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.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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9 years ago

Access denied on the first graph.