The Best and Worst Benches So Far

In a perfect world, a bench wouldn’t need to contribute much at all, because in a perfect world, all nine (or eight) starters would be so productive and so consistent that a bench would barely be needed. But that’s not how it works. People get hurt, people go through slumps and people simply need a rest now and then, so the luxury of having not only depth, but productive depth, becomes a pretty important and easily forgotten part of a roster’s construction. The difference between the best and worst bench units this year is already around six wins, so the value of a good bench can really add up over time and have a pretty significant impact on a season.

What I’ve done is attempted to find the best and worst bench units of the 2014 season, so far. In the American League, I’ve added up the WAR of all players after the top nine plate appearance leaders. In the National League, all after the top eight, to reflect for the absence of a designated hitter. We’ll go over the worst and best top five teams in a little detail, with full results in graph form at the bottom. I’ve decided to present the worst group first, and I’ve decided to count down from five to one for the best group for the sake of suspense. Because that’s what FanGraphs is really all about. Building suspense. Let’s begin.

26. Indians

WAR: -1.2

Biggest offenders: Ryan Raburn (-0.9), Elliot Johnson (-0.5), Jason Giambi (-0.5).

Last year, the Indians “Goon Squad” bench unit was worth a substantial 6 wins and were a big reason the team returned to the postseason. This year, a very similar unit has been one of the worst in the league. Part of the reason for the Goon Squad’s value was their consistency. Yan Gomes, Mike Aviles, Raburn and Giambi accounted for 93% of the bench’s 1,200 plate appearances. This year, Gomes became a starter, Giambi got “hurt,” Aviles has been replacement level with a fourth consecutive season of declining power output and Ryan Raburn has reverted back to 2012 disaster Raburn.

27. White Sox

WAR: -1.3

Biggest offenders: Leury Garcia (-1.0), Paul Konerko (-0.5), Jordan Danks (-0.3).

446 hitters have accumulated at least 200 plate appearances since the beginning of last season. Leury Garcia has been the very worst hitter of that group, with a 19 wRC+. He has some value in being able to play second, third, short and all three outfield positions, but he hasn’t demonstrated the ability to play any of them particularly well at the major league level thus far. Paul Konerko is having one of those sad, slow deaths to an otherwise remarkable MLB career and Jordan Danks has regained the title of “Worst J. Danks on the Chicago White Sox.”

28. Braves

WAR: -1.4

Biggest offenders: Dan Uggla (-0.6), Ryan Doumit (-0.6), Christian Bethancourt (-0.2).

Dan Uggla stands alone in this section as the only player who was supposed to be a starter for their team and then ended up being a bench player. Not only just a bench player, but one of the worst bench players. After being cut by the Braves, Uggla went hitless in four games with the Giants and made three errors, giving him an extra -0.4 WAR that isn’t even reflected here.

29. Mariners

WAR: -2.0

Biggest offenders: Stefen Romero (-1.0), Kendrys Morales (-0.6), Logan Morrison (-0.4).

The Mariners kind of fit the “stars and scrubs” model this year. The pitching staff, obviously, is led by mega-star Felix Hernandez and underrated-star Hisashi Iwakuma. The offense is led by mega-star Robinson Cano and underrated-star Kyle Seager. But that lineup has some holes. That’s how Stefen Romero amassed 180 plate appearances with a 52 wRC+, below average baserunning and below average defense. Good thing they traded for Austin Jackson! Logan Morrison’s presence on this list means the Mariners probably needed some help at 1B/DH, too. Good thing they traded for Kendrys Morales! Oh, wait.

30. Phillies

WAR: -2.5

Biggest offenders: Freddy Galvis (-0.9), Tony Gwynn (-0.7), Cesar Hernandez (-0.7).

For some reason this just doesn’t come as a huge surprise. I mean, it probably should. The Phillies are one of the oldest teams in the MLB, with an average age of 30, so conventional wisdom would be to assemble a strong bench to prepare for the frailty of having an old roster. But it just doesn’t come as a huge surprise. Seems like the Phillies have been finding themselves at the bottom of a lot of lists lately. Tony Gwynn Jr. lucked into some playing time due to Domonic Brown being literally the worst player in baseball this year, but wasn’t much better. If there’s a positive to take from all of this, it’s that none of these players play for the Phillies anymore! At the same time, it also means that Reid Brignac, Andres Blanco and Grady Sizemore do.

 

5. Padres

WAR: +1.4

Biggest helpers: Rene Rivera (+1.4), Cameron Maybin (+0.9), Tommy Medica (+0.8).

I mean, when your starters have been as bad as the Padres have been, you would hope the bench would be providing some value. Part of the reasoning behind this ranking is that there just haven’t been many consistent starters in San Diego, so the bench has accumulated a lot of playing time. But there have also been some pretty big contributions from that unit, too. Rene Rivera is actually second on the entire team in WAR, and that’s not even with his elite framing skills factored in. Rivera has always been a fantastic defensive catcher. A sudden power spike this season has turned him into quite the nifty bench piece.

4. Orioles

WAR: +1.6

Biggest helpers: Caleb Joseph (+1.1), Delmon Young (+0.9), David Lough (+0.7).

This is a weird list. First you’ve got Caleb Joseph, who the Orioles probably never wanted to receive as much playing time as he has already this season. But thanks to a Matt Wieters injury, he has, and it hasn’t been half bad. Joseph has posted league-average numbers at the plate coupled with a strong arm and good framing. Then you’ve got Delmon Young and David Lough, who are total opposites but each doing what they do best. Delmon Young is hitting the ball hard and not walking. David Lough is playing crazy good defense and not hitting. Role players succeeding in their roles.

3. Rays

WAR: +1.6

Biggest helpers: Brandon Guyer (+1.3), Ryan Hanigan (+0.9), David DeJesus (+0.9).

Thanks to a league average bat and a strong arm, Brandon Guyer has been a pretty useful piece off the Rays bench this year. Ryan Hanigan has been exactly what the Rays were counting on him to be when they acquired the 33-year-old catcher and then signed him to a three-year extension in the offseason. That is to say, one of the best defensive catchers in the MLB who can hit just enough to be pretty valuable. Sound like any other Rays catcher we know?

2. Athletics

WAR: +3.1

Biggest helpers: Stephen Vogt (+1.5), Craig Gentry (+1.1), Kyle Blanks (+0.6).

Of course the A’s are on this list. They’ve seemingly been the master of the platoon for a couple years now, and their depth and bench management has been vital to their recent resurgence as a franchise. Stephen Vogt is a weird catcher/right fielder hybrid who allows the A’s to DH John Jaso and still have a backup catcher without having to sacrifice a potential backup outfielder. The A’s traded for Gentry to serve as a fourth outfielder who provides both elite defense and speed, which is exactly what he’s done. And then there’s Kyle Blanks who I literally didn’t know was out of the Padres organization until I started doing this post, but it turns out he is and he’s been a monster so far in Oakland.

1. Dodgers

WAR: +4.6

Biggest helpers: Justin Turner (+2.1), Scott Van Slyke (+1.7), Chone Figgins (+0.6).

This one kind of surprised me. Well, first, let’s just tackle the elephant in the room, which is Chone Figgins being on this list. Weird. Anyway, this list kind of surprised me, but I guess it makes sense considering Justin Turner has provided more value himself than the entire bench units of 28 other teams. Turner has always been a league average hitter who can play all four infield positions, making him a pretty valuable piece off the bench. Then there’s Scott Van Slyke, whose three true outcome approach coupled with his ability to play surprisingly well in the outfield makes him a pretty valuable piece off the bench, too.

Here’s that graph I was talking about. The Tigers are in the middle there at 0.0:

 

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 10.36.04 AM




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August is currently an associate reporter for MLB.com, covering the Cleveland Indians. He previously covered the Indians, Browns and Cavs for the Akron Beacon Journal and ohio.com. He tweets often about the Indians, assorted nerdy baseball things and also other stuff, too. He'd like it if you followed him on Twitter @AugustF_ABJ, but you don't have to.


49 Responses to “The Best and Worst Benches So Far”

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  1. shrinkingtripod says:

    Gentry’s 1.1 WAR in limited time would be 5th among Rangers batters at the moment.

    Michael Choice managed an impressive -1.9 WAR in 219 PAs before finally getting optioned. Good thing this trade happened; if Texas had kept Gentry it would’ve seriously jeopardized their run at the first pick.

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  2. dang says:

    To be fair, Reid Brignac, Grady Sizemore, and Andres Blanco have combined for 0.1 WAR, which is 2.4 WAR better than the trio of Gwynn, Hernandez, and Galvis. It’s not great but it’s a step in the right direction.

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    • Paul says:

      Thanks for beating me to the punch. This is the kind of lazy fake analysis that I expect from ex-ballplayers and traditional media, not Fangraphs.

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      • Warning Track Power says:

        Except all of those guys have negative WAR for the year (Sizemore), their career (Blanco), or both (Brignac). It hardly qualifies as lazy fake analysis to make a flippant remark noting that replacing atrocious with merely bad is a good in the relative sense, the same way that a sprained ankle is better than a broken leg, but not as good as a healthy leg.

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        • Bill says:

          Plus, there’s something to be said for a last place team playing guys who could potentially have some upside. Gwynn, Galvis, and Hernandez are what pass for prospects on Amaro’s team.

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  3. everdiso says:

    Would love to see salaries included in this analysis.

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  4. Baltar says:

    I really enjoyed this article, August.
    I noticed that some of the benches were strong because they included players who were supposed to be starters but aren’t because they didn’t play well or are injured, e.g. the Rays with Hanigan (injured) and DeJesus (didn’t play well).

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    • Yeah, I went back and forth on whether I wanted to do “production from guys who were considered bench players at the start of the season” or the guys who have contributed bench player type playing time. I went with the latter, because I didn’t feel like it would be fair to count someone like Kevin Kiermaier as a bench player when he’s been playing basically everyday since the start of June and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

      The methodology isn’t totally perfect but I think it pretty much captures what I was trying to do.

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      • RaysDaddy says:

        I’ve read speculation that Kiermaier gets sent down when Myers returns. KK needs another 2 weeks or so in the minors to avoid super 2 status. And with his splits, he likely doesn’t see a lot of lefties when Myers returns, even if he isn’t sent down.

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  5. Jeff says:

    My favorite part about this post is the logo for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is about 15 years old.

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  6. Erik says:

    The Jays have gotten 2.4 WAR from all of their backups combined, with +4.0 from the producers, and -1.6 from the laggers who are no longer on the team.

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  7. Smoky Burgess says:

    Nice job on the article. Anybody need a pinch-hitter?

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  8. Ryan says:

    How are the Nationals ranked so high? just glancing at their page, it seems their bench has about -1 WAR

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  9. Aaron (UK) says:

    With the exception of backup catchers, you can usually identify the bench as having PA < (G*3). Might this make for a more robust methodology?

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    • Eric R says:

      Here’s what I get for leaders and trailers [numbers in brackets are the numbers Fangraphs came up with]:

      LAD +5.8 [+4.6]
      BAL +1.7 [+1.6]
      LAA +1.7 [+0.8]
      OAK +1.5 [+3.1]
      SDP +1.3 [+1.4]
      KCR +1.2 [+0.5]

      WSN -1.4 [+0.6]
      ATL -1.7 [-1.4]
      COL -1.7 [-0.5]
      ARI -1.8 [+1.3]
      PHI -3.6 [-2.5]

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  10. Eric R says:

    Here are the WARs, by team, for just the actual PHers:

    ARI 0.8
    COL 0.7
    OAK 0.7
    PIT 0.6
    BAL 0.6

    HOU -0.7
    MIA -0.7
    PHI -0.8
    ATL -0.9
    CHC -0.9

    That fixes the issue of ‘player X’ who is a great player but missed half the season with an injury counting as bench even though he’s almost always starting when he’s healthy enough to do so… but then also counts some starters as bench players when they have a day off and are acting as a bench player that day only.

    Maybe you take the top 5-6 guys by team by PH PAs and count their total stats regardless of whether they were starting or not?

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  11. Lemmer says:

    Good analysis, and the other members of the Braves bench thank you for leaving their names out.

    I’m sure that the range is very wide given smaller samples sizes of bench PAs, but has FG ever done analysis of “typical” percentage of team WAR that comes from a good bench?

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  12. Wobatus says:

    I know you went by PA, but Delmon Young has seemingly replaced Pearce as a regular, at least against lefties. Pearce seems to have stopped getting starts at all. He had 2 plate appearances this past week. Young had 19. Lough 9. At that rate by year end Pearce and his current 2.9 WAR will count as bench. Although at 2 PA a week he’d be a very underutilized bench asset. I have to imagine he’ll get some more plate appearances than that. He made a nice game ending snag in the outfield last week. Maybe there’s some kind of undisclosed injury hampering his swing. But it seems like it is mainly Delmon has been hotter recently.

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    • dave in gb says:

      Pearce was receiving the bulk if the playing time over Young because he was swinging a hot bat during the 1st half. Now its going to Young because he’s been hitting well. I think both players should be considered as bench, but Pearce is better in the outfield and can fill in at 1st base, whereas Young is playing where he should at DH. I see it as a platoon situation for the 2 players and its working well. And when Pearce is playing, Lough isn’t because Pearce can play LF decently. The funny thing is Lough ccame into season projected to be the starting LF, but now is just a defensive replacement for Nelson Cruz and Pearce

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      • Wobatus says:

        Yeah, Pearce actually seems like a decent fielder. But he hasn’t gotten any playing time the last week or so, even sitting against lefties like Buehrle and Happ.

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  13. munchtime says:

    I was surprised how well the Brewers bench rated, given how much we all complain about it. Probably Rickey Weeks pulling up the total.

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    • matt w says:

      Weeks, Elian Herrera, and Martin Maldonado have 0.5-0.6 WAR each. Bianchi and Overbay are the biggest culprits dragging them back down.

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  14. matt w says:

    As a few folks have noticed the methodology has trouble accounting for fluid player usage — the Pirates’ bench is being kept above water by Gregory Polanco, who’s been a starter since his midseason callup. If you were using the lineup that would be starting all things ideal, you’d probably put Pedro Alvarez on the bench — but he started enough that Polanco probably won’t catch him. To avoid that sort of thing you’d have to do some kind of day by day account of who had a starting job when and who wants to do that?

    (This would probably drive the Pirates up a bunch because they’d get to count a lot of Josh Harrison’t production as bench.)

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  15. Cliff says:

    What about pitching? E.g. pitchers who got called up to replace injured/ineffective starters? I would be interested to see a similar analysis on that side.

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  16. santorumforpresident says:

    When an injury happens, doesn’t the backup become the starter? For example with Wieters being out for the year, I would now classify Joseph as the Orioles starting catcher and Hundley as the backup.

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  17. Phillies113 says:

    I resent this. The beaches in South Jersey, close to the Philadelphia area, are some of the best in the country!

    (assistant whispers in ear)

    …oh. BeNches. Right. Gotcha.

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  18. Mike says:

    I know their series this weekend series against the Blue Jays was horrible, but I still feel like the Tigers are an MLB team, why not include them?

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  19. RaysDaddy says:

    I confused benches with benchings. Based on the headlines, I thought this was a Ryan Howard article.

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  20. RaysDaddy says:

    Pretty wild that the 2 teams that have traded for Fuld, are the 2 teams most known for their metrics approaches. Philly Phans: Iph your team ever trades phor Phuld, your GM has been phired, and your team is headed back to relavancy!

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  21. Colin Corstorphine says:

    Kyle Blanks hasn’t played in weeks… did he make that much of an impact in a short time?

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  22. MLB Rainmaker says:

    I guess I’m confused about what this analysis really says? I mean it would seem like the team that have PAs most distributed across their roster will be highest on this list, just because they get less PAs from the 1-9 and more PAs from the bench, right? And teams like the Rays and Athletics that use dedicated platoons, would be higher on the list — both due to distributed platoons and because they only play those bench player in the most advantageous situations for their offensive production.

    Granted the bench guys still have to produce…

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  23. gnomez says:

    I’m pretty stunned to see the Cardinals that close to the middle. The only way I can feature that is if you are counting both Bourjos and Jay as bench players.

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    • matt w says:

      Just Bourjos. His 1.2 WAR is keeping them closeish to replacement level. Descalso (-0.9), Taveras (-0.8), and Robinson (-0.5) are the main malefactors. Craig is in the top eight; if Bourjos, Jay, Molina, and Wong all pass him by the end of the season the calculation could look ugly.

      But I think this article tells us that benches across the league are bad. The awful bench players on our own teams may not be that much worse than the awful bench players on everyone else’s.

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  24. Mario says:

    I assume you didn’t look into what you wrote about the Phillies at all, huh?

    The Phillies are one of the oldest teams in the MLB, with an average age of 30, so conventional wisdom would be to assemble a strong bench to prepare for the frailty of having an old roster.

    The guys over 30 in their starting lineup are Ruiz, Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Byrd. Of the five, only Carlos Ruiz has been injured this year, and that was due to a concussion suffered when he took a fastball to the head while batting. Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Byrd have all played over 110 games already this season.

    Their health is actually a contributing factor to why they have so low a bench contribution in this analysis. For instance, John Mayberry leads the Phillies “Bench” (by your definition) with just 138 PAs. The Dodgers have three “Bench” players with more PAs than that. Tony Gwynn, Jr. is second in PAs from the Phillies’ bench with 119, which would be good for 5th on the Dodgers.

    The Dodgers 9th on down non-pitchers have a total of 1127 PAs. The Phillies 9th on down non-pitchers have a total of just 743 PAs. That’s under 2/3rds of the Dodgers’ PAs.

    Try making a chart of “Bench” PAs, and see how perfectly it overlays this one.

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    • jruby says:

      The health of the Phils’ old starters (and relatively scant use of the bench, as you argue) doesn’t account for the low bench contribution, though. Rather, that should tend to reduce magnitude of the bench contribution, which would be a pull towards zero WAR. The fact that the Phillies’ bench is pulling such a large negative number in fewer plate appearances just highlights how truly abysmal they’ve been.

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      • Mario says:

        Does it show how how bad their bench is, or does it show how having far fewer PA opportunities spread amongst the bench will result in greater fluctuation because the better guys are getting an weighed opportunity to produce. Again, would love to see an overlay of total PAs on this chart.

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  25. Jon L. says:

    I find it strange that most Major League benches (as defined by not one of the top 8-9 PA counts) are below replacement. Aren’t the top Triple-A players supposed to be replacement-level? This makes it seem like most of the players sitting in the dugout while their team is in the field are below replacement.

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  26. Senor_Met says:

    Why does it say Justin Turner has a 2.1 WAR? He only has a 1.8

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  27. Value arb says:

    The articles bench definition makes zero sense to me, unless you think in season added starters (from minors, trades, etc) are actually “bench players”.

    How hard is it to define a bench as the guys with the lowest percentage of starts to appearances?

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  28. B N says:

    I agree that the methodology to this is fairly hazy, but a good methodology is probably statistically harder to do. If I were doing this type of analysis, I would probably take each team and do a sliding window of a month’s worth of games (or possibly two weeks). If the guy started most of the games that month, he’s a starter over that period.

    Otherwise you end up with weird things like Drew on the Red Sox probably being considered “bench guy” even though he just happened to be a very-late-signed starter. My proposed approach will still leave out the small sides of platoons (while including the big sides of them), but those guys do count as bench players, right? With that said, this approach does assume that “starters” can change over the course of the season. Which, you know, kind of makes sense, given that they do.

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