Sunday, October 09, 2005

Bench Dawgs '06

The Phillies had a terrible bench in 2005. There is no getting around it. The players on the bench individually weren't awful - I liked having either Michaels or Lofton ready to pinch hit for the other, Ramon Martinez is a useful player, and I am as big a Todd Pratt as any sane person can be. Probably one of the reasons why I love Pratt so much stems from the bench clearing brawl he was in the middle of in '93 (I think it was '93 - almost positive). He was a young player then, but his personality was exactly the same as we know it today. Plus they were wearing old-timey uniforms for that game - like from the early 1900's I think. They were something to see and even better in person After having said that, you just know I was there in person. I probably was at anywhere from 25-35 games that year. And I was 7 years old. It's really no wonder I am the baseball fan I am today after a year like that. I owe it all to great parenting. But back to the topic on hand, the Phillies bad bench. Pratt is ok, Martinez is ok, CF is ok, Matt Kata might be ok, Endy Chavez is deadweight, and Tomas Perez is inexplicably signed through next year. My question is: where is the power bat? This is the National League - you need a diverse, multi-talented bench to best exploit late game matchups. The truth is the manager probably would have no idea what to do if given such a bench, but that's a different problem for a different day. The best any GM can do is get the right 25 players for his manager to form into a cohesive, productive unit. What better place to start with the bench?

25 Man Roster Compositon

Let's say 12 spots are devoted to the pitching staff. That leaves 13 position players. There are 8 everyday players. You need a backup catcher. Most teams carry 5 total outfielders (2 on the bench). That leaves 2 spots for infielders. Ideally, one of the outfielders would have some pop and the other would be a good defensive replacement/pinch-running option. As for the infielders, ideally you carry one good glove middle infielder who can play some defense at any infield spot (natural spot being either 2B or SS) and run a little, and one 1B/3B type who strikes at least a tiny bit of fear into the opposing manager's heart. This doesn't take handedness into account (the breakdown of lefties and righties is important) and the "ideals" I write of are mine and are totally up for debate. However these are the assumptions we are going with.

The focus of today is on two recently released guys who fit the power hitter off the bench mold. Keep in mind that both of these guys have recently been released. Players get released for a reason. That being said, I see some value in both Matt LeCroy and Eric Munson as it pertains to the 2006 Philadelphia Phillies.

Matt LeCroy, late of the Minnesota Twins, hit .260/.354/.444 in 304 at bats in 2005. He also chipped in 17 homers and 50 RBIs. Not terrible numbers by any stretch of the imagination, but they get even better when you go deeper. Against lefties this year, Matt LeCroy hit a very impressive .306/.404/.621 in 180 at bats which was good for a 1.025 OPS. Those are excellent numbers. 180 at bats might not be enough proof for some - that's fine, there's more. From 2002-2004, LeCroy hit .307/.382/.554 against lefties (.936 OPS). That's 345 more at bats to draw conclusions from.

LeCroy made $750,000 last season and the Twins, not wanting to risk potentially paying him upwards of $1.5 million in arbitration, decided to cut him loose sooner rather than later. I don't advocate the Phils paying over $1.5 million for a bench player, but if he could be had for a number closer to $1 million or so for one year, he could be a real bargain. One thing to note: LeCroy is closer to a John Kruk body than a Gabe Kapler body. I hope we can all agree this doesn't really matter, but LeCroy just doesn't look like an athlete. Just thought I should mention that in case he does become a Phillie - wouldn't want anybody shocked to see him hanging out of his uniform that first day in spring.

LeCroy was used at DH more than any other position over the past 4 seasons, but he can play 1B, has very good pinch hitting numbers, and is a viable option as an emergency catcher. His 2006 season will be his age 30 season, so what you see is what get at this point. But what I see, I like. A right-handed, power threat who can play 1B on days the Phils don't want to subject Howard to a tough lefty, cause aggeta for managers in late game situations (any manager would be a fool to let any lefty face him late), and an emergency catcher to boot. I love that last aspect - the emergency catcher that can actually catch a bit opens up your regular backup catcher for regular pinch hitting duty. It's like getting a two for one. Matt LeCroy - make it happen Phils. (Does he take such a limited role on a team like the Phils? How important will money be on his decision as first time free agents can be tough to read? Any other personal reasons for wanting to be in a certain place of his choosing? - you just knew there were complications to this, there always are)

I'm admittedly less excited about the prospect of Eric Munson as a 2006 Phillie. He was extremely highly touted coming out of USC as the 3rd overall pick by the Tigers, but never panned out even after multiple big league chances. I could write a good long tangent on that draft and Eric Munson's background in baseball, but for the sake of brevity I'll skip that and focus only on his future. Maybe I will get back to that draft someday though.

Munson is a left-handed hitter, right-handed thrower and former third baseman of the Detroit Tigers. He was originally drafted as a catcher, but was moved off the position for defensive purposes (he wasn't very good) and because many a young prospect struggles with the responsibilities that come from the demands of catching to the point their hitting suffers. The Tigers considered his bat too valuable to subjugate to any kind of potential harm, so they moved him to 3rd. He never really hit enough to stick and after 5 years, he was gone. He went to ST with the Twins this year, didn't make the team, signed with Tampa, didn't make the big club, and only had 18 at bats in the majors this year.

His turned 28 last week (Oct. 3rd) so 2006 will be his age 28 season (No, I don't think you are too dumb to figure that out on your own, I'm just reiterating. Don't take it so personal). Stats were big in my argument for LeCroy. It didn't hurt that they were in favor of my argument. Stats will not be big in my argument for Munson. Take a wild guess whether or not they support my pro-Munson stance. Since 2005 was a wash, here is his line from 2002-2004: .224/.302/.437 in 652 at bats. That's not pretty. But then again, neither is Julia Roberts and she's a big star. Therefore, I can root for Munson being on this team stats be damned.

The reason I choose to ignore logic in Munson's case is the old risk/reward idea. Munson should be a non-roster invitee to camp. Why the heck wouldn't you take a chance on every possible lefty third baseman available? Unless we are happy about David Bell hitting .199 against righties (I've talked it over and we are definitely not happy about that)? Take a chance on Munson - a guy who can play 1B (did I forget to mention that?) and 3B, pinch hit, and, maybe, just maybe, you can reach him and tap some of that potential all the scouts raved about not so long ago.

I mentioned the ideal backup infield consisting of one power hitting, corner infield type. Munson fits the bill to a T (in theory...) and LeCroy, although he can't play 3rd, would be an excellent, albeit potentially highly pursued, option at 1B, emergency C, and off the bench. Talk to LeCroy and invite Munson to camp. Do those things and I'll be just a bit more optimistic about that Phillies bench in 2006. Because, come on, don't you just miss the "Bench Dawgs" of a few years ago? No? Ok maybe it's just me then. I thought "Bench Dawgs" was kind of cute. They had t-shirts and everything. They even dyed their hair together. Guess I'm the only one nostalgic for the days of the Bench Dawgs...


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