Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Importance Of A Complete Roster

DV's post about the Yankees lack of a proven 4th and 5th starter got me thinking about baseball rosters in comparison to that of other team sports. If you took away every team's 4th and 5th starters, the Yankees roster would probably be the best in the game. You could probably make a case for the Phillies and Red Sox, but the point is the only concern on the Yankees right now out of 25 spots is these two. They are absolutely stacked everywhere else - they don't have a single positional weakness, have a deep bullpen anchored by the best closer in the game, have a Top 5 starter in the game fronting the rotation, and usually even manage to put together a pretty good and deep bench - and yet these two spots are cause for concern. And rightfully so. In baseball, it is really tough to be a great team in the regular season if you aren't getting much from the back of the rotation. I'm not saying this will be the case for the Yankees in 2011, I'm just saying that is the perception now.

Only in baseball would these be the case. And that is because for a team sport it is an individual game. Yes, the pitcher and catcher have to work together, and fielders have to work together, but that pales in comparison to what goes on in other team sports like football, basketball, soccer, and hockey. And because it is more of an individual game, the more talent matters. The more team a game is in nature, the more you can make up for a lack of talent with other things like coaching, the way a team plays together, and the team's concentrated talent carrying the rest of the roster.

Since we have another weekend of NFL playoffs on the horizon, a football analogy that concerns two teams we all know well. The Patriots were the best team in football in the 2011 regular season, and are the favorite right now to win the Super Bowl. The Giants were a good but not great team during the regular season and ultimately couldn't get it done when it mattered most. Which team has more talent up and down the roster? The Giants. If you take away the quarterbacks, it's even more decided. The Patriots, beyond Brady and a few select others, are a lot of guys most people outside of New England have never heard of. They don't have the depth of individual talent like Tuck, Umenyiora, Manning, Jacobs, Nicks, Smith, and others. But they Patriots have the best player on either team by a wide margin (Brady), have the best coaching in the game, and they know how to do all of the intangibles as a team (like not turning the ball over) that produce wins

I don't mean any of this as a swipe against the Patriots; just the opposite, I mean it as a compliment. It's one of the beauties of these sports that it's not all about talent. You can have a good but not great roster, but by relying on star players like Brady, having great coaches like Belichick outcoach others, and playing a team up with things besides pure traditional production you can be great and not good, like the Patrioits are. We see this all the time in these sports. Look at the Cavs with Lebron and look at the same team without him.

You can't get away with this in baseball. If you could, nobody would be worried about the 2011 Yankees. They have the kind of upper level talent and leadership that really cares (C.C., Jeter, Rivera, Rodriguez, Tex, etc.) that you could see making others better. They have a manager, who though imperfect, is smart enough and works hard enough that you could see him influencing a game more if baseball was the kind of game that could be influenced more by coaching. You could also see them putting the intangibles together because the coaching and the star talent would demand it of everyone. As it is, the Yankees' starting infield committed 20 errors combined all of last season. That's one error as a unit a little more than every eight games, which is insane. Some guys commit more errors in a year all by themselves. So what little the Yankees can control in this regard, they do.

But it's just not as much as in other sports, not enough to really change the course of a season. If the Patriots and Giants were baseball teams, they would probably swap places. The Giants would be elite and the Patriots would be good but not great. Because baseball is all about talent. For that same reason, the Yankees can't do all of the things that the Patriots did this football season. Despite having only two holes, question marks, or whatever you want to call them on the roster, it's a lot tougher to cover them up in baseball. You can try to slug your way to wins, or win every day when the first three in your roster pitch, or whatever, but it's just not easy to do in baseball. The easiest way is to have a complete roster, and thus the Yankees are left in a spot where they really need to fill one or both of those spots.


The GM said...

I feel like the 1998 Yankees would disagree with you there. But are there more teams like the 1998 Yankees...or teams like the 2004 Red Sox, the 2009 Yankees, and several Phillies teams in recent years? The teams with the talent usually win over 162. Remember the name 162-Rod?


Patrick said...

huh? the 1998 yankees were more talented than any of those teams, with as many as six players who are at least in the hall of fame conversation on the roster. they just didn't happen to have a traditional power bat. but they had everything else and then some. let's not mistake that - along with their pass the baton approach - with being a team that needs to make up for a lack of talent in other areas. i mean, they brought tim raines, chili davis, and joe girardi off the bench. if you have nine guys better than them, you're a ridiculously talented team. anyway, we don't need to go into all the reasons why that team was so talented. suffice to say they were and that's the main reason they won as frequently as they did. instead of that team disagreeing with me, they would be the quintessential example of just how key a complete roster can be in baseball.

Anonymous said...


Could you name the six that are in hall of fame consideration.

Patrick said...


locks: rivera/jeter.

should be in: raines/posada.

serious consideration: williams/pettitte.

if you want to expand the definition of "conversation" to guys who will be on the ballot and will garner some discussion but are extreme long shots to get in, then there are eight: cone/o'neill. but the above are six candidates with serious chances to get in or better, which is what i was initially referring to.

The GM said...

For the record, Posada before Raines. Raines is out in my book.