B-E-N-C-H-O, and Bencho was his name-o

Well, the Red Sox are on a hot streak as of late. Other than the bullpen, there really isn’t any complaining to do. I suppose there is always Edgar Renteria, but we’ve been through the grinder with him. Let’s give him a break for a day. Today I think it’d be a good idea to cover the bench and see who we have on the bench and how they are helping the Red Sox. One very important thing that is overlooked by most people is the importance of a deep bench, as they can impact games in profound ways.
Let’s throw out some hypothetical examples to prove my point here. Let’s say your starting catcher is an All-Star catcher and the backup is all defense, no hit. Let’s say your starter is Jason Varitek and your bench catcher is Brad Ausmus (currently hitting .210/.302/.252). Now, Varitek has some sort of ailment, let’s say a tweaked hamstring, so is taking two days off. The first game is a normal game, we lose 5-2. Not out of the realm of possiblity to happen with Varitek in the lineup although our chances of winning would have been stronger. But now in the second game, Ausmus comes up with the bases loaded in the second and can’t do anything with it, grounding out. Then in the fith, he strikes out with a runner on first and one out. In the seventh he flies out with the bases empty and two out. In the ninth, Varitek pinch-hits and hits a double but is stranded, and we lose 4-2.
Now that’s not going to happen every time but let’s say that’s a game we should have won. Maybe it destroys some confidence, and even with Varitek back in the lineup, we drop five straight games. Now we’re five games back of a hot Yankee club and we slip into third place. Again, this isn’t going to happen every time out but it could happen even just once and be crippling. If you do not have an adequate replacement for a person out long-term or heck even one day, it could come back to bite you. We can afford to rest Johnny Damon more than normal because we have Jay Payton. If we had Ausmus and not Doug Mirabelli, Varitek would be catching a lot more.
A strong bench equals a strong lineup without your starters starting.
With that in mind, how has our bench done?
So far this year, out of the American League clubs (not the National League for obvious reasons) Boston has scored three runs as a pinch-hitter, ranking fifth. They are seventh in total bases (11) but ninth in slugging percentage, hitting .216/.400/.297. Now, obviously our bench is not well represented by these statistics, because you still have, and what is the case in the AL most of the time, most of your bench players starting, not pinch-hitting. (For what it’s worth, the leaders in the three categories above are the Yankees, Devil Rays, and Devil Rays.)
If we do, however, continue on the pinch-hitting bend for a while and check 2004, where our bench was a big plus, Boston scored ten runs (6th) with 36 TB (5th) and a .414 SLG (6th – .264/.323/.414). While bench effectiveness is not measured by PH, we can see here that last year the Red Sox were better at pinch-hitting.
The next best thing to do is compare the bench this and last year. For equalizing purposes, I have projected the statistics for the bench players this year over a full year. Makes sense. In addition, a bench has roughly five players on it. I will not be including those with cups of coffee, but those with the most AB. John Olerud is on pace for 66 AB this year, the least of any bench player, so we will use that as our bench mark for those people last year. Over 66 AB, you are included in the table.

 OF Jay Payton

 .270/.325/.452, 270 AB 12 HR, 52 R, 47 RBI

 OF Gabe Kapler 

 .272/.311/.390, 290 AB, 6 HR, 51 R, 33 RBI

 INF Ramon Vazquez

 .211/.237./246, 134 AB, 31 K, 14 R, 9 RBI

 INF Pokey Reese

 .221/.271/.303, 244 AB, 60 K, 32 R, 29 RBI

 INF Kevin Youkilis

 .308/.410/.462, 122 AB, 12 2B, 21 R, 19 RBI 

 INF Kevin Youkilis

 .260/.367/.413, 208 AB, 11 2B, 38 R, 35 RBI

 1B John Olerud

 .357/.406/.500, 66 AB, 23 H, 9 R, 9 RBI

 1B Doug Mientkiewicz

  .215/.286/.318, 107 AB, 23 H, 13 R, 10 RBI

 C Doug Mirabelli

 .222/.300/.400, 106 AB, 5 HR, 14 R, 14 RBI 

 C Doug Mirabelli

 .281/.368/.525, 160 AB, 9 HR, 27 R, 32 RBI

 

 

 INF/OF Dave McCarty

 .258/.327/.404, 151 AB, 40 K, 24 R, 17 RBI

 

 

 OF Dave Roberts

 .256/.330/.442, 86 AB, 5 SB, 19 R, 14 RBI

 

 

 INF Cesar Crespo

 .165/.165/.215, 79 AB, 20 K, 6 R, 2 RBI

 

 

 1B/OF Brian Daubach

 .227/.326/.413, 75 AB, 2 HR, 9 R, 8 RBI


A couple things. First, very interesting that four bench players last year got enough playing time to qualify. Our bench players this year have been pretty stagnant, which means things haven’t gone through that much upheaval that we did last year. Last year you had injuries and various things that needed more shuffling of the bench. Don’t think that there were more players, there were not. For example, Daubach appeared in April and I believe part of May, then was gone. Ditto Crespo, and Pokey was on the DL for a while. There were still five spots, but more upheaval. As you note, of the four people that have gone unanswered for this year, two were around in April/part of May and two came after the deadline, so already there has been more bench stability than before.
Now, let’s break it down by bench status. I have put Mientkiewicz opposite John Olerud rather than McCarty even though McCarty got more at-bats because Mientkiewicz had a more integral role in the club than McCarty, and McCarty could play the outfield. (I can’t believe he got 151 AB!)
JAY PAYTON and GABE KAPLER: Surprisingly similar, but Payton is having a better year, and is better defensively with a better arm. Why do we want Kapler so bad, then? First off, the team loved him. And you heard about it, and I’ve heard Kevin Millar has Kapler’s baseball card taped to his locker, even to this day. That says a lot about the impact Kapler had on the clubhouse. Secondly, whether statistically backed up or not, Kapler went out on the field and gave it his all. I don’t see his grit with Payton. Lastly, Kapler was fine with a bench spot, Payton is not. The two are similiar enough that we could bring Kapler back and actually possibly see a positive effect given Kapler’s popularity around these parts. However, statistics do not lie and this is an added strength. So advantage 2005 Red Sox.
RAMON VAZQUEZ and POKEY REESE: Another surprising similiarity, but Reese is much faster and a defensive whiz. While Vazquez isn’t this bad (career .260/.329/.338) his career numbers give credence to the fact that Reese would still have him beat factoring in speed and defense. Advantage 2004 Red Sox.
KEVIN YOUKILIS and KEVIN YOUKILIS: As you can see, in less projected playing time, Youkilis near matches 2004 Youkilis’ numbers. Not bad at all. Advantage 2005 Red Sox.
JOHN OLERUD and DOUG MIENTKIEWICZ: While Mientkiewicz is dazzling defense, Olerud’s offense more than makes up for it. In addition, Millar has no trouble sitting in favor of Olerud while he did with Millar, so the clubhouse improved as well. Even if you put McCarty in for Olerud, Olerud would still have the advantage. Advantage 2005 Red Sox.
DOUG MIRABELLI and DOUG MIRABELLI: Pretty clear that Belli has taken a step back. Advantage 2004 Red Sox.
This means that out of all the breakdowns, the Red Sox have the advantage in three positions, while the 2004 Sox have two. In addition, Mirabelli is still the same person, so if you eliminate him and Youkilis, the 2005 Red Sox have two better bench spots to 2004’s one, which is Ramon Vazquez and Pokey Reese. Considering Reese wanted to start and is being paid a lot more money to sit this year on the DL, you have to say that Vazquez wasn’t that bad of a downgrade/upgrade for in reality, it is advantage 2005 Red Sox based on Reese’s 2005 year so far.
So wow, the bench is actually a) more stable and b) more stronger than last year!
It’s certainly due for a shakeup soon as the Red Sox are going to be trying to find a home for OF Jay Payton and trying to get OF Adam Stern (a Rule 5 guy, he has ten more days on a rehab assignment before he is either put on the active roster or sent back to the Braves) on the roster. Even if Stern departs, Payton will still be looking for a home and we could call up OF Chip Ambres. It is certainly possible that in the Payton trade we could free up an OF spot for Stern and upgrade over Vazquez to get the pop lost by Payton, or Kapler could just return and replace that pop, and Payton could fetch a bullpen arm in return. Either way, dealing Payton means an increased strength elsewhere with added returns in deficient fields, whether it be the pop of our 2B/SS backup or the speed of Adam Stern being added to give us a set of wheels.
This look at the bench has shown me that while the Red Sox aren’t so hot in the pinch-hitting department, their bench is actually stronger than last year, and if the cards fall right (trade of Payton for a bullpen arm, a lefty, hopefully) and the return of Gabe Kapler, our bench could end up both improving itself and improving the bullpen! If I lived in a dream world, I would have Gabe Kapler return as a OF while Jay Payton was traded for a bullpen arm (either handedness not picky based on the following move) and LHP Lenny DiNardo (3.98 ERA in 54.1 IP, 12 G 12 GS) called up. Bye bye, John Halama and Alan Embree. Payton could fetch a quality lefty or righty arm, and our bullpen is improved for it.