- Covers MLB for ESPN.com
- Former deputy editor of Page 2
- Been with ESPN.com since 1995
It started with J.P. Crawford. I was digging into some statistics and noticed Crawford ranked as the worst baserunner in the majors according to Baseball-Reference’s baserunning metric at minus-5 runs below average. How could that be? Crawford isn’t slow. Well, he’s not slow, but he was 3-for-9 stealing bases and he was not aggressive in taking the extra base, such as going first to third on a base hit. Maybe he just had a bad season on the bases, or maybe this is the sign of a bigger issue.
Anyway, that led to more digging for more unique numbers: via Baseball-Reference, “The Bill James Handbook,” FanGraphs, Statcast. Numbers that aren’t just numbers, but hopefully tell a little story as well.
We found one interesting factoid for every team from the 2021 season:
Factoid: The Diamondbacks used 64 players, including 41 different pitchers, in 2021.
I’m using the Diamondbacks — an otherwise uninteresting squad that lost 110 games — to highlight a trend of the modern game: Roster churn. The Cubs actually used more players (69) and the Mets and Orioles used more pitchers (42), but the Diamondbacks are noteworthy because just two years ago they used the second-fewest number of players. While you can actually do this and have success — the Rays used 41 different pitchers — big roster churn is usually a sign of injuries plus organizational depth issues. Note the change over the past three decades in average number of players used:
2021: 50 players overall, 30 pitchers
2011: 43 players overall, 22 pitchers
2001: 41 players overall, 20 pitchers
1991: 40 players overall, 18 pitchers
On the bright side, more players get to call themselves major leaguers! The downside is it’s a stressful existence for those players caught on the Triple-A/MLB/waiver wire shuttle, not knowing where you will be sleeping in two days. I’m not exactly sure this is the best way to maximize performance from the bottom of a team’s roster.
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