Chris Narveson and the Nature of Spring Training


Yesterday Chris Narveson made his triumphant return to the Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff. It had been – give or take – 10 months since he had pitched in a real-life game situation.

His return to the mound signals a shift with the team from the cerebral musing of everyone with an opinion, from front office spokespeople, to coaches, to fans, and every one with internet access to a more visceral viewpoint. That is to say that its no longer about what you think and what you can extrapolate from previous statistics and statements; it’s about what you can see and what you can feel.

But the bigger question may be: what is it that we should actually be looking for?

Chris Narveson is back in action during Spring Training. Just don’t read too much into it at this point. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)

For many players and most teams, Spring Training is about getting into a rhythm again. It’s the main reason why, for most players and most positions, we don’t dig too deep into the results of Spring Training. Not so for Chris Narveson – or for Wily Peralta, or Mike Fiers, or the slew of other young pitchers in Milwaukee’s Cactus League campaign for 2013.

For these guys, Spring Training comes with an extra serving of scrutiny because of youth, because of injury, and because of the relative size of unknown variables that comes along with retooling a pitching staff the way the Milwaukee Brewers are doing. We let several high-profile (for lack of a better term) starters and relievers walk through the 2012 season. There were many obvious reasons for this, but the truth is that whether you like it or not the devils we know have left the building.

What we’re left with, then, is a group of young players and a few veterans holding a bill that someone else ordered. Guys like Chris Narveson then become the measuring stick we use for the progress of the group. The problem that comes with Spring Training is that we just don’t get the distance we like.

Narveson threw – give or take – 30 pitches in his debut. He didn’t even get through a full lineup. There wasn’t an opportunity for adjustments to be made on either side. A few solid hits were weathered by Narvy as well as a lone earned run. It would be easy to speculate pretty much anything you wanted depending on what it is you’d like to look at. On the one hand, his command looked good and his delivery seemed crisp. On the other, you could say he could be easily rattled.

The truth is it doesn’t matter. You have pitchers like Narveson who have an actual obligation to recover in Spring Training, and you have other pitchers like Tyler Thornburg and Johnny Hellweg who have something to prove. It comes in slow doses and quick outings. We want to draw conclusions – our job requires that we form an opinion. But there’s little if anything to take away from the early days of Spring Training.

People are going to make mistakes – hitters get lucky because pitchers are over-eager to prove their stuff. Pitchers get lucky because hitters can be just as over-eager to show their potential.

Spring Training is different from different perspectives. From the perspective of people like me – it’s about trying to find patterns, trying to form opinions from every lineup, every outing, and every result. From the perspective of the team, it’s about making progress; not only in the numbers, but in confidence and rhythm. The progression of the latter is definitely more important – certainly in the aspect of pitchers like Chris Narveson, the only issue is that it’s a lot harder to see.

At the end of the day, it’s important to keep tabs on the numbers and the outcomes of Spring Training – but it’s equally important not to be bogged down about them. Because it’s not always about what you can see.