Last month, writing primarily about Dan Duquette’s Orioles, Jeff Sullivan observed the strong correlation between a team’s success and that same team’s ability to avoid players who produce negative WAR figures. As early as 2010, in fact, Jeff Zimmerman addressed a similar concept here with also similar findings. The conclusion of both pieces: avoiding blatant weaknesses/positional holes is probably just as relevant to a team’s success as acquiring or retaining superstar types — while also generally costing much less.
In part, this is a function of selection bias: clubs with legitimate postseason aspirations are more likely to address weaknesses — by way of mid-season trades, for example — than are clubs for whom such marginal improvements would only render them 10 games below .500 instead of 12. But that’s not the only explanation. And, in fact, some teams have essentially “stolen” wins by identifying affordable and valuable depth players.
For example, from that piece cited above, Sullivan writes about the relative success of the Rays and Dodgers are avoiding the awful in recent years:
[T]here’s… something to be noted here about Andrew Friedman, Ned Colletti, the Rays, and the Dodgers. You see the Rays at the top of the table, with just -8.3 combined negative WAR. The Dodgers are at -18.8, toward the bottom. While the Dodgers, over the last three years, have combined for seven more positive WAR than the Rays, the Rays have been better by about 4 WAR overall, because they’ve been able to have better depth. Friedman has always accumulated talent beyond just the active roster, while Colletti had weaknesses on the active roster.
So with Friedman bolting for Los Angeles, this is an area where I’d expect pretty quick improvement. The Friedman Dodgers will be better prepared for emergency, and they should have plenty of decent players around if and when they need to go past the first 25. This is a way that Friedman had to stay a step ahead in Tampa in order to compete, but it’s not like that lesson will be forgotten just because he has access to a lot more money. No one wants injuries or surprising underperformance, but generally those things can’t be avoided, so the better prepared you are, the better your team’s chances of survival. Friedman and the rest of his staff will work to make the Dodgers more bulletproof. The Brandon League contract can exist for only so long.
Two acquisitions by the Dodgers on Saturday alone indicate Friedman’s intentions to address the team’s depth. First, in the morning, the club signed infielder Buck Britton to a minor-league deal. As noted by the present author last Wednesday, Britton possessed the second-highest projected WAR among the offseason’s remaining minor-league free agents. He’s able to play second and third base — and is a likely candidate to be utilized elsewhere, as well.
Later in the day, the Dodgers acquired right-hander Mike Bolsinger — who’d been designated for assignment by the Diamondbacks — in exchange merely for cash considerations. Despite a pretty miserable 5.50 ERA over 52.1 innings for Arizona, Bolsinger’s fielding-independent numbers were excellent (90 xFIP-, 105 FIP-) working in almost exclusively a starting capacity. His projection as a starter before the trade called for Bolsinger to produce a 1.7 WAR every 200 innings. Projected as a reliever, Bolsinger still profiles as better than replacement level — and about half a win better than the aforementioned Brandon League, who’ll be out-earning Bolsinger by ca. $7.0 million.
Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.