Do you remember “the Bench Mob”? I am sure Bulls fans do, but here is a definition from Urban Dictionary.
The original “Bench Mob” was the nickname for Bulls bench player contributors. As someone who used to come off the bench myself I really like giving identity to those players that do the back up work…the under study if you will. Those folks tend to be an often unidentified but important cog in a winning teams success.
One thing that a fair amount of White Sox fans have been thinking about heading into the 2021 season is the BENCH. Now to the more casual fan or the newcomer to being a die hard this might seem odd.
If you have been hobbling along with this regime watching your first finish above .500 since the 2012 team and your first playoff appearance since 2008, you are kinda hoping that the White Sox put together a team that is looking at ALL OF THE DETAILS. I know I am. I know most people that I chat with are as well. It got me thinking, I wonder what a good bench looks like for an AL Pennant winning team??
I did some research to try to figure out some rough details about benches of good teams in the AL. Below is a table of the last 9 AL Pennant winners and a breakdown of how often their primary starters took plate appearances vs how often their bench (BENCH MOB) took plate appearances.
A couple of notes on these groups. The extreme outliers by % are the 2014 & 2015 Royals, which used their starting 9 a much larger % of the time than the rest of the squads (84.9% and 82.2%, respectively) and the 2020 Rays that used their starting 9 a much smaller % of the time (63.7%).
For the 2014 and 2015 Royals it helped immensely to have a catcher in Salvador Perez that started 143 and 137 games behind the dish respectively in those seasons. There aren’t that many iron man type backstops these days. This makes it harder to hit 80% or more plate appearances from your starting 9 without immaculate health.
The Rays on the other hand, take efficiency to a different level, as they mix and match on purpose. I’d consider both of these teams the outliers, but mixing in 6 other squads should drag our average back down to earth.
The average across these pennant winning teams is 22.6% of plate appearances. That is, 22.6% of plate appearances are taken by players that aren’t their primary starters, by their BENCH MOBS if you will. If we think about it from a batting position stand point, there are 9 spots in the order, each spot (1/9) accumulates roughly 11% of the plate appearances (this isn’t exactly right because the spots at the top will accumulate more and the spots towards the back will accumulate less, but just go with it for now), so that means the bench is effectively taking up 2 FULL TIME SPOTS across a season. WOOF! I never realized.
Let’s dig in closer. I don’t have the patience or the interest in digging down into the 17th or 18th player that had 7 plate appearances for the season, so I just chose the Top 4 most used bench players per team. See the table below for that analysis.
Same group as before, but now, we have a column for the Plate Appearances from the 4 primary bench players (7,629), as well as the % of all Plate Appearances they took up (14.7% on average). Now we are cooking with gas!! The group of top 4 bench players bats a little more than the equivalent of 1 regular’s spot in the lineup. Benches seem more important than I have been thinking. I always wanted a good bench because it seems like someone always goes down with an injury or goes into a slump. Well, now that we have this (ham-fistedly collected) data, I wanted to pull the average batting line for that 14.7% of the Plate Appearances for these AL Pennant winners and see where it lands.
AL Pennant Winners from 2012-2020 (Top 4 Bench aka the 14.7%) slashed (Batting Average / On-Base Percentage / Slugging Percentage) a collective .248 / .315 / .388 for a .703 OPS.
The leader in the clubhouse out of these teams was the 2013 Red Sox that OPS’d a cool .792, lead by Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp. The worst of these AL Pennant winning benches was the 2012 Tigers with White Sox killer Ryan Raburn OPS’ing a cool .480 across 222 Plate Appearances. Just for shits and grins, how’d the 2020 White Sox bench top 4 players do???
White Sox top 4 Bench Players in 2020 slashed .274 / .323 / .460 for a .783 OPS!!!
Oh shit!! That’s way better than the “AVERAGE” and almost as good as the best team of the era. SLOW DOWN! That team included Adam Engel‘s career year (so far) with an .811 OPS as well as James McCann being an absolute monster off the bench with an .896 OPS. Having a James McCann on the bench and being used optimally is what excellent benches are made of, but alas, he’s in Nueva York now and I am not sure I’d be ready to count on THAT Adam Engel as gospel. Let’s take a quick look at the ZiPS projection for the 2021 White Sox bench.
Okay, the first cut ain’t gonna quite make it, but it’s not a terrible start. Right now in my mentions I got the Zack Collins truthers telling me that line is bullshit, the Leury Legend truthers cursing me out and the Adam Engel fan club shaking a fist at this table. I didn’t pull these fucking numbers outta thin air, these are ZiPS projections, so go complain elsewhere. We are tryna target what would be an AL Pennant quality hitting bench and then possibly get one. This ain’t quite it. But let’s try and make one. First thing is first, let’s dump Danny Mendick (to AAA, he’s still with us) for BeefLoaf favorite Tim Beckham.
Ehhh, a little better, still not there….let’s try some real upgrades, how about White Sox twitter darling Tommy La Stella!!
Fine, we’ll go grab MY GUY Wilson Ramos to be the veteran back stop of this Bench Mob.
Alright, let’s re-think this, we know that part of the reason the White Sox liked La Stella was that he was a lefty bat that could back-up at 3b for Yoan Moncada. This roster is a little lacking there, you could put Garcia or Mendick there to fake it, but that’s not really optimal and you don’t know if Tim Beckham makes this roster (if he does, well, then he’d be that guy). I gots two names. Chorizy-E favorite Travis Shaw OR long-time guy Asdrubal Cabrera. Both of these dudes fit the bill. Since I cheated and looked at the answers, I know that Cabrera is actually projected by ZiPS for a slightly higher OPS at the grand old age of 35. We’ll use him.
Now on to catcher!!! I’ll be honest, the remaining pool of catchers now that my guy Wilson Ramos is gone is just a blob of sadness to me. I am not sure I like any of these guys that much, but I am 100% sure we could use one of these guys, so I went to ZiPS and basically picked the player with the best OPS from the group that is still in the White Sox price range. OLD FRIEND ALERT!!! Alex Avila. Let’s see the results.
White Sox fans if you were a little worried about our bench, looks like you were right to be. This BENCH MOB seems a little short as presently constituted, but with an addition or two and tiny bit of overachieving their projections, we might just get something special, a high quality, AL Pennant Winning caliber bench.