If 2015 showed us anything, it’s that depth is crucial for the St. Louis Cardinals. Otherwise, the club would have never made it to the postseason.
Then again, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan twice tried to calculate team depth heading into the 2015 season, and the results were pretty suprising both times. You’d assume the deepest teams would be the winningest ones. But then you’d be wrong.
Last January, Sullivan calculated the number of 1.0 WAR position players per team by using FanGraphs’
STEAMER600, which project every player out at 600 at bats so everyone is on a level playing field. The assumption going in was that teams with the most 1.0 WAR players would be in the best position to win. Things go wrong over 162 games. When starters go down, it benefits teams to put capable players in there as replacements.
Cardinals fell into the middle of the pack with the eventual World Champion Kansas City Royals, while the playoff-bound New York Mets, Houston Astros and Texas Rangers all were toward the bottom of the graph. Sullivan admitted the calculations weren’t perfect. Plenty of free agent depth was still available, and STEAMER projections couldn’t be made on imports like Jung-Ho Kang.
So, a couple of months later, Sullivan did it again, factoring updated depth charts after a few free agency signings as well as other stats in addition to the STEAMER projections. He also included pitching depth, which pushed the St. Louis Cardinals toward the top of the list. And yet, the Rangers, Royals, Astros and Toronto Blue Jays were all among the shallowest teams heading into the season.
The takeaway here isn’t that depth doesn’t matter. It’s that quality depth is hard to measure. Even though he was one of the most touted prospects in the game, Carlos Correa surprised a lot of people with his season. Kang was a godsend for Pittsburgh. Who knew Kendrys Morales would be the run-producing beast he was in Kansas City? Or that the Blue Jays would get as much as they did from starter Marco Estrada?
Having depth is better than not having it, Sullivan’s graphs be darned (this is a family Web site). So let’s play bench bargain bingo. Here are five players I’d love to see the St. Louis Cardinals go get so the team is ready whenever the inevitable unknowns occur.