Monday, April 23, 2012

Super Subs or Super Replaceable?

Super-subs” - the term being bandied around for bench players willing to play any position, any time. Certainly there’s a great amount of value to a team to have these players. Who wouldn’t want to be able to look at their bench and know that they can make a late game switch at almost any position without putting a huge defensive liability in the field for the sake of a pinch hit or two? The Rays have Ben Zobrist, the Dodgers Jerry Hairston Jr., the Diamondbacks Willie Bloomquist, the Phillies Ty Wigginton . To a lesser extent players like Wilson Betemit, Michael Young, and Maicer Izturis have filled a similar role for their respective teams, a player willing to hold down the fort at any infield position on any given day.

Certainly the ability to cover the infield, the corner outfield, or in extreme cases, even center field in a single bench player is excellent for the team, but what does it mean to the players? Michael Young has been a fixture with the Texas Rangers for several years, and has been able to make all star appearances despite not always having a defined position each season, while Ty Wigginton has played for a new team just about every 2 years over his 14 year career despite his respectable numbers and defensive versatility. That is not to compare the two directly, that would be near impossible, but Wigginton has put up the kind of numbers where he could come to a team and get playing time 4 out of 5 games to rest a given starter, while putting up slightly below league average defense with slightly above average offense (1.2 oWAR vs -1.1dWAR average over his career), given that your typical bench player is either an aging veteran whose defensive abilities has all but completely left them, or a player who has never been able to put it together with their bat, but can give you no worse than league average defense at a few positions, Wiggy seems like an absolute gem that has been frequently tossed aside, too valuable to settle for league minimum, not quite good enough at any given thing to cement himself into a team’s everyday lineup.

Surely offensive production out of these players would be the thing to cement them into a given lineup, it has done exactly that for Michael Young and Ben Zobrist, but with only a handful of guys in the league who would be happy to fill in for your team’s everyday shortstop on Monday, break in his first baseman’s glove on Tuesday, and be shagging fly balls in left field on Wednesday, it’s something of a miracle that these guys don’t get tied up on 3-4 year contracts more often.

Of the players mentioned 2 have played for only one team, and 4 have played for 4 or more, and all of them are over 30 years old. Since none of them have missed a year in the majors since they were in their mid 20s, what’s keeping teams from extending them beyond a 1 or 2 year contract? Of those listed, only Zobrist, Young, and Izturis are on more than 2 year contracts, and the 4 others are on 2 year deals, all of whom have been traded or became free agents in the last year with only  Bloomquist resigning with the club he had been with the year prior.

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