Sunday, August 16, 2009

Examining the Importance of the Role-Player

There are tons of types of role players. Willie Bloomquist can play every infield and outfield position, Joey Gathright can add speed to the bases in any situation, Brad Ausmus can provide a defensive upgrade late in the game, Mike Redmond can pinch-hit against lefties (.268 average vs. righties, .331 against southpaws), and Johnny Gomes can add more power when you need it. Of the thirty teams that prepare to play ball each spring, only one will go all the way. The team that does has a lot going right. They need good pitching, consistent hitters, smart base runners, aggressive managing, and a good bench, which is often overlooked.

Let’s look at the 2007 Boston Red Sox. Besides a strong lineup and good rotation, they definitely had a great bench. Alex Cora could play most infield positions with a quality glove, and Doug Maribelli, used to catch Wake’s knuckler, could sub in as a pinch-hitter. Wily Mo Pena was a raw power threat, and utility player Eric Hinske could also swing the bat well. Jacoby Ellsbury provided as an excellent pinch-runner or defensive replacement. Take a team like the Mets, who have been substantially underachieving in 2009. Along with being plagued with injuries, the organization has failed to put together a good bench. Alex Cora has been starting with the Reyes injury, and Angel Pagan, who has slowed down due to a past hamstring injury, is basically their only pinch-runner. Omir Santos and Brian Schneider have been splitting time as backstop, and both of them have sub-300 on-base percentages. The other reserves are Fernando Tatis, Fernando Martinez, and Jeremy Reed, who bat .252, .258, and .176, respectively.

Everyone knows the Cinderella story of the 2008 Rays. How’d they do it? Stacking their roster with as many weapons and tricks as possible. They didn’t have any star players (Carl Crawford was by far the biggest), yet they still managed an AL pennant. Look at the difference in their bench and role players from 2007 (PH = Pinch-Hitter).

PH OBP Bunt Singles PH PA SB as a Sub
2008 Rays .298 21 131 5
2007 Rays .253 9 69 1

The best pinch-hitter in baseball today is probably Matt Stairs. In 268 pinch-hit plate appearances, he holds a career .284 average, 17 homeruns, and 50 runs batted in.

*This post was written by Connor Reed*

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