Okay lets quickly understand what a major league bench is. A major league bench exists so that guys who aren’t good enough to play every day (that’s putting it nicely) sit around in case a scenario presents itself, whether it be a critical AB late in the game, replacing somebody for defensive purposes, speed off the bench, a nightmare scenario where the starter gets injured and has to miss significant time. Ken Rosenthal mentions this in his article.
Yes I understand it, we can sometimes look at the bench and be worried that there isn’t enough talent on the Dodgers reserve squad, but listen, the fact is they’re a bench squad. Again, players who can’t play everyday because they’re not good enough. The players currently on the bench for Australia are going to be Scott Van Slyke, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Tim Federowicz, and Mike Baxter (for now).
Not a stellar bunch. But lets take this with the caveat that mostly all of the reserve players in major league baseball are very underwhelming. Lets also assume that there are specific roles for specific players. If we assume both of these things, we can see that maybe the Dodgers bench isn’t so bad after all. Yes sample sizes count in all of this analysis, benches are in fact volatile, but I do think past performance, and improvement based off of past performance is very, very important.
Quickly defining roles is difficult, but lets assume that there are 4 major uses for bench players, and that’s being a pinch hitter late in the game, defensive replacement, speed off the bench, and long term replacement (15 day DL) for an injured starter. I do think that the bench is capable of being adequate.
Pinch Hitter Late In The Game: There are a couple of players here you could use
*Whether or not they’d actually get used is a different question*
Justin Turner has actually had a nice career thus far in a backup role most of the time he’s been in the majors, a .260/.323/.361 line is perfectly adequate for a bench player. Turner hit .280 last season in limited time, and if you need a base hit late in the game, he’s a fine player to have in your back pocket.
Scott Van Slyke has also proven to me last season that he can be the pinch hitter late in the game. After an abysmal 2012 season, SVS dedicated his whole 2013 offseason to trimming down, and it showed. He hit .240/.342/.465 in limited time last season, and take this with a huge grain of salt, but that OPS was a point above Adrian Gonzalez‘s. His .225 ISO (Slugging % – Batting Average) was very nice, he improved from his horrid years, and I believe that he’s going to be more than adequate, he has power as shown by his 15 extra base hits in 129 AB’s.
Hanley Ramirez‘s Late Game Defensive Replacement: Every team needs a guy that can step in and be a very good late inning defensive replacement when you have the lead, so who can play multiple positions fairly adequately? Well Chone Figgins has played pretty much every single position this Spring aside from 1B, Catcher, and Pitcher, and he has a career 34 defensive runs saved in 5260.2 innings at 3B. He’s also played SS in his career, and has been working on it this Spring. While we can’t trust his sample size of defensive metrics from SS, maybe he has learned the position this past year adequately and can play a decent SS off the bench in case of a late game situation. Justin Turner isn’t a very capable defender, I wont try to convince you otherwise, however he does offer experience at SS, 3b (both where he wasn’t completely horrendous), and 2b (where he was completely horrendous). Scott Van Slyke is able to play all 3 OF positions without completely horrible metrics as shown by a 3 DRS in 383.1 innings in the outfield, Tim Federowicz has always been a glove first catcher, and Mike Baxter, saver of perfect games, plays an average RF and LF. Are these defensive studs that will instantly make the whole team better with the glove? No. Is there versatility with some upside in the infield with Figgins, FedEx, and in the outfield with SVS? I believe so.
Speed Off The Bench: This is where it gets somewhat interesting. Even with Chone Figgins being 36 and all, apparently he is still really really fast. He was clocked at 6.3 seconds to first base which does equate to elite speed. Figgins main problem since 2010 has been getting on base. Yes that’s a huge problem to have, but speaking strictly as a pinch runner elite speed, and proven success on the basepaths in years past (337 SB’s in his career) equates to success in a running role.
Long Term Replacement: Yeah this isn’t fun. I suppose Justin Turner could fill in for a small but at either 3B, SS, or 2B. But ultimately 2b is Guerrero’s I believe. Scott Van Slyke could probably play a decent 1b, and maybe platoon with an OF, the club did survive an A.J. Ellis DL trip last season with Federowicz, but long term as in more than 15 days? They are pretty weak (which is typical for a major league bench)
In Rosenthal’s article he states that people around the league think the Dodgers’s bench could be the worst in the NL West. That’s all fine and good, the Padres have a pretty solid bench, as do the Rockies, but really? The Giants? Their bench is likely comprised of Hector Sanchez, Tony Abreu, Joaquin Arias, Gregor Blanco, Ehire Adrianza, and Juan Perez. I wouldn’t take that over the Dodgers bench. Or what about the Diamondbacks? Who are foul tip from starting 41 year old Henry Blanco (67 career OPS+), Eric Chavez is a lock to miss a month every single season and is 36 years old, Cliff Pennington is the Diamondbacks backup 2b/SS, he of the 68 OPS+ in the past two seasons. Tony Campana‘s 69 OPS+ doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either, even if he has shown some speed. Yes, granted, Cody Ross seems like a good play off the bench, but he’s nowhere near the level of either Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.
Worst bench in the division? Meh.
So there you have it. A perfect bench? Far from it. A major problem? Not even close