Depth is over-rated. There, I said it. I know an idea like that is a little counter-intuitive to everything we think we know about baseball. We’ve been told over and over again that depth is one of the more important qualities for a team to have. It allows flexibility. It gives you options. Depth is good.
Well, to quote Samuel L. Jackson from Pulp Fiction… allow me to retort.
I don’t want to go all extreme here. I’m not trying to say that having depth has absolutely no benefits, and can’t be a positive attribute to a team. It most certainly can. When injuries inevitably happen, depth helps to minimize the impact. If a player is slumping really badly, it should give you other options at that position. Depth undoubtedly has value.
However, I do think that depth can cause some issues, specifically if it’s overvalued, and especially if it’s not utilized properly. And right now, I think that Dave Roberts and the Dodgers may be doing both.
First, let’s look at the how the Dodgers could be mis-using their roster depth. And I’m talking strictly from the standpoint of their lineup & offense. The starting rotation “depth” could be a whole other article itself. I’m simply looking at the constant changes within the lineup on a day-to-day basis.
Maybe it’s a little old fashion of me, but I miss the days when you could pretty much write down the starting lineup for a game before it was even announced. The players were in there almost daily, and fans knew who would be playing more times than not.
Here now, in 2016, things are different. Do you know how many times Dave Roberts has started the same lineup & batting order in back-to-back games all year? Two. Two times, with the last one coming back on May 18th-19th against the Anaheim Angles. Safe to say that the starting lineup has been in a constant flux. Different players in and out, different batting orders, different positions… all that.
Some may think that’s a good approach. I’m one who doesn’t.
There’s something to be said for consistency, and it’s hard to have that if you can’t even put the same lineup out there for two games in a row. No one is asking for a week straight or anything… just give me a couple of games Doc.
Take the Dodgers outfield situation. With the return of Yasiel Puig, combined with Trayce Thompson’s emergence, and Carl Crawford’s release, it seemed like the Dodgers outfield could have finally got some clarity to it. Many fans (myself included) thought that a Thompson-Pederson-Puig trio could be manning the outfield on a consistent basis. As it turns out though, that hasn’t been the case. Dave Roberts continues to rotate the outfield pretty consistently, with other guys like Howie Kendrick, Kiki Hernandez, and Scott Van Slyke all getting starts.
A perfect example was last Friday’s game, when after an off-day on Thursday, Thompson wasn’t in the Dodgers’ lineup, in favor of Howie Kendrick in LF. Thompson also didn’t start two games before that, so this wasn’t just a rest day. Roberts was benching him because Trayce had been going through a tough streak offensively.
When a player is going through a mini-slump, there’s nothing wrong with giving them a day off. But I don’t think it would be beneficial to start sitting players for multiple games every time they go 0-4. There’s a thin line between resting someone for a game, and using almost a platoon situation. That’s something I wouldn’t be in favor of considering the way Thompson has played overall this year. In my opinion, he’s earned a full-time spot, especially since no one else behind him is exactly tearing things up offensively.
Now, in no way am I advocating that every starter play 162 games. Obviously, catchers need regular rest. Because of age and injury history, other players (Utley, Turner) also need some regular days off from time to time. But again, there’s a difference between a periodic rest day for players, and using a completely different lineup every game.
“Using the Whole Roster” Mindset
I can hear skeptics already. “But Brian, how are players supposed to stay fresh and ready if they’re not getting regular at-bats?” That’s a fair question, I guess. Or, maybe not. I’m not sure “staying fresh” qualifies as a reason for players who would normally be a reserve player, to get a start every few games.
It seems like this kind of argument ties into Roberts thinking though. When responding to a question Monday about why he was sitting Corey Seager in midst of a hot streak at the plate, Roberts said that he’s “trying to be mindful of using a whole roster.”
I’m not even sure what exactly that means. Players should take turns starting just so the entire roster is used? How does that ensure you’re putting the best team on the field on a daily basis?
Remember Lenny Harris? Or, going back even further, what about Manny Mota? These guys made their living being a true role player. They excelled in pinch-hitting, late-inning double-switches, and primarily coming off the bench. It’s certainly a tough thing to do, coming into a game cold for maybe one at-bat per day, if that, and not getting consistent swings against major league pitching. No one is saying it’s easy. But sometimes those types of players are needed to understand their roles on the team, and for the most part, they do.
The fluctuating lineups could also be a product of the Dodgers new front office approach, and not simply a managerial decision. Always preaching about depth, could Andrew Friedman and Co. be the driving force behind Dave Roberts’s decisions? Perhaps, but that’s a topic for another time.
What Depth are we Talking About Again?
In addition to mis-using depth, we should also examine the possibility that the Dodgers may be over-valuing their depth.
When I think of legitimate depth on a team, I think of an abundance of players who are good enough to probably be starting, but because of other good players on the team, they’re in a reserve role. Having good depth is not simply having regular role players that you choose to start on a consistency basis. If that were the case, all 30 MLB teams could claim to have good depth, depending on how often everyone plays.
Looking at the Dodgers lineup and offense, I’m not sure I see “depth.” Sure, if guys like Andre Ethier were healthy and Howie Kendrick were playing like the guy he’s been throughout his career, then yeah, that might change my perspective. But currently, do I think guys like Kiki Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke need to start every few games, just because? No, I don’t.
Dave Roberts and the Dodgers certainly aren’t alone when it comes to employing this fluid type of lineup. The game continues to change and lots of teams have rotating lineups from day to day. But that doesn’t necessarily make it the best way to do things for every club.
According to Baseball Reference, the Dodgers rank 5th in the N.L for the most amount of lineups used this season, and 4th for most batting orders used. Teams that are higher in both categories include the Diamondbacks, Phillies, and Braves. Not exactly the teams you want to be emulating.
So again, it’s not so much that depth is over-rated. It’s more like a falsely perceived depth, utilized in the wrong way, could be counter-productive. Rest is fine. We’ve established that. But changing lineups every single day is not rest. Right or wrong, it’s an approach that seems like the new way the Dodgers want to go. We’ll have to see how it all plays out this year.
Just don’t go penciling in any lineup cards before they’re posted.