What Does a Playoff Team Look Like? Part One: American League

This post is a larger build off of a comment I made over on USS Mariner. A commenter there said that he’s sick of solid players and wants Seattle to put more “superstars” on the field that can change a game with one swing or one pitch. This got me thinking about the way successful teams are constructed, so I’m now going to go through every playoff team from last year and quantify their players in 5 categories: Superstars, Surprise Players, Solid Players, Replacement Players and Crap Players. We’ll get to my definition for each category in a second, first my hypothesis as to what I’ll find:

I believe that the playoff teams will end up having only a couple of Superstars; the rest of the team will be rounded out with mostly Solid Players and a couple Surprise Players. It doesn’t take Superstars to make the playoffs, it takes a well rounded team with a smattering of big time players, whether they come in the form of expensive Superstars or inexpensive Surprise Players.

My definitions:

Superstars – players with a track record of at least 3 years putting up 4+ WAR seasons, I tried to be entirely mathematical, but there is some fudging here and there because the word “superstar” also tends to be a lot of public perception and name recognition

Surprise Players – Players putting up a 4+ WAR season who either bounced back from age, injury, had a career year, or a breakout rookie season. Basically any player that outperformed anyone’s expectations going into the season would be included here.

Solid Players – Any player putting up a 2-3.9 WAR season

Replacement Players – Any player putting up a 0-1.9 WAR season

Crap Players – Any player with a negative WAR

I’ll now be analyzing every playoff team and then take a look at how the 2011 Mariners fared in each category as well as the two most famously successful Mariner teams (1995 and 2001). I’m cutting off eligible players at 300 PA, will be using the five starters on every team that made the most starts and at the end will just calculate the total WAR contributed by the bullpen.

I’m about halfway through writing this and have realized this is going to take up a lot of space, so to make it a bit smaller I’m going to separate it into three posts. We’ll start with the American League playoff teams and based on the reception of the post in general I’ll continue with the NL and finally how the Mariners look.

New York Yankees - $207 million payroll, 97-65 record


CC Sabathia – 7.1

Robinson Cano – 5.6

Alex Rodriguez – 4.2

Mark Teixeira – 4.2

Surprise Players:

Curtis Granderson – 7.0

Brett Gardner – 5.1

Solid Players:

Nick Swisher 3.8

Russell Martin – 3.1

Ivan Nova – 2.7

Bartolo Colon – 2.6

Derek Jeter – 2.3

Freddy Garcia – 2.2

Replacement Players:

A.J. Burnett – 1.5

Crap Players:

Jorge Posada - -.4

Eduardo Nunez - -.6

Bullpen – 7.1

The Yankees have a lot of expensive Superstars, but with their payroll that’s to be expected, as only 1 of them was home grown. Granderson and Gardner both had huge years, Gardner may be on his way towards Superstar status with a few more big years under his belt. Lots of solid players round out the roster, Colon and Garcia could maybe be Surprise Players, as who would have expected them to be above Replacement? The Yankees also feature a lockdown bullpen with most of the value coming from Mariano Rivera and David Robertson

Texas Rangers - $92.1 million payroll, 96-66 record


Ian Kinsler – 7.7

CJ Wilson – 5.9 (fudged because he was a 2 win pitcher in the bullpen and has been excellent since moving to the rotation)

Adrian Beltre – 5.7

Josh Hamilton – 4.2

Surprise Players:

Mike Napoli – 5.6

Elvis Andrus – 4.5

Matt Harrison – 4.2

Solid Players:

Michael Young – 3.8

Derek Holland – 3.6

Alexi Ogando – 3.6

Colby Lewis – 2.3

Replacement Players:

Nelson Cruz – 1.6

David Murphy – 1.1

Yorvit Torrealba – 1.1

Mich Moreland - .4

Bullpen – 1.9

Damn the Rangers are good. Only 5 regular players below 3.6 WAR and nobody dipping into the negative territory. The Rangers used a 5 man rotation for all but 5 games in the season and got exceptional years from the top to the bottom, especially when you consider the park factors. I don’t really know what to say about these guys that the numbers don’t already to say, this team is scary good. With full seasons from Mike Adams and Koji Uehara the bullpen should improve as well.

Detroit Tigers – $106.9 million payroll, 95-67 record


Miguel Cabrera – 7.3

Justin Verlander – 7.0

Surprise Players:

Alex Avila – 5.5

Jhonny Peralta – 5.2

Doug Fister – 2.4 (While Fister made the 6th most starts on the team I included him because I feel he was a huge part of the team’s success in the playoff run. Fister went nuts in Detroit striking out over 7 per 9 and walking less than 1. Putting up 2.4 WAR in 10 starts was definitely not what anyone expected of Fister and he was a huge asset.)

Solid Players:

Victor Martinez – 2.9

Austin Jackson – 2.8

Max Scherzer – 2.7

Rick Porcello – 2.7

Phil Coke – 2.0

Replacement Players:

Brennan Boesch – 1.7

Ryan Raburn – 1.2

Brad Penny - .8

Crap Players:

Brandon Inge - -.4

Magglio Ordonez - -1.0

Bullpen – 3.3

The Tigers are the epitome of what I’m expecting to see. They put together an overall good team and without the breakouts of Peralta and Avila wouldn’t have won the division by such a large margin. They also did this well with only 2 true Superstars.

Tampa Bay Rays - $42.1 million payroll, 91-71 record


Ben Zobrist – 6.6

Evan Longoria – 6.1

BJ Upton – 4.1

Surprise Players:

James Shields 4.9 (could maybe be a superstar, but had a couple disappointing seasons the last 2 years)

David Price – 4.7

Solid Players:

Matt Joyce – 3.8

Casey Kotchman – 2.8

Sean Rodriguez – 2.3

Replacement Players:

Sam Fuld – 1.9

Johnny Damon – 1.5

Jeff Niemann – 1.5

Jeremy Hellickson – 1.4

Wade Davis - .9

Bullpen - .7

The Rays so far are the only to contradict my theory, as most of their team was either in the 4+ range or a replacement player. Their bullpen was essentially a nonfactor in their success. They used their depth a lot more than other teams as Kelly Shoppach, Desmond Jennings, John Jaso, and Elliot Johnson all played a large share of games, but all fell below my 300 PA cutoff. If I had to guess I’d say that the Rays success came from smart managing, playing platoons to their highest ability and generally taking advantage of every opportunity they could find.


So far I’m seeing what I’ve expected. 2-4 Superstars, a couple Surprise Players and the rest of the teams don’t have any gaping black holes. If you change all the Surprise Players back to “solid” performances each division winner is looking at about 90 wins with the Rays in the high 80’s. None of these teams won by surrounding lots of replacement players with superstars and based on what I’ve seen so far I don’t see why some Seattle fans think that that method will work by injecting Fielder into a team full of replacements. Maybe things will look different in the NL, but at this point I’d rather see the Mariners full of 2-3 win players than 0-2 win players and one 5 win player. My bullpen analysis is probably rather lame, but it appears that as long as the bullpen isn’t in the negative it doesn’t seem to matter whether they are amazing or not.

I’m probably not saying much that most people here don’t already know or at least suspect, but I’m finding it interesting that as long as a team knows what to do then the payroll restrictions don’t seem to matter, different paths to the same outcome. If you guys are curious as to how the rest of the teams play out I’ll post the next of the series in a day or so.

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