What Does a Playoff Team Look Like? Part Two: National League

Hey everyone, ready for round 2? As you’ll see below, most of the National League rosters feature the same distribution of player talent as their AL counterparts. In order to not post the exact same post as last time and also as a rebuttal to some comments made on my last post I will be looking at what year each player debuted for their current team and how that player got there. So after every player’s name we’ll see their WAR, what year they first played for their team and how they got there.

A quick refresher on my definitions for the player types:

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

Philadelphia Phillies – $166 million payroll, 102, 60 record

Star Players:

Chase Utley – 3.9, 2003, Farm

Roy Halladay – 8.2, 2010, Trade

Cliff Lee – 6.7, 2011, Free Agent

Cole Hamels – 4.9, 2006, Farm

Surprise Players:

Shane Victorino – 5.9, 2005, Rule 5

Solid Players:

Jimmy Rollins – 3.8, 2000, Farm

Placido Polanco – 2.8, 2010, Free Agent

Carlos Ruiz – 2.8, 2006, Farm

Roy Oswalt – 2.5, 2010, Trade

Vance Worley – 2.5, 2010, Farm

Replacement Players:

Ryan Howard – 1.6, 2004, Farm

Wilson Valdez – 0.0, 2010, Free Agent

Crap Players:

Raul Ibanez - -1.3, 2009, Free Agent

Bullpen – 1.7

The Phillies once again follow the same general build we’ve seen before, if we look at when and how players came to the team it becomes clear that the solid core of the team was brought up through the farm system throughout the mid 2000’s. Those players (Utley, Hamels, Victorino, Rollins, Ruiz, Howard) were able to grow for a few years in order to see who stuck and where the holes were, it’s then that we see big names come in via trades and free agents. This team was home grown and then the final pieces were bought at the end, which led them to the best record in baseball last season. It’s also interesting to see that since 2007 (when the team started its 5 year 1st place run) that the budget steadily grew every year from $89 million to $166 million. Sure in the last couple years they’ve given big money to Halladay and Lee, but most of the money has gone to retaining their core. With the exception of 3rd base the infield has been exactly the same since 2003.

Milwaukie Brewers – $83.6 million payroll, 96 – 66 record

Star Players:

Prince Fielder – 5.5, 2005, Farm

Ryan Braun – 7.8, 2007, Farm

Zack Greinke – 3.9, 2011, Trade

Surprise Players:

Corey Hart – 4.2, 2004, Farm

Nyjer Morgan 4.0, 2011, Trade

Solid Players:

Rickie Weeks – 3.7, 2003, Farm

Yovani Gallardo – 3.1, 2007, Farm

Shaun Marcum – 2.7, 2011, Trade

Replacement Players:

Jonathan Lucroy – 1.9, 2010, Farm

Chris Narveson – 1.5, 2009, Free Agent

Randy Wolf – 1.4, 2010, Free Agent

Casey McGehee - .3, 2009, Waiver Claim

Yuniesky Betancourt - .5, 2011, Trade

Bullpen – 5.1

The Brewers actually had a fairly heavy amount of replacement players last year, but made up for it with just as many top tier players. Taking a look at how the players were acquired shows that every player that has been a Brewer for longer than 3 years was a product of the farm system. Once the team had Fielder, Braun, Hart, Weeks, and Gallardo in place they hit the trade market rather than the free agent market to bring in the pieces they needed to win (Grienke, Morgan, Marcum). Just like the Phillies we see the core built from the farm system before outside players are brought in.

Arizona Diamondbacks – $56.5 million payroll, 94 – 68 record

Star Players:

Justin Upton – 6.4, 2007, Farm

Surprise Players:

Ian Kennedy – 5.0, 2010, Trade

Daniel Hudson – 4.9, 2010, Trade

Chris Young – 4.6, 2006, Trade

Miguel Montero – 4.3, 2006, Farm

Solid Players:

Ryan Roberts – 3.6, 2009, Free Agent

Gerardo Parra – 2.8, 2009, Farm

Josh Collmenter – 2.2, 2011, Farm

Replacement Players:

Stephen Drew – 1.9, 2006, Farm

Kelly Johnson - 1.4, 2010, Free Agent

Joe Saunders – 1.0, 2010, Trade

Zach Duke - .8, 2011, Trade

Willie Bloomquist - .3, 2011, Free Agent

Bullpen - 3.5

The Diamondbacks made it to the playoffs on the backs of a lot of young players having breakout years. It could be argued that Upton isn’t a fully fledged star yet and I’m still back and forth on where to put him, but really it doesn’t matter that much. With the Diamondbacks we’re seeing the beginnings of a core group of players, the core is being developed by the farm system and past trades that are seeing prospects begin to show promise. Arizona made it to the playoffs without a single big name free agent signing, except for J.J. Putz, but from what I’ve seen so far a good bullpen is nice, but not required. Still though, Putz was brought in last year after the young core was already in place.

St. Louis Cardinals – $109 million payroll, 90 – 72 record

Star Players:

Albert Pujols – 5.1, 2001, Farm

Matt Holliday – 5.0, 2009, Trade

Chris Carpenter – 5.0, 2004, Free Agent

Surprise Players:

Lance Berkman – 5.0, 2011, Free Agent

Yadier Molina – 4.1, 2004, Farm

Solid Players:

Jaime Garcia – 3.6, 2008, Farm

Jon Jay – 2.8, 2010, Farm

David Freese – 2.7, 2009, Trade/Farm

Kyle Lohse – 2.5, 2008, Free Agent

Replacement Players:

Colby Rasmus – 1.3, 2009, Farm

Jake Westbrook – 1.1, 2010, Trade

Ryan Theriot - .7, 2011, Trade

Skip Schumaker - .6, 2005, Farm

Daniel Descalso - .5, 2010, Farm

Kyle McClellan - .3, 2008, Farm

Bullpen - .8

Once again most of the long term pieces on the team were brought up through the farm system (the exception being Carpenter). Freese was traded to the Cardinals, but he was still in A ball at the time so he could also be considered a product of the farm system. The recent additions to the team (Berkman, Westbrook, and Theriot) were added to fill the last remaining holes and help push the team into that final stage to contend. Pretty much everyone on the team performed to expectations and it could be argued that the only reason the Cardinals were able to make the post season was because of the lucky bounce back they got from Berkman.


My original hypothesis still appears to be true, with just the Diamondbacks succeeding more due to break out years than a few star players. Simply put, star power is good, but it doesn’t make or break a team. Winning is a team effort and needs solid performances from the top to the bottom of the roster. From looking at these 4 successful teams it also becomes apparent there is a trend in the order that players are acquired. There isn’t a single star player that was bought or traded for years before the team started contending. Chris Carpenter was brought in before the 2004 season, but he joined the team just before they started hitting the playoffs in ’04 - ’06, so he is more of a holdover from those days and it can’t be argued they bought him in order to build around him to contend in the 2010’s.

After looking at these sample cases, if I were to build a team I would use my farm system to develop as many successful players as possible, when my in house team is winning 80-85 games a season I would assess where my holes are and then use the free agent and trade markets to purchase one or two 5 WAR players to push my team up to the 90 win mark. I wouldn’t purchase an expensive star first baseman years before I’m ready to contend only to realize my farm system just supplied me with a league minimum 5 win first baseman. Sure I could trade that young player to fill a hole elsewhere, but it just seems like an irresponsible way to spend money. It may be a long process to rebuild a team, but when I’m celebrating my first World Series win I don’t really think I’ll care.

In conclusion I’d rather Zdriencik put together at LEAST a .500 team with cheap in house options before spending the big bucks on long contracts. If payroll is cheaper in the next few years I think I’ll be ok with that, it just means the team is committing to the young players and saving money to sign them to long term extensions if they prove they deserve it. Big extensions are the way the Phillies doubled their payroll and it seems to have worked out pretty well for them.

In the next couple days I’ll look at where the Mariners currently stand and see if past successful Mariners teams used the same model as these 8 playoff teams.

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