Balancing the Bullpen & the Bench – Part One

A two-part look back at recent Cardinals' opening day rosters to determine what they might tell us about 2006.

With all the recent debate about the possible make up of the 2006 Cardinals bench, I felt it would help to ground the discussion. There is no better way to do that than to revisit the recent past to try to answer a few questions.

 

First, has there been consistency in how past opening day rosters have been constructed and, if so, will that help us in forecasting the future?

 

To facilitate this, I went back and documented the Cardinals' opening day rosters from this decade - the previous six seasons, from 2000 through 2005.

 

Generally speaking, within the 25-man roster, there are 13 set positions, made up of the eight position player starters and the five pitchers in the rotation. As a result, typically the key leverage point in setting the final 12 players on the roster is the size of the bullpen, six or seven, along with the size of the bench, six or five.

 

A secondary consideration, but also very important, is left-handedness, whether we're considering relievers or players coming off the bench. More on that in a bit.

 

Looking backward

 

Roster mix

In every year except one, back in 2000, the Cardinals came north from Florida with a seven-man bullpen. In conjunction, that same year, the bench grew from its usual five to six.

 

In only one other year, 2005, was the opening day bench greater than five. Last season, it was possible to have both a seven-man bullpen and a six-man bench because the fifth starting pitcher, Matt Morris, was neither ready nor needed initially.

 

Instead, Morris spent the first two weeks of last season on a rehabilitation assignment. Shortly thereafter, that balance between pitchers and positional players shifted back to a more traditional five-man bench when Hector Luna was optioned out before April concluded.

 

Relievers

Not surprisingly, during this six-year period, the Cardinals always opened with at least two left-handed relievers on the roster. In two of the six years, 2001 and 2005, the team carried three lefties in the pen. The other four years, they began with two.

 

Bench – lefties

Having ample left-handed hitters on the bench to come in late in the game to either force the opponent to burn a reliever or secure a lefty-righty advantage is a valuable commodity. Obviously, a switch-hitter offers even more flexibility.

 

In only one year, 2002, was there a single lefty on the bench. At the other end of the spectrum, in three of the six years, Tony La Russa could call on any one of three pinch-hitters who could come to the plate from the left side.

 

Starters – lefties

Another factor to consider is how many lefties are in the regular line-up. After all, if more left-handed hitters are already playing, fewer left-handed pinch-hitters will be needed to replace them late in games. Over this six-year period, three lefties in the starting eight on opening day was the norm, occurring four times.

 

Last season, there were only two lefty starters, while the 2002 line-up had four. That helps explain the above observation that the 2002 bench seemed short of left-handed hitters. More of them were already in the opening day line-up.

 

Left-handed hitters – summary

In aggregate, in four of the six years, the Cardinals started the season with five position players who could hit from the left side, whether starters or bench players. The other two years, there were six.

 

Since 2000, there has never been as few as four left-handed-hitting position players on the opening roster. Remember this point.

 

Position reserves

With an opening day roster that usually only has five bench players, let's look at how they break out by position. We know that Tony La Russa values versatility. In some cases, players' versatility may not have been even known to them prior to the start of the season.

 

A case in point is Marlon Anderson, a veteran of almost 600 major league contests prior to joining the Cardinals. Despite having played only three career games anywhere in the field other than second base, on La Russa's 2004 team, Anderson logged more games in the outfield and at first base than he did at his natural position. However, at least in part due to his hideous .237 batting average, Marlon moved on to New York for 2005.

 

Still, keeping this phenomenon in mind is worthwhile in trying to predict the 2006 bench.

 

Infield reserves

In the first two years and one other time, La Russa was blessed with multi-positional reserves such that he could come north with three infield back-ups. In three of the last four years, he had two reserves, one who could cover the middle (shortstop and second base) and one who could cover the corners (first and third bases).

 

But, not once did the Cards break camp with a single infield back-up, nor did they ever attempt to train an outfielder to become an infielder during the season (a "reverse Anderson"). This is another important fact to remember.

 

Outfield reserves

In only one of the six years, did the team begin the season with fewer than four reserve outfielders. That year was 2004, during which the aforementioned Anderson received the unique opportunity for on-the-job outfield training while in the major leagues.

Opening day rosters

2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000
Starters (4) Starters (5) Starters (5) Starters (5) Starters (5) Starters (5)
Carpenter Carpenter Morris Benes Ankiel (L) Ankiel (L)
Marquis Marquis Simontacchi Kile Benes Benes
Mulder (L) Morris Stephenson  Morris Hermanson Hentgen
Suppan Suppan Tomko Stephenson Kile Kile
(Morris - DL) Williams Williams Williams Morris Stephenson
Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (7) Bullpen (6)
Eldred Eldred Calero Hackman Hutchinson Mohler (L)
Flores (L) Isringhausen Eldred Isringhausen Kline (L) Orosco (L)
Isringhausen King (L) Fassero  Kline (L) James Slocumb
King (L) Kline (L) Hermanson Matthews (L) Matthews (L) Thompson, R
Pulsipher (L) Lincoln Kline (L) Stechschulte Stechschulte Veres
Reyes, Al Simontacchi Painter (L) Timlin  Tabaka (L) Wainhouse
Tavarez Tavarez Springer Veres Veres
Infielders (5) Infielders (5) Infielders (5) Infielders (5) Infielders (5) Infielders (5)
Eckstein Matheny Martinez (L) Martinez (L) Matheny  Matheny
Grudzielanek Pujols Matheny Matheny McGwire McGwire
Molina Renteria Renteria Polanco Polanco Renteria
Pujols Rolen Rolen Renteria Renteria Tatis
Rolen Womack (L) Vina (L) Vina (L) Vina (L) Vina (L)
Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3) Outfielders (3)
Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L) Drew (L) Drew (L) Davis
Sanders  Lankford (L) Pujols Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L) Edmonds (L)
Walker (L) Sanders Marrero Pujols Pujols Lankford (L)
Bench (6) Bench (5) Bench (5) Bench (5) Bench (5) Bench (6)
Cedeno (S) OF Anderson (L) MIF Cairo MIF, OF Cairo MIF, OF Lankford (L) OF Drew (L) OF
Diaz C Cedeno (S) OF Palmeiro (L) OF Difelice C Mabry (L) CIF, COF Dunston MIF, OF
Luna IF, OF Luna IF,OF Perez CIF, COF Marrero C, OF Marrero C, OF Howard (S) OF
Mabry (L) CIF, COF McKay (L) C, CIF Robinson (L) OF Perez CIF, COF Paquette MIF, CIF, COF Marrero C, OF
Nunez (S) IF Taguchi OF Taguchi OF Robinson (L) OF Sutton (L) CIF Paquette MIF, CIF, COF
Taguchi OF Polanco MIF, CIF

Legend:

(S) - Switch-hitter
(L) - Left-handed pitcher or hitter
(none) - Right-handed position player hitter
OF - Plays all outfield positions
COF - Plays both corner outfield positions
MIF - Plays second base and/or shortstop
CIF - Plays first and/or third base
IF - Plays MIF and CIF
C - Catcher

Come back soon for Part Two, when we apply all this new-found knowledge to possible 2006 roster decisions.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2006 www.thestlcardinals.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.


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