A curious thought popped into my head the other day. As things stand right now the Pirates obviously need improved production to compete in 2013 and beyond but does that production necessarily have to come from the top? What about the bottom of the roster and the so-called replacement players. By replacement players in this sense I’m meaning the people who during a season get playing time but were not being counted on to do so by their teams. For the Pirates of 2012 this would be the Drew Sutton’s of the world. How bad comparatively is the Pirates production at that level.
I cam about thinking of this because of some numbers I’ve seen earlier which suggest the Pirates “hidden” offensive numbers, as I like to call them, were far below league average in 2012. Now what do I mean by hidden offensive numbers. Well the production from the 8 positions on the field are widely talked about but not the production from the pitcher or the team’s pinch hitters. WIthout going into too much detail as this isn’t what this post is really about the Pirates last season got a .245 OPS from their pitchers and a .513 OPS from their pinch hitters, the NL average was a .330 OPS from pitchers and .655 OPS from pinch hitters. I think those numbers speak for themselves so I’ll move on from here.
All this presented a real problem though because how does one begin to measure what a replacement player is? If the replacement players do well then they become not replacement players and that is something I’m not interested in measuring. I could spend a while trying to figure out a good way to make a distinction or I could find some assumption to make and while it may not be very accurate it would give me a place to start. I choose to go with the assumption route and the assumption I made is that teams, brace yourselves for this, aren’t going to give bad replacement level players a lot of plate appearances. Shocking I know. So I decided to look at the production of players with fewer than 100 PA. For the purpose of this discussion since I’m talking bottom of the roster offensive production I decided to include pitchers in my numbers. When I say production what I am looking for is a good overall snapshot of how the players did. For me there is no better stat for that than WAR. It has its problems yes but for a general discussion like this it is a good place to start.
Now the other issue here is I didn’t just want to find out the Pirates numbers I wanted to compare it to other so I choose their 4 closest competitors the rest of the NL Central. Since this is looking more ahead than behind I excluded the Astros from this discussion. Below are the numbers on how each of the 5 teams performed.
Cardinals: 21 players, 763 PA, 2.0 WAR
Reds: 17 players, 679 PA, 0.7 WAR
Brewers: 25 players, 721 PA, 0.5 WAR
Cubs: 24 players, 623 PA, -1.4 WAR
Pirates: 24 players, 811 PA, -2.3 WAR
Now just a couple of notes on each team.
The Cardinals strong number is fueled by Pete Kozma who posted a strong 1.4 WAR in just 82 PA and is also helped out by Lance Berkman receiving only 97 PA while posting a 0.4 WAR.
The Reds number is helped by Xavier Paul who posted a 0.5 WAR in 96 PA.
The Brewers number is arrived at with no real oddities although Alex Gonzalez, who they were counting on to be their starting shortstop is included here with 89 PA and 0.3 WAR.
The Cubs number is kept from being worse by Dave Sappelt who posted a 0.9 WAR in 78 PA. The also have Marlon Byrd who posted the lowest WAR of the group with a -0.8 WAR in just 47 PA
The Pirates have only two players in this group with a positive WAR, Jordy Mercer at 0.4 and James McDonald at 0.3. The lowest total belongs to Nate McLouth at -0.5 WAR.
*Note: The WAR totals are fangraphs WAR just to avoid any confusion
Now the Pirates replacement players as I have defined them were 3.0 wins worse than the division winning Reds and 4.3 wins worse than the wild card winning Cardinals. That is of course in itself not enough to make up the difference between the club but if the Pirates can cut that difference down in 2013 they become 2-3 games closer to those teams and that is a start. Another thing worth noting is that the Pirates lead the division in PA given to this group of players. Maybe this points to a lack of back-end talent and trying to figure out what works or maybe it points to some bad luck. I’m not sure but obviously you want more at bats going to the upper part of your roster. We can’t really determine much from this data but one thing I think is perfectly clear and that is the depth of the Pirates was an issue in 2012. The Pirates have made some moves to address that problem in 2013 and let us hope it works because if so that is a step in the right direction. The heavy lifting is still going to have to be done by the Pirates top end players but the guys at the bottom can make that load a little lighter by simply not being a hindrance.