Walt's "Things to Do List" - The Bench

This week, Mileur takes a look at the St. Louis Cardinals bench and some numbers that may take you by surprise.

Perhaps there is no other major league team in all of baseball that relies on and utilizes their bench, more than the St. Louis Cardinals and their manager, Tony La Russa.

Only in Cardinal Nation, will you find fans getting into heated debate over who is going to be the 25th man on the team, or the 40th man on the 40 man roster.

Clearly the bench played a vital role this past season, with the injuries sustain to Scott Rolen, Reggie Sanders, Yadier Molina and Larry Walker.

Bench players, Abraham Nunez, So Taguchi, John Rodriguez & John Mabry made the most of their opportunities this season off the bench. It is my opinion, that this was the best performance as a whole from the Cardinals bench, ever.

In 2003 and 04 , Cardinal Manager, Tony La Russa used 126 different lineups (what are the odds of that happening, 126 different lineups two years in a row) in 2005, injuries forced La Russa to go to the bench very often to make up a total of 138 different lineups.

The chart below indicates how many starts were made at each position from a member of the Cardinals bench.

 

 

03 Bench - 321 GS

04 Bench - 284 GS

05 Bench - 458 GS

C 41

C 52

C 51

1B 36

1B 11

1B 7

2B 39

2B 37

2B 30

SS 8

SS 13

SS 8

3B 10

3B 21

3B 107

LF 49

LF 83

LF 84

CF 22

CF 21

CF 29

RF 116 (DREW - says enough)

RF 46

RF 84

 

 

The 2005 bench/role players made a total of 458 starts this past season. That is 174 more starts than the bench players made on the 2004 National League Championship team and 137 more starts than the 2003, 3rd place finish team.

It's not only that the bench made that many more starts than they did in 2004 & 2003, but they impacted the game and the season. The Cardinals finished 11 games ahead of the Houston Astros and won 100 games for the second season in a role and it wouldn't have happen without guys like, Abraham Nunez, John Mabry, John Rodriguez, So Taguchi and Hector Luna, all coming off the bench and getting the job done.

My point is, Walt you need to get the heart of this bench back for next season. That's the bottom line.

Taking a look at the bench and around the horn, starting behind the plate. (I'm not sure you go around the horn, starting at the plate, but I will take a literary license to do so)

Behind the plate, I doubt that signing Einar Diaz to return to back up everyday catcher, Yadier Molina is a priority. Diaz didn't play much before or even after Molina broke his hand, and he will not likely be back next season. The Cardinals should be able to upgrade at this position. Diaz played adequate defense, when called upon, but with his .208 batting average, he couldn't even see the Mendoza line from where he was hitting or I should say not hitting.

Rumor has it, that the hardest St. Louis Cardinal memorabilia to find this winter is, a game used, Einar Diaz bat.

On to first. At first base, National League MVP, Albert Pujols isn't going to give playing time away to any bench player. Pujols started 154 games at first base this season. Still you need someone who could play the position in an emergency. Super Sub, John Mabry made five starts there in 2005 and somehow rookie, Scott Seabol managed to get two starts at first. Apparently they had Pujols secured in a straitjacket somewhere, to allow Seabol to go out to first base.

Mabry, is a guy the Cardinals have to sign. How many times have we heard what a mistake it was to let Mabry go twice before? The guy who will do anything for you, play first and third base, right or left field and even catch, if you ask him and he isn't signed yet? He was a bargain at $750,000 in 05, we need to bring him back in 06. If the Cardinals let this guy go again, for a third time, well it would be a crying shame, cause Mabry is a Cardinal and should be in a Cardinal uniform in 06.

At second base, we saw Abraham Nunez play there 16 times this season and Hector Luna managed to get four starts at second, other than that Mark Grudzielanek started a 133 games at second and is a free agent.

Mark has indicated he wants to return and he's my first choice, but in the event he lands somewhere else, you need to make some plans.

In those plans, as far as I'm concerned, you have got to sign Nunez. He took over for the injured Scott Rolen this season, starting 77 games at third base. He also made 16 starts at second base and another four games at shortstop, that is 97 total starts from a bench player who hit a very respectable .285 in 421 at bats in 139 games. Now Nunez is no Scott Rolen, but in Nunez's defense, his range factor isn't that far off of Rolen's, if you are in to the range factor stat and Nunez's fielding percentage of .963 is very close to Rolen's career fielding percentage.

Nunez played so well for the Cardinals, he has probably earned the right to get a shot at starting somewhere else, but with no one at second signed yet and the flexibility that a Nunez brings to the bench, I'd get him signed. The sooner the better.

Also around the middle of the infield you got Hector Luna. Luna is a decent bench / role player that saw playing time at second & third base and in right and left field in 2005, though I admit I cringe every time I see a ball hit to him in the outfield. In spite of my anxiety attacks with him playing in the outfield, I'd bring him back as a reserve middle infielder.

At third base, Rolen is expected to be back at 100% to start the season. In the event that doesn't happen, Nunez could fill in the first month or two if necessary.

At shortstop, Eckstein is going to be there everyday, but Luna and Nunez could both fill in if necessary.

In the outfield, which I'm sure is not part of "around the horn" , depending on what the Cardinals do to fill the hole in right field with Larry Walker retiring, it will have some impact on who will play in left. The Cardinals have indicated they are still interested in signing Reggie Sanders to return for another season, maybe two, but as of today, there has been very little communication between the two parties.

Bench players, So Taguchi and John Rodriguez both saw a lot of playing time in the outfield this season, as a result of the injuries to Reggie Sanders and then Larry Walker. Taguchi played all over the outfield, starting 27 games in left, 27 games in center and it may surprise you, but he started 25 games in right field. Rodriguez (J-Rod) got into the mix, with 32 starts in left and four starts in right field.

Taguchi the better fielder of the two, made only two errors all season in 190 total chances, where as J-Rod made two errors in 74 total chances and is limited to playing in left field, when it comes down to it.

Rodriguez hit a robust .295 with 5 home runs and 24 RBI in just 149 at bats this season and that is decent production from a role/bench player, who could see more playing time in 06. Taguchi, looks like he can hold his own at the plate now against major league pitching. He hit .288 with 8 home runs and 53 RBI and if you weren't looking, he actually stole 11 bases this season. Forget what I said about getting rid of him two seasons ago.

So here is another no brainer, bring Taguchi & Rodriguez back.

The bottom line is this, on the bench, "Things to Do List", bring the bench back. Get Mabry, Taguchi, Nunez, Luna & John Rodriquez signed. Don't wait till the last minute either. The Cardinals wouldn't have been in any playoffs, if these guys hadn't stepped in and produced.

If I got a bench that is capable of being called upon to make 400 plus starts and are part of over 130 different lineups being used throughout the season, I make the bench one of my priorities and I'd get them signed before the end of the year.

Message, to Cardinals General Manager, Walt Jocketty, Stop wasting your time flying to Florida to have lunch with A.J. Burnett, and get these guys who delivered you another NL Central Division Crown signed. Signing a pitcher to a five year-fifty million dollar deal, should never never never, ever, be on your "Things to Do List."

 

Well this is the last of the Walt's "Things to Do List", on my Things to Do List. Don't forget to check out our Sunday Night Hot Stove Report, every Sunday at www.thestlcardinals.com

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