How Much Does Bench Depth Really Matter?

Jake Fox, Eric Patterson, Akinori Iwamura, Jeremy Hermida, Matt Watson, Matt Carson, Jeff Larish, Eric Chavez, Travis Buck, Gabe Gross...

If you're anything like me, reading this list of names just made you cringe--or throw up in your mouth.  What do these players have in common?  Other than the fact that none of them have yet nailed down a spot on a major league roster this year, they were all bench type players for the Oakland A's last year.  Also, they all have relatively zero chance to play on the A's this year (please no more Matts).  And with the exception of Gross, none of these players spent much time on the 25-man roster.

Though it doesn't seem like they played enough to make much of a difference, collectively they had 917--yes, 917--plate appearances with the A's last year.  Together they hit a pitiful .208 with a .268 on-base-percentage.  To make matters worse, most of their at bats came at prime hitting positions: corner outfield and designated hitter.

To put this in perspective, 15% of the A's 2010 plate appearances went to one of these players.  Nearly 6 at bats per game went to a player collectively averaging .208 with a .268 OBP.  Shameful.

Now that they're gone, what does this mean for our 2011 A's?

Take a jump for the good news.

Five of the ten players listed earlier started the 2010 season on the 25-man roster.  The good news is they're gone.  We could say that: Buck is replaced by Crisp, Chavez is replace by Willingham, Gross is replaced by Dejesus, Fox is replaced by Powell, and Patterson is replaced by Matsui.

Musical chairs is rarely good for a team.  In 2010, the A's had 25 players who saw at least 30 plate appearances. That's 2 more players than any other AL team.  Exactly half of the AL teams had 19 or fewer of these players. The Angels were the worst club in that group, and they were only 1 game below .500.  Of the other half--the A's group--only 2 teams had more wins than losses.

The A's are set up for offensive improvement this year, not just because the outfield is improved, but because the bench is much more stable.  We would need to have even more injuries than normal (normal for the A's) to call for so many replacements.

Let's try to crudely project how the A's will hit in 2011 with these additions.

Our three new additions (Willingham, Dejesus, and Matsui) collectivey had a very productive year last season--despite injuries--combining for 1403 plate appearances and batting .285 with a .382 OBP

Last year the A's as a team hit .256 with a .324 OBP--9th in the AL in both categories.

However, if you take out those 917 awful plate appearances, the numbers rise to a .265 AVG with a .335 OBP--jumping up to 8th and 5th respectively in the AL.

Now to even out plate appearances I need to make some assumptions.  And like I said, this is just a crude projection.  We can even consider this to be a projection of how the A's would have performed offensively last year, with the current club.

-I will assume all players will repeat last year's performance.  More had down years than positive years, so it's fair to say we can expect last year to be similar to this year.

-I will assume all players will receive the same number of plate appearances as they did last year.  Some who were healthy last year will miss time this year, and some who missed a lot of time will be healthier this year.  I am no psychic.

While losing the junk pile's 917 PA's, we are also losing Davis' and Cust's 986 PA's.  After adding in our new players, we are exactly 500 PA's short.  I will add these in from the 2010 A's numbers, which still include the four projected backups, and AAA depth like Carter and Donaldson.

While I dare not speculate on how much this would improve our record, the impact on offense is encouraging to say the least.  I must say one more time, this is merely a crude projection based on last year's numbers (which by the way weren't great).  This is to be taken with a grain of salt (and maybe a shot of tequila).  However, since the projection was based on numbers that weren't very impressive in the first place, I don't see why they won't be as accurate as any other projection.

After removing the 917 garbage PA's, removing Cust and Davis, adding Willingham, DeJesus, and Matsui, and adjusting PA's accordingly, the changes were refreshing.

My 2011 A's offensive projection: .270 AVG, .346 OBP--vaulting the A's to 4th and 2nd, respectively in the AL.  I also came up with 125 home runs for the year, though my instinct says we'll get about 10 more than that.

If you were planning on the A's shooting blanks again this year, then I hate to be the bearer of bad news.  Please do not shoot the messenger, but crude math does not lie...or does it?

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