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Is the Power-Laden Bench a Thing of the Past?

(This is a guest column penned by Blingboy.)

A commenter on the The Cardinal Nation message board mentioned a sports chat at the Post-Dispatch in which the demise of the power-laden bench was noted.  (I didn’t see it or look for it.)

I’ve heard and read as much quite a bit lately.  I have also seen articles on the internet purporting to prove it.  My sense is that most or all who mention it or write about it not only note the ‘demise of the power-laden bench’, but also lament its passing.  This suggests to me that they may have an agenda of sorts.  I imagine them thinking the old days were better and the power-laden benches of yore are an example.  So, for them, it is necessary for this demise to be real.  But baseball is so full of stats that they can used to show whatever you want.  Baseball is also full of clichés and common wisdom.  So I just thought I’d look into it myself.

I first had to devise a method, so I will explain what I settled on, and why. First of all, power-laden compared to what?  Second, how do you measure it in a way that is meaningful over a historically significant period of time during which the game has changed in many ways?

I decided to compare the power of pinch hitters to the power of all Major League batters, which I think is what the topic is about.

Then there is the question of what ‘power’ stats to use.  One of the issues is that the game changes.  The quality of defense, the quality of pitching, the use of relievers, and park factors all have, or at least might have, varied over time.

In the end, I decided that since defense has no impact on homers, I would go with that.

Another big issue is the designated hitter.  I reasoned that the use of pinch hitters, and therefore the composition of benches probably changed in the American League from 1973 onward.  For that reason I chose to look at only National League pinch hitting stats.

What I have displayed in the chart below is Major League Home Runs per 1000 Major League at-bats.  This is the ‘compared to what’.  It is my measure of the power of all major league batters.

Next is National League Pinch Hit Home Runs per 1000 NL Pinch Hit At-Bats.  This is my measure of the power of benches not skewed by the designated hitter.  Lastly, I show the difference between those two measures of power.

As to the time frame, I decided that 50 years would be long enough to provide historical context. It includes virtually all of the baseball-following experience of today’s fans, but is not so long as to include data from long-gone eras when the game was so vastly different than what we know.  I was not about to look up, process and report 50 years of data, so I chose a sampling of years totally at random without rhyme or reason.

So are power-laden benches a thing of the past?  The answer is no, but they are not a thing of the present either.  The power-laden bench never existed at all.  Power off the bench is and always has been significantly less than the power of all batters.  The extent to which it is less in recent years isn’t much different than it always has been, if at all.

MLB HR/1000 AB NL PH HR/1000 AB Difference HR/1000
2013 28 21.3 -6.7
2011 27.4 19.1 -8.3
2006 32.1 25.9 -7.3
2004 32.5 25.7 -6.8
1996 31.5 22.3 -8.6
1987 30.9 18 -12.9
1985 25.1 17.1 -8
1982 23.4 16 -7.4
1975 22.2 15.5 -6.7
1968 18.3 11.6 -6.7
1967 21 12.9 -8.1
1964 25 10.5 -14.5
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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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46 Responses to “Is the Power-Laden Bench a Thing of the Past?”

  1. JumboShrimp says:

    BB, its not credible to offer that these years were selected at random. Too many of these years were World Series or Playoff years of the Cards, so this was a subconscious grounds for picking them. I dont think this influences your overall findings, just a side comment.

  2. Bw52 says:

    What5 about Jerry Lynch? Clff Johnson? Smokey Burgess? George Crowe? Even he Cards had Roger Freed for a few years as a PH who could pop a HR..Too often Cards bench has been puny due tocarrying 97 pitchers an a backup Catcher who never plays.

  3. Brian Walton says:

    I suggest you guys re-read the article. The data population is not St. Louis only.

  4. crdswmn says:

    Nice article Bling.

    The stark truth is that most benches these days are pretty weak. The chances of being able to get power on the bench are pretty slim because most power hitters of any worth are starters and are looking to remain starters.

    Personally I think many fans expectations are unrealistic. It is no so easy to just pluck offense off the nearest tree.

    • blingboy says:

      I agree that most benches these days are pretty weak. The data argue that benches now are not any weaker than they ever have been. The power of benches tracks that of all hitters, both going up or down in unison through dead ball eras and PEDs. But benches have always been weaker.

      I also agree that most power hitters of any worth are starters. It seems likely that that is nothing new.

    • blingboy says:

      I would guess that some power hitters who would otherwise be on somebody’s bench are instead employed as DHs. Why wouldn’t they be?

  5. Bw52 says:

    Cards offense DOA tonite.Possble no-hitter by Brewers pitcher.Cards hitters taking ineptitude to a new low.Wainwrigh lving on borrowed tie.Wheel getting ready to fall off.Epic Collapse of 1964 falling into place.Pirates winningwhile Nero Matheny fiddles.

    • Bw52 says:

      Cards offense DOA tonite.Possible no-hitter by Brewers pitcher.Cards hitters taking ineptitude to a new low.Wainwrtight living on borrowed time.wheels getting ready to fall off.Epic collapse of 1964 falling into place.Pirates winning while Nero Matheny fddles.

  6. JumboShrimp says:

    Great job by Wainwright. It would be welcome if tomorrow Mad Mike would start Oscar. Give Jay a night off.

  7. crdswmn says:

    That game was seriously pissing me off for a while. It took Waino breaking up the no-no to get the offense to wake up. Jeebus this team is frustrating.

    Giving Jay a break isn’t such a bad idea. He is hitting way below the Mendoza line in his last 10 games (.171 counting tonight’s 0-3). It would also give me a break from listening to all the folks on Twitter whining about Taveras not playing every single game. Not to mention the ones who for some unknown reason think that Grichuk is the second coming of Ted Williams.

    The OF Wars are seriously grating on my nerves. I am past caring who MM plays out there, as long as they win.

  8. CariocaCardinal says:

    Nice analysis Bling

  9. CariocaCardinal says:

    who is sadder? bw52 whose dreams of a cardinal collapse and a matheny firing are fading fast or cardswoman who is facing the possibility of a resurgent descalsco playing his way into not being non tendered this offseason?

  10. JumboShrimp says:

    My guess is that in bygone days, teams tended to have one more physically large player on the bench, probably a vet with sore knees. This is back before the DH gave some of these guys jobs. Its really hard to come off the bench and slug a HR, so they did not fare real well. But BW might be right that teams used to have more surplus big guys riding the pines, to give the illusion of power to fans.
    Nowadays teams realize pitching is more important than an extra guy who might give you one pinch blast per year if you are lucky. So modern teams would rather have more pitching than a big guy on the pines.

    • Bw52 says:

      Well Jumbo IIRC the Cards carried 15 players and 10 pitchers .That was before the 5 man rotation and the DH .You had guys that made careers out pinch-hitting s they got older (Smokey Burgess,Manny Mota,Vic Davalillo,Jerry Lynch,George Crowe etc;).The Dodgers in the 70`s h Davaliloand Manny Mota on their bench strickly as pinchhitters.

      • JumboShrimp says:

        In the bygone days, pitchers threw slower, there were no radar guns to know. Now pitching is more specialized, there are 5 starters not 4, to spread out the work and to pitch at higher velocity, plus plenty of relievers, because good pitching consistently beats good hitting. Today, teams need the pitchers.

  11. JumboShrimp says:

    Something I like. The Cards have a kid out of Venezuela whose name is Dylan Thomas Melendez.
    Awesome name!

  12. Bw52 says:

    Allen Craig is 5 for 53 with 24 Strikeouts since joining Boston.

  13. JumboShrimp says:

    1. Textbook night for matchup baseball. All our hits are by left swingers, Adams and jay two apiece, Oscar one. Everyone else, nada.

    2. Mad Mike replaced Oscar with Bourjos as a pinch runner in the 7th. This makes more sense when you are AHEAD, not 2 down. In the 9th, Oscar would have been 4th guy up against an RHP, now its Bourjos. Taveras is the better innate hitter for such a matchup.

  14. JumboShrimp says:

    When we win it still takes a lot of effort. Peralta, Jay, Holliday, working hits, pros.
    The Cards are so short of hits, each single seems epic. This is the reason why Oscar needs to play versus RHPs. We need every added single. Yes Bourjos is a fine defender, but we need Jay and Taveras versus the RHPs, we cannot sacrifice their added offense, however modest.

  15. blingboy says:

    Bottom line, 2 of 3 from the Brewers. Just win, baby.

    Only 3 more at home before the final 6 on the road. We threw our rotation’s heavy hitters at the Crew so now we have to get past Lackey and Wacha. Hopefully the offense will man up.

    Lets hope the Brewers take out their frustration the next three games at Pittsburgh.

    Note to Mo: Field a team that can win games before I fall asleep or you’re done.

  16. Bw52 says:

    Nice win.Terrible offnse going to break hearts.Can the pitchers carry this load for 20 plus games?

    • Brian Walton says:

      You seem to imply this is something new. It is the same thing the team has done all season long. Chances are that since they did it for 150 games, they can probably keep doing it for 20 more. It is just going to continue to be a very small margin between winning and losing.

      • Bw52 says:

        Nothing is written n stone.The Pitching staff could implode completely( I hope not).You imply that just because pitchers are carrying the offense this year that it is pretty much a given fact.I hope youre right Brian .

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