Paradigm-changing discussion going on at Bill James Online. They're considering the problem of the most balanced pennant winners in history -- teams that won because their #8 hitters and #4 starters played well, not because their Albert Pujols played well.
The 1930-31 St. Louis Cardinals had amazingly low standard deviations of Win Shares between their 13 regular hitters and pitchers. In other words, the #4 starter was much more similar to the #1 starter, in St. Louis in 1931, than was the case for the Yankees last year. We're used to thinking of CC Sabathia vs Felix Hernandez, but forget to ask about Freddy Garcia vs. Hector Noesi. Both games count the same in the standings.
For example, the 101-win Cardinals team in 1931 had six starting pitchers with ERA's of 109 and over, but none over 133. (Burleigh Grimes, the last spitballer, was their 109 guy.) Their entire lineup had only 50 homers -- Ruth had 46 and Gehrig had 46 more that year -- but all of their hitters (except catcher) were 92 OPS+ and up.
Modern teams have won with few Stars and many Scrubs, too. The 1998 Yankees, the 114-win version, actually was based on depth. Eight of their nine hitters were between 90 and 132 offensively; their starting pitchers were 104-127, except El Duque, who was 142.
The 2001 Mariners, who won 116 games, didn't qualify for the Balanced Pennantwinner discussion, but look at them: Every hitter 87 OPS+ and up, including hitters #10 and #11, McLemore and Javier who were over 100. Their pitching staff was similar: their five starters had WAR of 4.0, 3.0, 2.4, 1.5, and 0.9.
Another outstanding team, one that would have needed only a bit of luck to win it all, include the 1987 Giants. All nine offensive players -- Robby Thompson, Jeff Leonard, Chili Davis, Candy Maldonado, Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, were over 100 OPS+, but their team OPS+ was only 102. They had four average-solid starters, including Dave Dravecky, Atlee Hammacker, and Kelly Downs.
The 2002 Twins are another example of the kind of team that 2012 Mariners fans will be rooting to show up.
Nine solid but not great hitters on offense -- Pierzynski at catcher, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz, Bobby Kielty, at 3B they had Corey Koskie ... just a ten-deep lineup that scored a 103 OPS+.
In the rotation, they had five solid guys, none with an ERA over 118 -- Radke, Eric Milton, Rick Reed, Joe Mays and Kyle Lohse. As always with a team like this, the bullpen was great, Eddie Guardado saving 45 games and guys behind him with ERA's like 1.89 and 2.13 and 3.16.
The lesson for the Mariners being the same again: if they can get Steady Eddies all over the diamond -- Gutierrez in CF, with Carp and Ichiro beside him, and Smoak-Montero, Ackley at 2B and if Seager hits .290 at third -- that's a route to a 105 OPS+ or better. Depth is one of the many roads to Rome, and the M's may need to use it in 2012.
Do "25 Honda Civics" teams sometimes win, and if so, does that invalidate Stars & Scrubs? :- )
1. The existence of Jamie Moyer, and the existence of his 267 wins, do not invalidate the pennant impact of Justin Verlander. S&S is not an absolute: it's just a strategic advantage. Some Civics teams win, including World Series.
2. Some of these balanced teams consist of (1) Stars not having career years, with (2) Scrubs all playing well together. The Rays have had this recently.