Well, it's the time of year when the minor league seasons are winding down and MLB teams are expanding their rosters to their full 40-man potential.
That means teams are adding more relief pitchers, pinch hitters and third catchers.
How many of those guys do you need? Sixth and seventh outfielders? Three lefties and three righties to pinch-hit? A specialist who only comes in to face three lefties when the team is up by two or more runs? Inning-eaters for all innings beyond the fourth? A guy who comes in a backstop when it's both your catchers' days off?
I'm here to tell you that there's one very underrated position that teams need to have on their expanded rosters—that of a pinch runner. A guy who specializes in coming in for one baserunning opportunity a game, usually in a pinch-hit, late-inning or extra-inning situation in order to steal bases, hustle from first to third on singles and score runs.
Having a pinch runner seems to me to be more important in this day and age. The days of the juiced power hitters are over; the days of pitcher-dominated, low-scoring games are here. And with many games being decided by only one run, and more and more teams playing small ball (or at least smaller ball), baserunning has become a more important, if overlooked, facet of the game.
Consider Herb Washington, the only player whose baseball card reads “pinch runner.” In just 105 appearances (each one lasting the equivalent of one AB, as he never batted or fielded), Washington got 33 runs and 31 stolen bases. That’s about a run every four at-bats, and a stolen bag every three.
A very good player in a very good lineup can get 150 runs in a season, but nobody is able to steal 200 bases in a season (the stats Washington would have gotten if he had pitch-run every bat). And the difference between 0.3 runs or stolen bases per AB, and the much smaller run and SB production of your average player, and it could be the difference between a couple victories and a couple losses or extra inning games.
Now, I know that it is somewhat inflated because Washington started every appearance on base, but the potential difference a guy like Washington can make is worth the gamble of a slot on the bench.
Bottom line: If it's September, and you're caught in a tough divisional race, get yourself a pinch runner.