A Study of Playoff Roster Turnover: Part I

My wife is a wonderful person.  I came home from work on Friday to find her taping the Indians-Mets game for me even though I hadn't even thought to ask her to do so.  The poor woman knows she's about to become a baseball widow and she's still willingly contributing to my habit.

Anyway, I was watching last night and was listening to Mark Shapiro talk to Ravech and Kruk and they were talking about just bringing in Carroll and Kobayashi and not making a splash more akin to those guys in Detroit.  Mark was eloquent in his talking with Karl and the fat man about how it's rare to be able to return a team intact after a deep run into the playoffs.  And it got me thinking about former division champs and how much turnover one might expect following a division championship and whether there is a rough percentage of playoff roster turnover from year to year on teams the proceed from division champ to pennant winner/world series champ.  So I decided to take a look at an example from our own past, the case of turnover from playoff roster to playoff roster for the 96 and 97 Indians, where we went from division winner to pennant winner.

So let's start by taking a look at who we went to battle with in the 1996 playoffs.  

1996 Indians (playoff roster vs. Baltimore in ALDS)
C       Sandy Alomar
1B      Julio Franco
2B     Jeff Kent
3B     Jim Thome
SS     Omar Vizquel
LF      Albert Belle
CF     Kenny Lofton
RF      Manny Ramirez
DH     Kevin Seitzer

OF      Brian Giles
IF      Jose Vizcaino
IF/OF    Casey Candaele
IF    Nigel Wilson
C       Tony Pena

SP      Orel Hershiser
SP      Charles Nagy
SP      Jack McDowell
SP      Chad Ogea
SP      Dennis Martinez

CL      Jose Mesa
RP     Paul Assenmacher
RP      Eric Plunk
RP      Julian Tavarez
RP      Alan Embree
RP      Paul Shuey

Long story short, as everyone knows, we won the division, but fell short of the pennant to Baltimore, which almost sounds funny as I type it when I think of the shambles that that once proud franchise has fallen into.  

So some changes were in order, but not totally owing to a desire by the front office. Belle was a free agent, and even if the guy was an adjective compound noun, it's safe to say that we would not have sought to dump him.  Dennis Martinez was only 2 years away from retirement and was the only guy on the 25-man playoff roster to not appear in the series vs. Baltimore, so perhaps it wasn't a huge surprise to see him part ways with us.  

So a huge hole in left field, and a smaller hole in the rotation.  For Shapiro, that would be a small shopping list and one that likely wouldn't result in a ton of roster turnover.

Who else did we lose off of the 96 division winners?  Let's have an abbreviated look at the subtraction list (off of the major league roster)

Subtractions (Starters in Bold)
Lost as Free Agents
Belle, Martinez, Pena, Nigel Wilson
Again, a limited list lost off the playoff roster with Belle the only major loss, and we had an in house replacement for Pena (Einar Diaz) and Wilson, well, does it matter? Really?

What is worth noting is that we had Giles who could have potentially stepped into Belle's spot in the field.  Clearly, wholesale changes weren't required to field a very good team.

Hart did make some big changes though.  Let's peruse his trades in between the 96 and 97 playoff rosters and his list of signed free agents.

Alan Embree and Kenny Lofton to Atlanta for Marquis Grisson and David Justice
Jeff Kent, Julian Tavarez and Jose Vizcaino to San Francisco for Matt Williams

Signed as Free Agents
Mike Jackson, Pat Borders, Kevin Mitchell, Tony Fernandez, Robby Thompson

Not everyone worked out, but some certainly did and the 1997 playoff roster eventually looked like this:

1997 Indians (playoff roster vs. some team from NY, Baltimore and Florida)
C       Sandy Alomar
1B      Jim Thome
2B     Tony Fernandez
3B     Matt Williams
SS     Omar Vizquel
LF      Brian Giles
CF     Marquis Grissom
RF      Manny Ramirez
DH     David Justice

OF      Jeff Branson
IF      Kevin Seitzer
IF/OF    Bip Roberts
IF    Casey Candaele (?)
C       Einar Diaz or Pat Borders (?)

SP      Orel Hershiser
SP      Charles Nagy
SP      Brian Anderson
SP      Chad Ogea
SP      Jaret Wright

CL      Jose Mesa
RP     Paul Assenmacher
RP      Eric Plunk
RP      Mike Jackson
RP      Alvin Morman
RP      Jeff Juden

My two question marks here are on Candaele and Diaz as they didn't appear in the playoffs, however, I am certain that Tony Pena did not return so my calculations would still be correct concerning the backup catcher on the playoff roster.  If someone can confirm Candaele, I'd be much obliged.

Bottom line, if you calculate the turnover from one playoff roster to the next, you find that in this instance, a 48%(!) change led to the team going deeper into the playoffs and falling just short of the WS ring, 52% if Candaele wasn't on the 97 playoff roster.  

In Part II of this posting, I hope to look at other squads who have followed this trend, i.e., got to a certain level of the playoffs one year, made some changes (or not) and returned and went deeper into the playoffs to see if there is any trend.  Part III (comparing our own 2007 and 208 squads) could be looked at on opening day, but would definitely be more relevant if I would come back and do it once we make the playoff and set the roster for 2008.

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