I was reading an interesting article the other about how the Cardinals won’t make the post season because they simply do not have enough ‘Championship Calibre’ players. Now, on the face of it this is true. Yes the Cardinals have Pujols and Holliday, unquestionably the best 3-4 in baseball and the have Carpenter and Wainwright, a duo close to if not the best 1-2 in any major league rotation. But the problem seems to be that, aside from these four stars St Louis have precious little else.
This got me to thinking: how many championship calibre players does a team need to possess if it is to stand a chance of winning a World Series? Now clearly most teams cannot afford (or at leas the owners will insist they cannot afford) to stock their entire 25 man roster with championship calibre players. Therefore we have to look at players who, while not of championship calibre as very good players who could play on most, if not all major league teams – for sake of clarity we’ll call them near-championship calibre (NCC). Evidently the point being made about the 2010 Cardinals is that they do not have enough NCCs to support their four stars.
Taking a look at the world series winners from the past six seasons I feel their rosters breakdown as so:
2009 New York Yankees
Championship Calibre: Jeter, A-Rod, Teixiera, CC, Rivera
NCC: Damon, Pettitte, Swisher, Cano, Posada
2008 Philadelphia Phillies
Championship Calibre: Howard, Rollins, Utley, Lidge, Hamels
NCC: Werth, Victorino, Burrell, Blanton, Moyer*
2007 Boston Red Sox
Championship Calibre: Manny, Ortiz, Lowell (he had a huge, MVP calibre year), Beckett, Papelbon
NCC: Matsuzaka, Lester, Pedroia, Youkilis, Drew
2006 St Louis Cardinals
Championship Calibre: Pujols, Wainwright, Rolen, Edmonds, Carpenter (although he was hurt)
NCC: Eckstein, Weaver, Molina, Isringhausen
2005 Chicago White Sox
Championship Calibre: Konerko, Dye, Thomas, Buerhle, Thome
NCC: Garland, Rowand, Contreras, Pierzynski, Garcia
2004 Boston Red Sox
Championship Calibre: Manny, Schilling, Martinez, Ortiz, Damon
NCC: Varitek, Cabrera, Mueller, Lowe, Foulke
While some of these choices are, I’ll admit, arguable and the point can easily be made that the ’06 Cardinals we not an especially good regular season team, there does seem to be a pattern emerging here. Generally speaking a world series winning team will have around five clearly championship calibre players and roughly an equal amount of players near that standard.
If (and I recognise that it is a big if) we accept that having these players is likely to lead to post-season success then how to this year’s frontrunners measure up?
American League East
New York Yankees
CC: CC, Teixiera, A-Rod, Cano, Rivera
NCC: Jeter, Swisher, Granderson, Burnett, Posada
Tampa Bay Rays
CC: Longoria, Price, Crawford
NCC: Garza, Upton, Pena, Soriano
American League Central
CC: Mauer, Liriano, Thome, Young, Morneau (if healthy)
NCC: Pavano, Capps, Fuentes, Cuddyer
Chicago White Sox
CC: Manny, Quentin, Konerko
NCC: Rios, Danks, Jenks, Ramirez
American League West
CC: Hamilton, Kinsler, Lee, Vlad, Young
NCC: Feliz, Andrus, Cruz
NCC: Bailey, Cust, Crisp.
This seems to back up actually results, The Yankees will eventually outlast the Rays because their talent base is bigger, the Rays do not have enough star players to last against a team with a perfect 5-5 ratio like New York. The Twins are almost as good as the Yankees, these two teams will meet in the ALCS and the Twins will give the Yankees a good run of it, ultimately they will lose because of a lack of pitching. The West is a weak division, the Rangers are reliant on too few players and will not stand up to a 5-5 team over the course of a play-off series.
Now the National League, and the Cardinals:
National League East
CC: Halladays, Oswalt, Utley, Howard, Werth
NCC: Rollins, Hamels, Victorino, Ibanez, Lidge
CC: McCann, Heyward, Hudson, Wagner
NCC: D-Lee, Prado, Hanson, Glaus
National League Central
CC: Rolen, Votto, Phillips, Bruce
NCC: Stubbs, Cabrera, Volquez, Chapman
St Louis Cardinals
CC: Pujols, Holliday, Carpenter, Wainwright
NCC: Garcia, Rasmus
National League West
San Diego Padres
CC: Bell, Gonzalez
NCC: Latos, Garland, Tejeda
San Francisco Giants
CC: Lincecum, Cain, Wilson
NCC: Huff, Sandoval, Burrell, Torres
CC: Cargo, Tulo, Jimenez, Street
NCC: Helton, Giambi, Young Jr
This seems to bare out the actually situation too. The Phillies should win the East, they have the best ratio of any of the NL contenders, the Braves are a close second and therefore should win the Wild Card. Cincinnati’s 4-4 split (I considered putting Gomes down as a NCC but thought Drew Stubbs was enough of a stretch) will get them into the postseason but I don’t think they are a match for Philly or Atlanta over 7 games. The West is a dogfight between three teams, none of which have the depth of quality to beat the two teams from the East. St Louis have the worst supporting cast of any of the contenters.
Following this model for assessing team’s chances, which I do acknowledge is incredibly subjective as its my assessment of players which determines who is a CC, NCC or also-ran. However I’m prepared to use it to make my play-off predictions. Here they are:
New York over Texas (3-1)
Minnesota over Tampa (3-2)
New York over Minnesota (4-2)
Philly over Colorado (3-2)
Atlanta over Cincinnati (3-1)
Philly over Atlanta (4-1)
Philly over New York (4-1) – This is based on pitching, A.J. Burnett will have to pitch at least once in the series.
Coincidently, at the start of the season there was, as far as I’m concerned only one team with six championship calibre players: The New York Mets (CC: Wright, Bay, Beltran, Santana, K-Rod, Reyes)
Funny how things work out.