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Have a healthy skepticism of players’ offseason changes

Lost bad weight, changed a swing, or altered a delivery? It doesn’t mean much for these Angels least not yet.

Los Angeles Angels v New York Yankees
Reliever Greg Mahle reportedly lost 35 pounds this offseason. (that’s not a typo)
Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Every spring, there seem to be multiple players from each ballclub that put full effort into overhauling an aspect of their style of play in order to improve their on-field results. Whether it’s a starter adding a third pitch, a reliever with a different release point, a player eating healthier, or a hitter revamping a swing, these changes are chronicled often ceremoniously championed as a game-changer...except two months passes by, and said player is either struggling or is at a similar level of performance he was before.

As much as I want to buy in to these Angels’ changes, I’m going to have to err on the side of caution before I anoint anyone as a brand new ballplayer.

Alex Meyer

The CliffNotes version of Meyer’s delivery changes is that he has “quickened his windup”, which (hopefully) allows him to maintain his mechanics more consistently as well as stay off the disabled list. Meyer has pitched to mixed results this spring, but that also speaks to his own overthinking, allowing one walk to spiral into two, then three, then four.

Meyer certainly has the talent for a starting job. Even though these changes were necessary, Meyer has been effectively wild, leading me to believe that while he may figure it all out, it is by no means a sure bet.

J.C. Ramirez

Acquired last season from the Reds, Ramirez had a 2.91 ERA across 43 appearances out of the Angels bullpen. Despite throwing at a high velocity, Ramirez had no deception, his fastball was hard hit, and he did not strike out many batters. His FIP (what his performance would have been with average defenders) was 4.31 and at times he was prone to the long ball. The flip side is that he controlled the zone well and induced ground balls, which worked well in his favor.

Ramirez added a curveball this offseason, which he hopes will make a difference. When not fatigued, Ramirez has looked sharp in his spring appearances and hitters have been fooled. But this is spring, and we’ve all been burned before. Ramirez looks like a capable multi-inning reliever that will make the team, and while his changes make him better off than he was before, we still have not seen it against a full major league lineup.

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Kaleb Cowart

Once a big-time prospect, Cowart has not figured out how to hit at the major league level. The flip side of that coin is that he has nothing left to prove in the minors...he’s spent seven years there. He has not seized the opportunities presented to him and now the Angels find themselves more attracted to other options instead.

So what did he do? He changed his swing for the second or third time in as many years. Cowart has a terrific glove, but he has looked lost at the plate this spring. With other utility infield options beyond this year like Nolan Fontana, Matt Williams, Sherman Johnson, and David Fletcher, Cowart is going to have to step up to the plate in a big way and I don’t see that happening.

Greg Mahle

This might just be the craziest one of them all. As the caption of this piece might indicate, Mahle lost thirty-five pounds. 35 pounds! My words don’t do it justice:

The 23-year-old Angels left-hander enlisted the help of a new trainer this offseason and got to work on transforming his body. The results were tangible: Mahle said he reported to camp 35 pounds lighter and shed about 13 percent of his body fat.

This speaks to how out of shape Mahle was before, not necessarily how ‘fit’ he might be now. The submarining LOOGY has time on his side, but he got rocked in his few spring training appearances. Mahle has time on his side, but he’s got to let his work do the talking.

Jose Valdez

Valdez has had a surprisingly excellent spring, giving up just a run over six innings for a sparkly 1.50 ERA, with four strikeouts and two walks to boot. He also has a 0.83 WHIP, a figure to increase given that he has chronic issues with both control and command.

He has made a few tweaks to his delivery, but even if he performs, he can get out of control in a hurry.

This is not intended to be a mean-spirited piece, but rather a wake-up call. So many players make major changes each offseason that treating each one as the savior of a team is silly talk, especially when one does not take into consideration the past history of that player.

If changes are Statcast-based, like incorporating a slight uppercut for more power or pitching in an area of the zone where it makes more sense to, a player might have a point. Trying something new might satiate the urge to do mix it up a little, but what percentage of the time does it work? Given the ridiculously small sample sizes we have seen in spring training, it makes sense to use head over heart when considering those who have made radical changes to their style of play.

And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.