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Position Rankings, Part 2

by Bill James

The terms “fast bench” and “slow bench” are my own way of organizing the bench roles. The “Slow Bench” is backup catchers, first basemen, pinch hitters and old players who used to be regulars. The “Fast Bench” is anybody you would use as a pinch runner — middle infielders, pinch runners, and young outfielders who hope to be regulars later in life. Once in a while it is hard to say whether a player is part of the fast bench or part of the slow bench … Luis Sojo in 1999, for example. Ninety percent of the time, it’s obvious.

Fast Bench
1986 Mets (Mitchell, Johnson, Magadan, Elster)………………34
1912 Giants (Devore, Shafer, Burns, Groh)………………….25
1970 Orioles (Rettenmund, Salmon, Grich)……………………….25
1998 Yankees (Raines, Spencer, Bush, Ledee)………………….22
1955 Dodgers (Hoak, Zimmer, Moryn)……………………….18
1974 A’s (Mangual, Washington, Kubiak, Maxvill, Trillo, Pitts)…18
1975 Reds (Driessen, Flynn, Chaney, Vuckovich)…………….17
1942 Cardinals (Harry Walker and Creepy Crespi)…………….14
1939 Yankees (Tommy Henrich and Muscles Gallagher)…………14
1911 Athletics (Strunk, Derrick, Emerson)……………………..11
1906 Cubs (Solly Hofman and Doc Gessler)………………11
1927 Yankees (Morehart, Gazella, Wera)……………………….. 9
1953 Yankees (Renna, Miranda, Babe, Brideweser)…………….. 9
1929 Athletics (Jim Cronin and Boob McNair)……………… 2
1961 Yankees (Billy Gardner and Joe DeMaestri)……………. 2

The 1986 Mets had two young players on their bench who later went on to be stars, Kevin Mitchell and Howard Johnson. It’s a little disconcerting to see Kevin Mitchell listed as part of the fast bench, but it’s an obvious classification, since Mitchell was a young player at that time who would be a regular later, and also because he was (on occasion) a middle infielder at that time. Believe it or not, Kevin Mitchell in 1986 played 24 games at shortstop.

Slow Bench
1953 Yankees (Noren, Bollweg, Carey, Silvera, Mize)………….30
1986 Mets (Heep, Foster, Hearn, Mazzilli, Gibbons)………24
1961 Yankees (Blanchard, Cerv, Lopez)……………………….23
1942 Cardinals (Sanders, O’Dea, Triplett, Narron, Crabtree)…….22
1998 Yankees (Strawberry, Girardi, Chili Davis, Sojo)…….22
1911 Athletics (Lapp, Livingstone, Davis, Hartsel)……18
1970 Orioles (Etchebarren, Crowley, Motton, Dalrymple, Oates)……………………….18
1927 Yankees (Grabowski, Paschal, Bengough, Durst)………12
1929 Athletics (Hale, Perkins, Summa, Burns, LeBourveau)………11
1955 Dodgers (Kellert, Walker, Shuba, Howell)……………….. 9
1975 Reds (Rettenmund, Plummer, Crowley)…………….. 9
1912 Giants (Wilson, McCormick, Hartley)…………… 8
1906 Cubs (Pat Moran)…………. 7
1974 A’s (J. Alou, Haney, Bourque, D. Johnson)………….. 7
1939 Yankees (Buddy Rosar and Jake Powell)……………… 4

Johnny Blanchard in 1961 had one of the greatest years ever for a guy on the slow bench, somewhat obscuring the fact that, apart from Blanchard, the ’61 Yankees HAD no bench. Stengel loved to pinch hit, and I would bet that he had years when his slow bench was even a bigger part of his team than it was in ’53. Don Bollweg, who had the best year in ’53, was a 33-year-old minor-league veteran.

Right-Handed Ace
Three Finger Brown, 1906 Cubs…..36
Christy Mathewson, 1912 Giants….31
Mort Cooper, 1942 Cardinals…….29
Catfish Hunter, 1974 A’s……….27
Jim Palmer, 1970 Orioles……….25
Don Newcombe, 1955 Dodgers……..25
Jack Coombs, 1911 Athletics…….23
Waite Hoyt, 1927 Yankees……….23
George Earnshaw, 1929 Athletics…23
Red Ruffing, 1939 Yankees………22
Dwight Gooden, 1986 Mets……….17
David Cone, 1998 Yankees……….17
Bill Stafford, 1961 Yankees…….17
Johnny Sain, 1953 Yankees………16
Gary Nolan, 1975 Reds………….15

The Yankees teams cluster at the bottom of this list. It’s not that their right-handed pitchers were bad; it was just never what they depended on to make them great. Red Ruffing is the only right-handed pitcher in the history of the Yankees to win 170 games.

Left-Handed Ace
Lefty Grove, 1929 Athletics…….28
Rube Marquard, 1912 Giants……..25
Jack Pfiester, 1906 Cubs……….24
Eddie Plank, 1911 Athletics…….22
Dave McNally, 1970 Orioles……..22
Whitey Ford, 1961 Yankees………22
Bob Ojeda, 1986 Mets…………..18
David Wells, 1998 Yankees………18
Herb Pennock, 1927 Yankees……..17
Whitey Ford, 1953 Yankees………17
Vida Blue, 1974 A’s……………16
Don Gullett, 1975 Reds…………15
Lefty Gomez, 1939 Yankees………13
Max Lanier, 1942 Cardinals……..13
Johnny Podres, 1955 Dodgers……..8

Probably the largest reason the 1947-1956 Dodgers couldn’t handle the Yankees in October was their lack of left-handed pitching. Preacher Roe, their best lefty, was very effective against the Yankees in 1949 and ’52, but they had no second option.

(ed. note — Interesting to see Whitey Ford, who went 25-4 in 1961, relatively low in these rankings. And Johnny Podres might have been relatively worthless in the regular season, but in October he was the left-handed ace.)

Third Starters
1906 Cubs (Reulbach, Lundgren, Overall, Taylor, Beebe, Wicker)…77
1939 Yankees (Hadley, Sundra, Russo, Hildebrand, Donald, Pearson, Ferrell)……………..66
1942 Cardinals (Beazley, White,Gumbert, Pollet, Warneke)………54
1929 Athletics (Waddell, Shores,Quinn, Ehmke)…………………50
1912 Giants (Tesreau, Ames, Wiltse, Demaree, Bader)………..48
1911 Athletics (Bender, Morgan, Krause)………………………45

1955 Dodgers (Erskine, Loes,Spooner, Craig, Koufax, Meyer)….40
1927 Yankees (Shocker, Ruether, Pipgras)……………..39
1998 Yankees (Pettitte, Hernandez, Irabu)……………..38
1986 Mets (Darling, Fernandez, Aguilera……………………..35
1953 Yankees (Lopat, Raschi, McDonald, Kraley, Blackwell)……34
1970 Orioles (Cuellar, Hardin, Phoebus)……………………..33
1961 Yankees (Terry, Sheldon, Daley, Ditmar)………………..31
1974 A’s (Holtzman, Hamilton, Abbott)………………………28
1975 Reds (Norman, Billingham, Darcy, Kirby, Carroll)…………28

These charts reflect the way that the allocation of resources has changed over time. The early teams had lots and lots of starting pitching, little bullpen. The more recent teams have lots of bullpen, but (except for the 1998 Yankees) less starting depth..

Middle Relief
1998 New York Yankees………….33
1975 Cincinnati Reds…………..28
1942 St. Louis Cardinals……….25
1986 New York Mets…………….25
1970 Baltimore Orioles…………24
1953 New York Yankees………….24
1929 Philadelphia Athletics…….22
1961 New York Yankees………….21
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers………….21
1974 Oakland A’s………………20
1912 New York Giants…………..16
1927 New York Yankees………….16
1911 Philadelphia Athletics…….15
1939 New York Yankees………….13
1906 Chicago Cubs…………….. 0

The ’75 Reds had three middle relievers — Will McEnaney, Pedro Borbon and Clay Carroll — and all of them were great. Among them they pitched 312 innings with a 2.71 ERA, going 21-12 with 27 saves. As a group, they had an impact equal to any starting pitcher in baseball; but individually, they were invisible.

Closer
Wilcy Moore, 1927 Yankees………24
Luis Arroyo, 1961 Yankees………23
Roger McDowell, 1986 Mets………16
Clem Labine, 1955 Dodgers………15
Mariano Rivera, 1998 Yankees……14
Rollie Fingers, 1974 A’s……….14
Rawley Eastwick, 1975 Reds……..13
Allie Reynolds, 1953 Yankees……11
Pete Richert, 1970 Orioles……..11
Johnny Murphy, 1939 Yankees……. 7
1906 Cubs……………………. 0
1911 Athletics……………….. 0
1912 Giants………………….. 0
1929 Athletics……………….. 0
1942 Cardinals……………….. 0

These guys are usually given more credit than they deserve, in part because of the World Series. During the year, they pitch so few innings that, even if one assumes that the innings they pitch are all critical innings, their impact is not huge. But in the World Series, when they pitch every day, they do have a big impact.