Yesterday, we lazily examined Bruce Bochy's qualifications as a Hall of Fame manager and what it even means to be a Hall of Fame manager. Today, I ask that you consider the question "What is depth?". The catalyst for this query:
Bochy said this is a better club than last season's because of the depth. #sfgiants— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) December 17, 2013
Oh golly. That doesn't sound right. Not at all. It most definitely doesn't feel right, either. "Depth", in this case, reads like Bochy's using the buzzword du jour. After all, the current wisdom has declared that the Athletics and Red Sox have managed to stay ahead of the market and turn around a poor team performance, respectively, because of their adroit accumulation of major league talent, creating on their 25-man rosters stupendous depth.
It shouldn't be too difficult for us to cobble together a broad definition of "depth", however.
- Having talent in reserve that can approximate the performance(s) of the starter(s).
- An assemblage of personalities and facial hair that creates a reservoir of good will to be tapped into during slumps.
- WAR. WAR everywhere. So much WAR. All the time with the WAR. bWAR, fWAR, alltheWAR.
And we know that depth is most important because injuries do happen. Depth's intent is not to spell or outright replace an aging superstar, it's to serve as an inventory of replacement parts. Ideally, these replacement parts are not merely replacement level (though that should be the worst case scenario for the talent floor), they're a bit better than that. Maybe not quite a brand new eye for Wall-E, but one that will still allow him to see and get around post-fatpocalyptic Earth. Or, I suppose for this discussion, someone who can replace an injured Angel Pagan without making us scream for the Giants to field only eight players.
The Giants used 44 players in total during the 2013 campaign. For the sake of this lengthy discussion, though, we're going to leave out the pitchers and focus squarely on the hitters. The non-starters wound up having a lot of plate appearances due to some significant injuries (Angel Pagan, Marco Scutaro, Pablo Sandoval). It was an odd breakdown and made a comparison between the Giants and the perceived depthmasters (Athletics, Red Sox) difficult. A table!
Quick notes: Jeff Francoeur guest starred for 63 plate appearances and was Scrappy-Doo awful, Kensuke Tanaka had a .353 on base percentage in 34 plate appearances, and even Hector Sanchez and Tony Abreu missed a big chunk of time due to injury. The Giants' contingency plans needed contingency plans, in other words, and if you have to run a marathon with your pants down, it's going to look a lot like 76-86.
The 2013 Giant's team on base percentage was .320. The 9 players above coughed up collectively a putrid .284. For comparison's sake, the A's team OBP was .327, but their non-starter players with at least 100 plate appearances combined for .322. The Red Sox team OBP was .349, their reserves: .340. Obviously, we can argue about who counts as a planned reserve and what a planned reserve versus a forced reserve (whom I'll define as a mid-season callup to replace either an injured/ineffective bench player or starter) does to the perception of a team's depth, but let's stick with this on base percentage thing so that I can finally bring you around to my point.
It makes a lot of sense to view the bench as a place of specialization. You've got your glove guy, your speed guy, your pinch hitter extraordinaire, your backup catcher, your developing/promising youngster who has nothing left to learn in the minors, or Aubrey Huff-type "character", sure... that's the common view and how most teams go about fleshing out the bench.
But I think A's and Red Sox look at the bench as an opportunity to do more of the same as in the starting lineup. Couldn't you say that Chris Young is the poor man's amalgamation of Yoenis Cespedes-Coco-Crisp-Josh Reddick? Speed, defense, power, and an OBP that won't kill you. Aren't Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes the faintest whisper of David Ortiz and Mike Napoli? The A's and Red Sox have always valued on base percentage in addition to power, speed, and defense. The Giants have always valued guys who don't strike out and won't embarrass themselves in the field.
So, the bigger point here is that the Giants' preference for a 1-8 of Freddy Sanchezes really works against them in the depth department. The ability to generate runs by not making outs is magnified quite a bit for part-time players, wouldn't you say? And populating the roster with players who have, in their careers, been really, really bad at not making outs really makes losing players deemed to be starter-quality an absolute season-killer.
So, do the Giants have more depth for 2014? Maybe. With Gregor Blanco's career .347 OBP going to the bench, the bench is improved. Michael Morse's career .334 OBP and chuckletastic defense, though, hurts the starting lineup. The lineup is, presumably, improved in the power department.
We still don't know what's going to happen with Brett Pill, Ehire Adrianza, and/or Nick Noonan. Let's assume Brett Pill's MLB career .279 OBP gets DFA'd or traded. That leaves Hector Sanchez (.299 OBP, 401 career PA), Tony Abreu (.285 OBP, 611 PA), Joaquin Arias (.302 OBP, 855 PA), Juan Perez (MLB: .302 OBP, Minors: .318 OBP) and the aforementioned Noonan (a career .322 OBP in the minors) and Adrianza (minor league career .335 OBP) as the Giants' "depth".
The Giants insist that Hector Sanchez is the next Yadier Molina. They remain intrigued by Tony Abreu's... something. Joaquin Arias persists. Juan Perez has caught Bochy's eye. Noonan is a left handed-hitting middle infielder who doesn't seem to be great at either of those things just going by the ol' eye test. Adrianza's got glove.
There's no way the Giants match up with the Athletics and Red Sox in terms of depth (we'll ignore pitching and the starting lineups, of course). The players they've publicly penciled in to serve as the depth in 2014 are, for their careers, both in the minors and majors, barely at or clearly below major league-caliber. While I wouldn't say that my cursory examination here is definitive, my immediate reaction is that the organization has hobbled its chances of building depth at the major league level -- in the way that the industry now views the term -- because of a historical aversion to walks/on base percentage.
Injuries and performance can spoil any team's best laid plans, but a stubborn process can play spoiler, too.