The Cardinals, The Dodgers, And Depth

Team depth can be defined many different ways: the quality of your fifth starter, the quality of your bench, the contributions from your non-stars. And, looking at the results of the games so far in the National League Championship Series, you might think the Cardinals had superior depth, given home runs by Shane Robinson and shutdown innings by Seth Maness. But if we look at the year as a whole, and these two rosters as a whole, a different sort of picture emerges. Again, depending on your definition.

One very compelling definition of depth was put forth by Dave Cameron when he discussed the Oakland Athletics earlier this season. He showed the individual contributions of each roster slot on two different A’s teams to show that the new Oakland teams thrive on getting positive contributions out of the middle — and fewer terrible contributions out of the back end of the team.

Here’s a similar graph comparing the Dodgers and Cardinals this year:

You could look at this a few different ways. The Dodgers have more depth because they have better contributors in the middle. Or the Cardinals have more depth because their worst players were better than the Dodgers’ worst players.

Let’s try to sum the National League up and see if this changes our perspective. Say ‘depth’ is ‘contributions from the 20th to 30th man.’ Those are your up-and-down youngsters, your bench guys, your middle relievers. How do our two teams fare in this metric?

Team 20th-30th WAR
Marlins 0.1
Padres 0.2
Brewers 0.3
Phillies 0.3
Dodgers 0.4
Reds 0.6
Giants 0.8
Cardinals 0.9
Nationals 1.1
Mets 1.3
Dbacks 1.7
Pirates 1.8
Rockies 2.1
Cubs 2.2
Braves 3.2

Neither team does exceptionally well here. But if you look at the back end of the Dodger’s bullpen (Carlos Marmol, yes, we are looking at you) versus the virtually un-ending parade of young men with Stuff in St. Louis, you might see that it’s a bit of an unfair fight.

Once Matt Adams moved into the starting lineup in St. Louis, it seems their bench has become less interesting. Daniel Descalso, Shane Robinson and Adron Chambers have been been fine, but none of the three would normally count as a big bat off the bench. What if we define ‘depth’ as the contributions you receive — on offense — from your tenth to fifteenth man? Would this look a little different? After all, even if Michael Young isn’t the player he used to be, he’s seemingly a better option off the bench for a pinch-hit plate appearance than the Cardinals have.

Team 10th-15th Offense WAR
Marlins 0
Nationals 0.4
Phillies 0.5
Cardinals 0.6
Pirates 1.0
Brewers 1.2
Reds 1.2
Mets 1.3
Rockies 1.3
Padres 1.6
Dbacks 1.9
Giants 1.9
Braves 2.0
Dodgers 3.3
Cubs 4.0

Now the intuitive picture that we have of these two rosters seems to line up with the numbers. The Cardinals have depth! It’s more on the pitching side of things. The Dodgers have some depth! It’s more in the lineup. Given the pinch-hitting penalty, and the fact that you have more pitchers than hitters available to you during a given game, it seems that pitching depth would serve you better. Maybe Game Five will reveal more on the subject.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

12 Responses to “The Cardinals, The Dodgers, And Depth”

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  1. tehzachatak says:

    Access denied on the first graph.

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  2. croggs says:

    Eno, I think you meant the Cards other anemic outfielder: Sugar Shane Robinson, not Chambers.

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  3. stan says:

    Since WAR is so dependent on playing time, an analysis of reserves’ quality based on WAR is misleading. Using these players as an example, even if Wong, Cruz, and Chambers were good (they’re not) we’d never know it because they spent so much of this year in AAA or on the DL. We’d also never know that Adams is a very high quality reserve because he was on the bench most of the year. Similarly, Martinez and much of the Dodgers’ bullpen is underrated here because many of them spent much of the year on the DL or in the minors.

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    • stan says:

      I forgot to add: Young looks great here because he has a full seasons’ worth of at bats though most fangraphs readers know that he’s not earned those at bats. He’d still be better on the Cards’ bench than Chambers, but I digress. If I’m being honest, everyone on the Dodgers’ bench is better than everyone on the Cardinals’ bench.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Young actually was worth negative 0.2 WAR for the Dodgers, so I don’t think he looks great here. And I chose WAR because I wanted a stat tied to playing time because I was trying to look at each team’s bench without actually naming each bench player for each team.

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        • filihok says:

          I agree with Stan. WAR/600 PA or similar would have been better.

          Any team with a lot of injuries to starters is going to look like they have depth since their bench will get more playing time (unless the bench produces negative WAR)

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        • Eno Sarris says:

          Here’s why I disagree. 1) If a guy on the bench performs well while a starter is hurt, and therefore pushes the WAR values in the 10th-15th area up, I think that’s depth. So it’s fine with me. 2) I’m not going to take a small sample and pro-rate it for this. You get .1 WAR in 10 PA, good for you, but I’m not giving you 6 WAR in order to evaluate your help to the team.

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  4. Nick says:

    Shane Robinson hit the HR, not Chambers.

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  5. My hypothesis on the this series is that the Dodgers pitching advantage has been mostly nullified by the afternoon start times. For purposes of argument, assume that you’d expect:

    Kershaw 7ip, 2 runs
    Wacha 5.2ip, 2.5 runs.

    Afternoon starts times render all hitters Nick Punto when the shadows hide the ball’s motion, at least for an hour or maybe more. Kershaw can’t go minus runs, so if they both go 7ip, 0 runs, Kershaw’s advantage evaporated. And Wainright, too.

    How you test the hypothesis and separate its effects from everything else happening, I have no idea. But my eyes tell me there’s something.

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  6. Jeff Gilham says:

    This is a really interesting comment. I’m a Mariner fan (as much as that is possible) and the afternoon starts are brutal at Safeco field. Safeco is very pitcher friendly in general and even more so in the afternoon. I’m wondering if this comment generalizes to low run environments reducing the advantage of elite pitching? Felix in Safeco on a sunny afternoon in July is fun to watch – a near guaranteed shutout.

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