Great Bench Players
and those who would like to be


Flipping back through old articles at Bill James Online, we found this 2014 piece analysing the best bench players in history.  One thing it points out is that a team with an outlier 4-, 5-person bench has a huge leg up on winning a championship.  This isn't news; Dipoto speaks in terms of "raising the floor" around the M's top 6-8 players.  Indeed the M's had 12 position players last year who pitched in plus WAR, +0.1 or better, and ten guys pitch in +0.5 or more.  That was followed by 15 pitchers who were in the black, tailended by Miranda at +0.1.

What's the possibility of the 2018 M's gathering a bunch of role players similar to what Gillick did in 2001?  (McLemore +2.8 WAR, Javier +2.6, Martin and Lampkin close to +1.0)  Let's get back to that in a second... James points out that the 2013 Red Sox' division win was driven by their bench.  Check out the OPS+ below the starters' line!, including Mike Carp's.

James' article contains many interesting insights, but let's start with his list of the 25 best bench players ever ...

1) Matt Stairs.  Didn't realize he only had 2 seasons with 500 AB's and only 2 more over 400.  Stairs hit 265 HR's, with more HR/AB than Dale Murphy, Eddie Murray, and a bunch of guys like that.

2) Ernie Lombardi.  The Q of including catchers as "bench players" is a discussion let's skip for now.  But, it's amazing that James regards (and mathematically argues) an HOF'er to be a bench player.  Philosophically it can get interesting to draw the line here, trust me.  Mark McLemore 2001 started at no position, but got almost 500 AB's.

3) Oil Smith, C.  Never heard a' him.

4) Jim Dwyer, one of Earl's many McLemores.

5) Wally Schang, C.

6) Smoky Burgess, C.

James' list of 25 great bench players isn't just a bunch of catchers getting 120 games, as will probably Zuumball next year.  It also includes 8) John Lowenstein, an Earl wrecking machine, 9) Oscar Gamble, 10) Lee Lacy ... 13) Rance Mulliniks, a platoon 3B.  16) Glenallen Hill hit 20 homers a year off the bench, but came up with Gillick's great Toronto team and them moved to the great Indians team of the 90's.  24) Russell Branyan is on there as a HOF bench player; good for him.

Around Mulliniks, James points out that that 1970's Royals found a bunch of "post-hype sleepers," guys who failed in their first MLB shots, or guys who disappointed at age 23 or something ... Amos Otis, Hal McRae, John Mayberry, Freddy Patek, Darrell Porter, and built a great team with this lever.  Dipoto is trying to do the same now, with the Gamel-Haniger-Vogelbach types.  It's fun for the M's fan to reminisce that teams have been built this way.


What would it take for the 2018 M's to have a bench push them towards a pennant?

1B:  Give Dan Vogelbach a chance, perhaps, and have him BB/LF single his way to a 120 OPS+.  Or use one of the other 1B's and have him come through.

SS/UTIL:  Taylor Motter's false start in 2017 unfolds as a .250, 17-HR season in 250 AB's.

OF:  Guillermo Heredia hits, say, .270/.333/.390 (as he did in Sept) with Paul Blair defense behind the first three OF's.

C:  You got me here.


Personally am inclined to agree that this is one of those "imperceptible" factors that goes into a surprise season; check out Minnesota's bench players last year.


Dr D



The perception was that the bench was going to be even better.   That O'Malley injury made a difference.  Man I'm tired of talking about 2017.  The Marinjures are a thing of the past. 

I still think Zuninos backup may not be on the roster yet.  Marjama isn't horrible though.  He hit 14 HR in the last 365 days or 366 AB between MLB, MiL, DWL...40 HR between him and Zunino?

Wait, wait, wait!  Ben Zobrist 2009 wasn't on that?  McLemore either, of course.  But Zobrist was especially too frequently used for what James was trying to highlight.  I appreciate the study for what it is but would you rather have Stairs on your bench or Zobrist?  I guess Zobrist is simply a starter that can move wherever needed?  Super-sub is not really a bench player.  Hard for me to come to terms with but I can see the rationale. 

Interesting to see Ron Fairly on that list with a note of 7 successful bench seasons over 20 years.


was one of those handful of 'GET THIS PLAYER NOW IF U R SMART!!' 'suggestions' by certain M's blog(ger)s back in the early aughts, and with good reason.  He was the ultimate benchie: he had a plus plus tool (left-handed power) that seemed to lose no efficacy based on playing time, and he was perpetually cheap because players of his (body?) type don't tend to get big contracts unless they've got MVP votes on their resume.


Mike Ford and Eric Filia.

I just can't imagine Ford not hitting and walking in ST.  And when he does, then you have a dilemma: Trade him, waive him (where he will never slide through one of the Florida teams) or make room for him.  If Heredia still has a bum shoulder coming out of ST and with Romine + Motter on the bench (if we keep 13 positional players during the slow season of April and May), then you can afford to keep Ford and see what he's got.  

I am sure we will AA Filia, but I would prefer we accelerate him to AAA.  The guy is 219 games into his professioanl career.  He's hitting .344-.428-.468.  Since he's going to hit a whole bunch of ropes in AA then just don't make him prove it and get him to Tacoma stat.  You will remember that in '11 Seager whacked AA pitchers for 66 games, then annililated AAA arms for 24 games, then got his 53 game MLB baptism.  Such a thing doesn't seem impossible for Fila, but he's not going to be a productive hitter for us until mid-summer anyway.  

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