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MLB Playoff Predictions: Ranking All 10 Contenders By Usable Depth

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst ISeptember 27, 2011

MLB Playoff Predictions: Ranking All 10 Contenders By Usable Depth

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    During the regular season, Jorge Posada is more important to the New York Yankees than is Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers. Wade Davis is more important to the Tampa Bay Rays than is Koji Uehara to the Texas Rangers. Come playoff time, though, those things cease to be true.

    October is a fickle time of year, and opportunities to claim small but critical advantages abound. Every win and every loss is nine times as valuable. A run in postseason play is the equivalent of a full win in the regular season. If a team can milk even a small advantage from clever deployment of personnel resources, they derive huge benefit.

    Unfortunately, those advantages cannot be achieved in the easiest and most efficient ways available in the regular season. There are no fifth starters. Because of travel days, backup catchers rarely play at all. Those are key areas of depth on many teams.

    Another is platoon talent. During the regular season, two decent players can be worth as much as one very good one, given that each can lend their team the platoon advantage much more often than average. Not so in the playoffs: Those gains come by volume, and even if Desmond Jennings will face CC Sabathia or Jon Lester a bit more often than is ideal, you would rather have him than the combination of Ryan Raburn and Andy Dirks in the postseason.

    Once a team reaches the tournament, then, they are better served by having a deep lineup, but a shallow and specialized bench; a rotation fronted by two great starters, rather than loaded with five steady ones; and a bullpen stacked with two or three key stoppers, not a deep squad of good specialists.

    If all that is true, it should be clear: There is depth that matters in the playoffs, and there is depth that does not matter. Here follow rankings of the 10 teams still in playoff contention, based not on their total team depth, but on the guys who will matter to each if and when they get to the dance.

Postseason Depth Indices: An Explanatory Note

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    To place my admittedly subjective player evaluations into an objective and holistic framework, I developed the Postseason Depth Indices (henceforth, PDI). The system works like this.

    For each team, I honed in on 15 players who generally play big roles in postseason baseball. The usual starting position players fit here, as do a DH (for AL teams) or utility player (for those in the NL). That makes nine.

    To that, I added each squad's top three starting pitchers (some will not even use a fourth starter, after all, and anyway, flat rotations generally do not work well in October) and top three relievers (LOOGYs and other specialists come into play only when Tony La Russa reaches the playoffs. Everyone else uses off days to leverage and maximize the volume they get from their top bullpen arms), making for 15 total players.

    Going position-by-position, then, I ranked each contender's player against their rivals' at the same spot. Finally, I assigned points on a 20-point scale. Since there were but 10 teams in play, that gave wiggle room when (as often happened) there was a clear separation between two tiers or two individuals at a given spot.

    For instance, at first base, I awarded the following points:

    Albert Pujols, STL- 20
    Adrian Gonzalez, BOS- 19
    Miguel Cabrera, DET- 18
    Prince Fielder, MIL- 17
    Mark Teixeira, NYY- 16
    Ryan Howard, PHI- 10
    Freddie Freeman, ATL- 9
    Mitch Moreland, TEX- 6
    Casey Kotchman, TBR- 5
    Paul Goldschmidt, ARI- 4

    I won't bore you with the detailed numbers for each team, but I will put each team's aggregate PDI at the bottom of their page for reference. Again, this all a scientific catalog of unscientific data, so it's imperfect, but it generally reflects each team's depth as it relates to playoff baseball. 

10. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Never bet on playoff baseball, but if you bet against Arizona in their NLDS match, you'll be in as good a position as a misguided gambler can be.

    The Diamondbacks have too many holes, from shortstop (not altogether their fault, and indeed, after losing Stephen Drew, Kevin Towers did well to add John McDonald to the mix, but it's still ugly) to the back half of their playoff rotation. When Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter stand to start in October for any team, that team is in trouble.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Miguel Montero, C; Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Aaron Hill, 2B; Ryan Roberts, 3B; John McDonald, SS; Gerardo Parra, LF; Chris Young, CF; Justin Upton, RF; Willie Bloomquist, UTIL; Dan Hudson, SP; Ian Kennedy, SP; Joe Saunders, SP; J.J. Putz, RP; David Hernandez, RP; Joe Paterson, RP

    PDI: 135

9. Milwaukee Brewers

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    I actually love the Brewers' top-tier talent, and depth metrics are a manifestly foolish way to measure what they do well: Milwaukee essentially strings together five good batters and let their other four batting order positions flounder.

    They also have a top-heavy pitching staff, and honestly, the team they have in place could well be the best one they could field in order to succeed this autumn. It just isn't a deep team.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS: 

    Jonathan Lucroy, C; Prince Fielder, 1B; Rickie Weeks, 2B; Casey McGehee, 3B; Yuniesky Betancourt, SS; Ryan Braun, LF; Nyjer Morgan, CF; Corey Hart, RF; Carlos Gomez, UTIL; Zack Greinke, SP; Yovani Gallardo, SP; Shaun Marcum, SP; John Axford, RP; Francisco Rodriguez, RP; Chris Narveson, RP

    PDI: 150

8. St. Louis Cardinals

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    The Cards' lineup is rife with problematic slots. Rafael Furcal's dramatic home run notwithstanding, the team gets virtually nothing out of the three critical defensive positions in the middle of the diamond.

    Those holes make them vulnerable, especially since the team in inexplicably trading defense for an extra 10 points of OPS by benching Ryan Theriot in favor of Skip Schumaker at second base. That, coupled with the inability to fully utilize platoon guys Jon jay and Allen Craig and a still-shaky bullpen, will stall the Cardinals even if they reach the big stage.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Yadier Molina, C; Albert Pujols, 1B; Skip Schumaker, 2B; David Freese, 3B; Rafael Furcal, SS; Matt Holliday, LF; Jon Jay, CF; Lance Berkman, RF; Allen Craig, UTIL; Chris Carpenter, SP; Jaime Garcia, SP; Edwin Jackson, SP; Jason Motte, RP; Fernando Salas, RP; Kyle McClellan, RP

    PDI: 153

7. Detroit Tigers

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    Again, it all comes down to having holes in the everyday lineup. Teams that do rarely get far in postseason play. (The 2010 Giants' ears are burning. Two observations: It was a fluke that San Francisco won, and that team was an extreme case of pitching emphasis and excellence.)

    Detroit boasts perhaps the best pitcher and best pure batter in the American League. Although Doug Fister and Victor Martinez have each played a bit over their own heads down the stretch, they're also fine players. The problems are these: After Justin Verlander, the Tigers lack another great pitcher, and after Cabrera and Martinez, the drop is pretty steep to Alex Avila (still a great player) and Johnny Peralta. Detroit's bullpen is not to be trusted in playoff action, either.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Alex Avila, c; Miguel Cabrera, 1B; Ramon Santiago, 2B; Wilson Betemit, 3B; Jhonny Peralta, SS; Delmon Young, LF; Austin Jackson, CF; Andy Dirks, RF; Victor Martinez, DH; Justin Verlander, SP; Doug Fister, SP; Max Scherzer, SP; Jose Valverde, RP; Joaquin Benoit, RP; Phil Coke, RP

    PDI: 158

6. Tampa Bay Rays

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    The Rays have a good deal of that unusable depth about which we spoke earlier. Joe Maddon is a genius, but will be unable to get substantial advantage out of things like subbing Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez. While the team might find ways to use Matt Moore, Wade Davis and Jake McGee project to get a bit lost in the shuffle. If any manager can keep using his whole roster into October, it's Maddon, but it will not be easy.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Kelly Shoppach, C; Casey Kotchman, 1B; Ben Zobrist, 2B; Evan Longoria, 3B; Sean Rodriguez, SS; Desmond Jennings, LF; B.J. Upton, CF; Matt Joyce, RF; Johnny Damon, DH; David Price, SP; James Shields, SP; Jeremy Hellickson, SP; Kyle Farnsworth, RP; Matt Moore, RP; Joel Peralta, RP

    PDI: 159

5. Atlanta Braves

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    Loaded with depth, the Braves look better in this system than they do in actual practice. They lack the superstar presence most teams need to charge far into October.

    Jason Heyward was supposed to be that guy, but has stumbled in his sophomore season. Dan Uggla is a defensive nightmare. Tommy Hanson is the closest thing they have to a true ace, and he will probably not pitch in the playoffs. The bullpen, the pitching depth and the team's mid-season trade for Michael Bourn buoy their score.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Brian McCann, C; Freddie Freeman, 1B; Dan Uggla, 2B; Chipper Jones, 3B; Alex Gonzalez, SS; Martin Prado, LF; Michael Bourn, CF; Jason Heyward, RF; Jose Constanza, UTIL; Tim Hudson, SP; Brandon Beachy, SP; Derek Lowe, SP; Craig Kimbrel, RP; Jonny Venters, RP; Eric O'Flaherty, RP

    PDI: 163

4. Boston Red Sox

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    Even this depleted iteration of the Sox, ravaged by injury and a few crushing disappointments (Carl Crawford and Daniel Bard, we're looking at you), is among the best in baseball. If Kevin Youkilis and/or Clay Buchholz returns, the Sox become American League favorites again.

    For now, it's an open question whether they even deserve the Wild Card berth. A shortened starting rotation and the ability to line up three of the six or seven best regular players in the American League would make the Sox a very dangerous October team.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C; Adrian Gonzalez, 1B; Dustin Pedroia, 2B; Jed Lowrie, 3B; Marco Scutaro, SS; Carl Crawford, LF; Jacoby Ellsbury, CF; J.D. Drew, RF; Jon Lester, SP; Josh Beckett, SP; John Lackey, SP; Jonathan Papelbon, RP; Daniel Bard, RP; Alfredo Aceves, RP

    PDI: 187

3. New York Yankees

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    Jesus Montero really deserves to be the full-time playoff DH for this team. With any luck, they will have the good sense to use him as a secret weapon and not forfeit the huge advantage he could lend by benching him in favor of Jorge Posada. Posada should be little more than a ceremonial presence this October, and if he complains about that status, he can be shown the door unceremoniously between series.

    Meanwhile, the Yankees have so many top-notch superstars (Sabathia, Teixeira, Cano, Granderson, Rivera) that their glaring weakness—depth in even a shorter starting rotation—gets balanced out and smoothed a bit. New York has enough depth among its top 10 players to make up for the failures of the next five guys.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS: 

    Russell Martin, C; Mark Teixeira, 1B; Robinson Cano, 2B; Alex Rodriguez, 3B; Derek Jeter, SS; Brett Gardner, LF; Curtis Granderson, CF; Nick Swisher, RF; Jesus Montero, DH; CC Sabathia, SP; Ivan Nova, SP; Freddy Garcia, SP; Mariano Rivera, RP; David Robertson, RP; Rafael Soriano, RP

    PDI: 200

2. Texas Rangers

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    Not only are the Rangers exceptionally deep among their top 15 important players, they would be one of the league's deepest teams out to 25 (or 35, or 50) men on every roster. Texas is loaded, and if Ron Washington can strike the right balance, using their excess of talent should not be tough.

    If the team's starting rotation looks a bit flat, its bullpen more than makes up for the deficiency. If Julio Borbon has been a major disappointment, Craig Gentry has been a very pleasant surprise. The Rangers might well win their second pennant in a row this fall, and a third within the next three years is not beyond the pale.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Mike Napoli, C; Mitch Moreland, 1B; Ian Kinsler, 2B; Adrian Beltre, 3B; Elvis Andrus, SS; Josh Hamilton, LF; Craig Gentry, CF; Nelson Cruz, RF; Michael Young, DH; C.J. Wilson, SP; Colby Lewis, SP; Derek Holland, SP; Neftali Feliz, RP; Mike Adams, RP; Alexi Ogando, RP

    PDI: 205

1. Philadelphia Phillies

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    Heading a postseason rotation with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee is a good way to score points in any evaluation system. The Phillies are so much better and deeper on the mound than every other club that it hardly matters that the offense is not what it was a few years ago. For that matter, though Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are no longer elite hitters, they're not slouches, and they play perhaps the best defensive middle infield in baseball.

    Straightening out Antonio Bastardo over the next week or so would make Phillies fans breathe much easier, but remember: Until a potential World Series clash with the Red Sox or Yankees, Philadelphia will not face a team with more than one above-average left-handed hitter. In order to solve the problem of Prince Fielder, the Phillies have only to leave Lee and Cole Hamels in long enough to face him four times.

    If they get that far, by the way, no NL team is as well-prepared for the DH expansion. John Mayberry would help the Phils transition smoothly.

    TOP 15 PLAYERS:

    Carlos Ruiz, C; Ryan Howard, 1B; Chase Utley, 2B; Placido Polanco, 3B; Jimmy Rollins, SS; Raul Ibanez, LF; Shane Victorino, CF; Hunter Pence, RF; Roy Halladay, SP; Cliff Lee, SP; Cole Hamels, SP; Ryan Madson, RP; Antonio Bastardo, RP; Vance Worley, RP

    PDI: 212

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