I got an interesting e-mail (thanks Ted!) at the beginning of the week that revolves around roster set up. This year will be the first season that the second wile card team is introduced into the playoff mix. The first "series" of the post season will be a single game playoff between the two wild card teams. While it's fair to say that there is almost no way to make a "series" like that more of a crapshoot, the teams may have a special opportunity to leverage the nature of the playoffs in their roster construction.
Typically, clubs have the chance to change their rosters in between series in the playoffs. In my opinion, they rarely utilize this opportunity to it's full advantage instead continue to carry their fifth starter in the bullpen who they have no real intent of using in anything other than a mop up situation, for example. If a club has the chance to reset their roster after the single game playoff -- meaning that the roster they use for that game will be for that game only -- what's the most advantageous composition of that roster?
We'll come upon some interesting hypotheticals when we walk through this -- and I don't think there's anything resembling a "right" answer to this -- but generally, the goal is still to have this conversation in the context of the Cardinals. The first thing to do is to start assigning the roster spots that you know are claimed. The lineup and starting pitcher are going to require 9 slots right off the bat.
With a lineup in place, any reasonable roster construction is going to have a backup for, at minimum, the corner infield, middle infield, corner outfield, centerfield and catcher. For the most part, this is injury concerns though certainly the double switch comes into play in the National League. It helps that, our specific team has players who are legitimately good to back up all those positions. The only one we'll leave blank for now is centerfield backup assuming that Carlos Beltran could cover center for the remainder of the game with someone taking right field duties from him.
There's probably an argument for leaving a backup catcher off the roster. Certainly Tony Cruz's .248 wOBA this season is a compelling point for that argument but I'll leave him there for now.
The next tough question in my mind is what to do with your starting pitchers. Teams have to plan for advancement so they can't use their starters for 3 innings each at a time. Added to that is that 4th inning Adam Wainwright is probably still a better pitcher than first inning Jake Westbrook and the nature of how pitcher's are used doesn't seem, to me, like it's going to fundamentally change. Ignoring the personal pride aspect of it, I don't see a functional use for 4 additional starting pitchers on the roster. Westbrook, Kyle Lohse, Jaime Garcia and Lance Lynn don't make my rotation as starters.
Given the opportunity to load up my roster with pitchers that are specialists and work platoon advantages heavily, a one game roster is going to include a heavy number of relievers and pinch hitters. This is where the hypothetical starts to separate from reality. While you can certainly say that you'd want a bunch of relievers on the team, there's a finite number of actually good relievers in your organization at any one point. The Cardinals have, by my count, the following:
|Right Handers||Left Handers|
|Jason Motte (14)||Marc Rzepczynski (20)|
|Mitchell Boggs (15)||Barret Browning (21)|
|Edward Mujica (16)||Sam Freeman|
|Fernando Salas (17)||Tyler Lyons|
|Joe Kelly (18)|
|Lance Lynn (19)|
Certainly not all of these guys are worth carrying but this is the short list from the organization. Given the parity between starters this season, Lynn's familiarity with the bullpen and the lack of a need for a fifth starter, it's an easy decision for me to put him in the bullpen. The same goes for Joe Kelly. That pair should make for an impressive duo out of the pen. Given the available talent above, I'd probably take, to start, the top 6 right handers and the top 2 left handers. So roster spots 14 through 21 are now claimed.
I'm giving Adron Chambers a roster spot for his speed alone and, with the relievers in tow that I have, I wouldn't hesitate to use him. The only other players that have been on the major league roster this season are Matt Adams, Ryan Jackson and Shane Robinson. If Matt Adams were uninjured -- he's out for the remainder of the season having bone chips scraped from his elbow -- he'd definitely claim a roster spot. Shane Robinson and Ryan Jackson aren't particularly compelling players for me. Neither hits enough for me to desire to pinch hit with them and their specialized defensive skills are less easy to deploy in a very specific and impactful way (unlike a pinch hitter).
If you look down to Memphis for some additional pinch hitting firepower, you'll find ... Eugenio Velez and his .805 OPS. Memphis is nearly devoid of major league talent at this point in the season. With two roster spots left, and the need for additional pinch hitters, Shane Robinson would probably make the team by default given that his bat is acceptable and he can slot into any outfield position. The last roster spot -- and I'm sure someone will cry foul over this decision -- would go to Oscar Taveras if I could work him onto the team and the 40 man roster somehow. His bat is better now than most of the chaff in Memphis.
That would give me a left handed heavy bench with 5 of the 8 being left handed hitters and 2 of the three right handers (Robinson and Cruz) being less than ideal choices.
With a purely hypothetical team, your composition of pitchers to hitters could vary from the 9 to 16 ratio I'm currently sporting. You could make arguments about the specifics above like leaving Kelly off the team in favor of a Freeman, a third left hander.
When I started writing this and when I read the e-mail, the question I worked from was "What a roster composed for a single game would look like?" That can essentially be simplified into "What do you do with the 4 extra roster spots gained by not carrying a full complement of starting pitchers for one game?" And it's a question with a variety of answers.