pointless baseball, there are glimpses of regular baseball, and here is some video for you. I feel like we should talk about this. We like our superstars because we like to be impressed, and regardless of the setting, this home run is impressive. Following is a timely baseball play analysis, in a year’s February. Perhaps the first thing to understand is the context in which this happened. After four innings, it was 1-0 Phillies, and then Jonathan Papelbon came in to relieve Tyler Cloyd. You know what they say about closers in non-save situations! Papelbon allowed a single, and then he allowed a home run, which was not the home run above. It was this opposite-field home run, by prospect Nick Castellanos. A relevant .gif: Papelbon threw a fastball that badly missed its low target. Erik Kratz set up below the knees, and the pitch arrived above the belt. All right — now submit that to memory. Following was a walk, a strikeout, a single, and a single. Up came Cabrera, who wound up in a 1-and-2 count. Papelbon threw a fastball, and Erik Kratz was set up below the knees. The fastball arrived above the belt, and for the second time in the inning such a mistake was blasted out of the yard. This one didn’t go to the opposite field, coming down instead in left, or rather well beyond left, basically out of the stadium: This might stand as the longest home run we see all spring, although it’s not like we’ve been given an official measurement from the ESPN Home Run Tracker. We don’t know anything about the fastball’s velocity,but we do know it was a fastball, and we know last April Papelbon’s heater averaged just over 93 miles per hour. This fastball, then, was probably around 90-92. Cabrera got ahead of it with a simple flick of the wrist, and he said later: “With a runner in scoring position with one out, I try to hit the ball in the gap, I try not to kill the inning with a ground-ball double play right there. It was like my goal to try to elevate the ball, try to hit the gap.” Cabrera: no double play Cabrera: no double play Cabrera: no double play Cabrera: /very long home run Cabrera: I did it You look at the location of the pitch that Cabrera hit out: The pitch is at least over the inner half, maybe off the plate. But more significantly, the pitch is quite elevated. Though it was a location mistake, that’s not even a bad spot for a two-strike fastball. But last season, Cabrera was responsible for turning the highest pitch hit for a home run into a home run. He was also responsible for turning the most inside pitch hit for a home run into a home run, so Cabrera is no stranger to extreme home runs. Papelbon threw Cabrera a fastball at the letters and Cabrera got ahead of it and hit the ball at least, I don’t know, 450 feet. That is a completely wild guess. Also of note: the seemingly unimpressed Chase Utley. As everyone else in the Phillies dugout continued to watch the ball in flight, Utley hardly budged and immediately turned his attention back to the infield. Utley didn’t care where the baseball wound up. How would that knowledge in any way improve the life of Chase Utley? Papelbon allowed six runs and two dingers in the inning. He recorded two outs. He had allowed a combined two dingers over the previous four spring trainings. Last spring training, he allowed five runs in 12 appearances. What does this mean for Jonathan Papelbon in 2013? Probably nothing and I’m guessing we will have forgotten all about this by the middle of March. But let it be known that, in late February, Papelbon threw two high fastballs to Tigers hitters that weren’t supposed to be high fastballs, and they got punished. It’s commonly said that, early on in spring training, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters, and the hitters have slow bats. That might be true, generally, but in this case, specifically, it wasn’t true. Miguel Cabrera applied a midseason swing and gave us all a glimpse of his superstardom. We needn’t wait for April to be amazed. Conclusion: Miguel Cabrera is probably still good Conclusion: Jonathan Papelbon is probably still good, despite today Conclusion: quality highlights can be generated by low-quality games Conclusion: one can still be entertained by spring training, even when equipped with an understanding that it’s effectively pointless Miguel Cabrera is just an incredible hitter, and it turns out he can be an incredible hitter in all months. Put another way, it’s never too early for Miguel Cabrera to be incredible.
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