The value of versatility

I think when we discuss players who can play multiple positions – versatile players, or “super-subs” as they’re often called – we have a tendency to underestimate their value to a team over the course of 162 games. Of course it’s good to be able to give regulars days off now and then, and having someone who can back up at multiple positions also usually means you can carry one less position player on the roster – which helps, if you need an extra arm in the pen.

But the real value of a versatile player is their ability to step in for a relatively extended period should an everyday player get injured and require an IL stint.

Follow along with me. And yes, there are exceptions and I’m going to make some generalizations, but the scenario I’m describing is pretty close to being accurate in more cases than not.

The 10th best position player on your roster is a legit Major League player. He likely has some imperfection that keeps him from starting every day – not a good glove, much better either against righties or lefties – something along those lines. But he’s a player you can put on the field and expect major league play and production.

However, the 13th best position player is usually not a major league player. From a production standpoint, he’s somebody that wouldn’t be missed if you replaced him with a minor leaguer.

For the purposes of discussion, let’s use the Yankees of the past 2 or 3 seasons as an example. A good chunk of that stretch had Clint Frazier as their number 10 guy and Tyler Wade as their number 13.

Frazier is obviously a major league player – someone you certainly don’t mind seeing in the lineup if one of the corner outfielders or DH needs a day off.

Tyler Wade, even supporters of his would admit, wouldn’t greatly be missed production wise, if he ended up playing in another city.

Now if one of your regulars got injured, you’d love to get Frazier in the lineup – he’s your next best player. Over the span of a few weeks there’s going to be a negligible difference in team success – if any – with Frazier in the lineup every day.

But here’s the problem: What if it’s your shortstop that gets hurt? Or your 2nd baseman? Frazier can’t play those positions – but Wade can. Now you have to put roster spot number 13 – essentially a minor leaguer – into the lineup every day for two weeks. That my friends is something that you would notice and would likely affect team success even over a period as short as two weeks.

But what if Frazier could play short or 2nd? Then you could get him in there every day and your team doesn’t skip much of a beat, if any at all. And that would make that player a very valuable asset.

That is why players like Marwin Gonzalez, Ben Zobrist before him, and Tony Phillips before him, are and were very valuable players. If a regular gets hurt, those guys – who all were better than league average hitters and could play every position except catcher – could fill in every day. That’s a massive upgrade over roster guy number 13 who’s essentially a minor leaguer. (Zobrist in fact, led the American League in WAR in 2009 while playing every position at some point besides pitcher and catcher.)

How does this relate to the 2021 Yankees Opening Day roster?

It means you need to have Derek Dietrich on it. Dietrich isn’t Gonzalez, Zobrist or Phillips because he can’t play SS or CF, but he can play 1B, 2B, 3B, RF and LF – Jay Bruce can’t play 2nd or 3rd and Mike Tauchman can’t play the infield. But there are already two players on the roster who can play CF and Aaron Boone says Gio Urshela can play SS in a pinch. Add all that up and it means you can have an extra bullpen arm instead of Wade if you like.

To be clear, I took no polls and I don’t have any data on this – but I’m pretty sure most fans underappreciate players who are plus hitters and can play multiple positions.

Don’t be one of them.

Did I miss anything? Let me know.

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