You know what is fun, edgy, hilarious, and entertaining? You’re absolutely right, it’s roster construction. So get yourself a beer, a Sparks engery drink, a party hat, a kazoo, and whatever else kids these days use to have a good time, and lets get constructin’!
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my years of life and learning, it’s that even seemingly innocuous decisions have crazy, unfathomable complications that arise when trying to figure stuff out by just looking at them. Call this an unfair generalization if you must, but intuition is no good at everything.
It seems like whenever I hear people talk about roster construction, they generally glance at the players available, look at the number of roster spots, and use intuition to try to reason their way through the decisions. Or, as I like to call this process “making it up as you go along.”
Usually when the rosters come out and a move is made, we hear mostly vague and unhelpful generalities from team brass. “We’re carrying 12 pitchers, ‘caus pitching wins championships and is teh awesome.” I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a rundown of the best way to construct a roster from an analytical perspective. Until today. Because I am teh awesome.
Mitchel Lichtman, or MGL to those of use who are cool with him like that, goes into detail explaining how he would best construct a roster. He does admit that this type of analysis isn’t usually his forte, but frankly I’ve never seen much else to go on. MGL consults with an MLB team, has written a well regarded book on baseball analysis, and frankly is a smart dude. I’ll take that over the glorified guesswork that usually gets thrown around.
Here’s how the roster looks at the moment, courtesy of Padres.com:
|21 Heath Bell||R/R|
|29 Kevin Correia||R/R|
|58 Eulogio De La Cruz||R/R|
|57 Luke Gregerson||L/R|
|34 Shawn Hill||R/R|
|43 Cla Meredith||R/R|
|46 Edwin Moreno||R/R|
|45 Edward Mujica||R/R|
|44 Jake Peavy||R/R|
|59 Luis Perdomo||R/R|
|50 Duaner Sanchez||R/R|
|27 Walter Silva||R/R|
|32 Chris Young||R/R|
|28 Henry Blanco||R/R|
|4 Nick Hundley||R/R|
|1 Everth Cabrera||S/R|
|3 David Eckstein||R/R|
|23 Adrian Gonzalez||L/L|
|2 Edgar Gonzalez||R/R|
|5 Kevin Kouzmanoff||R/R|
|15 Luis Rodriguez||S/R|
|33 Jody Gerut||L/L|
|24 Brian Giles||L/L|
|12 Scott Hairston||R/R|
|7 Chase Headley||S/R|
One Tool In The Shed
I don’t see any problem with a player who functions only as a pinch runner and late inning defender (I think that you at least want both). I would think that you would want your pinch runner to be a good basestealer as well. Not all fast runners are good basestealers of course, especially young ones.
MGL’s first paragraph gets the Padres off to a good start, as it addresses and confirms the team’s most debatable roster construction choice. That is, giving Everth Cabrera, with no experience above A ball, a spot on the team. He has the speed to serve as a pinch runner, and hopefully his 73 stolen bases last season signify an ability to do so beyond just fast running. His defensive game saw mixed reviews over spring training, though he does have experience at both second and shortstop.
Scott Hairston serves as a solid defensive backup in the outfield as well, as he’s capable of passable defense in center.
The Good News Doesn’t Last Long
That being said, an NL team definitely needs more bench players than an AL team. No question about it. As we have said many times, teams do not pinch hit for the pitcher nearly enough. To do that, you need plenty of pinch hitters.
I also don’t think that any team needs 13 pitches, which you don’t normally see anyway. I doubt many teams need 12 pitchers either. I would probably carry 11 pitchers in the NL and 12 in the AL.
Well, shit. So much for the successful start. The Padres are currently using 13 pitchers on the roster, though I think that will change when Cliff Floyd comes off the DL.
Who Needs The Backup?
You really want to tailor your pinch hitters and bench players to your starting lineup. By that, I mean if you have a particularly bad defender in your starting lineup, it makes sense to have a good defender who can come in the late innings when you need to preserve a lead. If you have several weak hitting lefties in your lineup, it makes sense to have a strong right-handed hitting PH or two. Etc.
The team is constructed well enough in terms of platoons at the plate. They don’t have a capable left handed bench bat at the moment, but again I think that will change when Floyd returns. The outfield is manned by two capable lefty bats, plus two capable righty bats and Floyd. I suppose left handers up the middle would be nice, but so would bringing back brown uniforms, so I’ll pick my battles.
It bears mentioning that Chase Headley’s switch hitting ability and positional versatility leaves a lot of options. A backup third baseman isn’t needed, so there’s room to stock up on a myriad of middle infielders to throw against a wall and see what sticks.
Southpaw Middle Children
It also does not make sense to have fewer than 2 lefties in your pen. There are really only 3 reasons to make pitching changes in a game: One, to get the platoon advantage. For that, you want at least 2 RHRP and 2 LHRP. Having 1 LH and 6 RH relievers makes no sense at all. Anyway, the second reason for a pitching change is to pinch hit for the pitcher in the NL. The third reason is to bring in a better or worse reliever as the leverage of the game changes.
Raspberries. Not much commentary necessary here, the team has no lefties in the pen. MGL puts a heavy emphasis on platoon advantage, the Padres graduated from Screw The Pooch College on this one.
Allow Me To Preach Some More
Only occasionally will you need to remove a reliever because he is tired. Managers making pitching changes based on a pitcher getting “lit up” for an inning or two is generally a waste of time, although some people would disagree with me there.
Not much to do with the topic at hand, I’m only including this because it bugs me, and complaining about things on the Internet is the American way.
There’s no reason to think that just because a reliever gives up a couple hits in one inning that he is somehow rendered incompetent for that entire outing. Never in the history of mathematics has there been a smaller sample size than this situation. The dude is fine, unless you have a reason to change relievers, leave him in.
It’s All In Their Heads
Even with the bullpen, you need to tailor it to your team. By that, I mostly mean the number of relievers. If you play in a hitters park and/or your starters tend not to go deep in games, either because they are bad, they are not durable, or both, then you obviously need more relievers. In fact, on second thought, I might suggest that a team with good/durable relievers and/or that plays in a pitcher’s park, carry 11 pitchers, and the rest of the teams carry 12.
MGL, stop rubbing in the heartbreak! I hadn’t considered it before, but it makes total sense for a team in an outrageously pitching centered ballpark to carry more hitters on the bench. Someone should send Towers a fax, or a telegram on this one.
Mothers’ Basements Have Feelings Too
I am also a big fan or platooning. There are many teams who have a player at a certain position who is a marginal hitter (for that position). The best solution for that is to platoon with him another marginal hitter who can play that same position. In doing that, you also get a built-in tandem pinch hitting situation. Platooning is an underused strategy and for some reason has really fallen out of favor lately. I am not sure why.
Sounds like MGL would like the Padres’ outfield. He does mention other “soft” considerations, such as ego problems with platooning a star or former star player. I’ll leave room here for a Paul DePodesta joke about a Player Pride Index computer simulation.