How many stars do you need to win a championship?

The 2005 White Sox won the World Series despite not having a single player reach 5.0 WAR.

For decades now, pundits and fans alike have asserted that baseball teams need stars in order to win. Yes, it certainly helps to have a star or two, but is it more valuable to have depth? For example, would you rather have a lineup chalk full of 2.0 WAR (18 total WAR) players or one with a 6.0 WAR player, a 5.0 WAR player, and a supporting cast of 1.0 WAR players (also 18 total WAR)?

Personally, I’d take the depth, as to not be so dependent on a pair of players. If one goes down, then it can screw up your entire season.

Of course, if you prefer the theory of utilizing a star-studded core over depth, it begs the question: exactly how many stars do you need to compete for a championship?

In an attempt to answer this question, let’s go back through recent history and see what it tells us. Using wins above replacement (WAR)*, we will tally how many stars each World Series winner and loser had since 2000. For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll define a “star” as a player who posts a minimum of 5.0 WAR in that given season. We’ll also quantify the number of 3-5 WAR players and 2-3 WAR players to characterize depth.

*To keep it consistent, we will be using Baseball-Reference WAR.

2013 Boston Red Sox (Record: 97-65)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Ellsbury, Victorino, Pedroia)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 3

The defending World Series champs were absolutely loaded. On offense, they had 12 players accrue 200+ plate appearances, and just one (Will Middlebrooks) posted an OPS+ below 110. With an extremely deep starting lineup and a wide range of above-average bench options, it is no wonder that they won the World Series.

As for their pitching, the Red Sox had a phenomenal bullpen led by Koji Uehara, and a deep rotation featuring Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jake Peavy among others. While just one Red Sox pitcher (Buchholz) reached the 4 WAR plateau, the team did have a bevy of above-average pitching options. Depth was clearly their calling card with their pitching staff, especially when you consider that they really had at minimum of 6 quality rotation options.

2013 St. Louis Cardinals (Record: 97-65)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Molina, Wainwright, Carpenter)

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 4

Much like their World Series counterpart, the 2013 Cardinals rode an extremely deep offense that had an above-average option at nearly every position (shortstop excluded). Also like the Red Sox, the Cardinals’ pitching success was more based on depth than star power, as they only had one starter (Wainwright) top 3.5 WAR. However, a remarkable 10 pitchers were worth at least one win above replacement.

2012 San Francisco Giants (Record: 94-68)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Posey)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 8

The Giants clearly had one absolute star in Buster Posey, who hit .336/.408/.549 with a 7.4 WAR en route to NL MVP honors. However, Posey was the only true star-level player on the 2012 Giants. With Angel Pagan, Melky Cabrera, and Matt Cain, San Francisco had a trio of 3-5 win players, but where they really excelled was in the 2-3 WAR range where they had 8 different players reach that plateau. Just looking at position players, every player in the Giants’ starting lineup was worth at least 2 WAR, and that’s not even including Hunter Pence who was acquired mid-season (though he admittedly hit just .219/.287/.384). This is a clear example of depth leading to a championship.

2012 Detroit Tigers (Record: 93-69)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Cabrera, Verlander, Jackson)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 2

The Tigers were almost polar opposites of their World Series foe. This team revolved around a nucleus of Cabrera and Verlander, both of whom put up otherworldly seasons worth 7.3 and 7.8 WAR, respectively. Austin Jackson also enjoyed an excellent season (5.5 WAR), and both Prince Fielder (4.9) and Max Sherzer (4.2) were near the star-level range. However, outside of the aforementioned quintet plus Doug Fister (3.3), Alex Avila (2.5), and Andy Dirks (2.3), the Tigers were running out replacement level players at a number of positions. Quintin Berry, Brennan Boesch, Delmon Young, and Omar Infante all received significant playing time. The team even gave Ryan Raburn and his 29 OPS+ 222 plate appearances.

2011 St. Louis Cardinals (Record: 90-72)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Pujols)

3-5 WAR players: 4

2-3 WAR players: 4

This Cardinals team was almost entirely based on depth, with Albert Pujols representing their only star, and even he barely cleared at 5.4 WAR. This is an example of another team that had solid options at nearly every position.

2011 Texas Rangers (Record: 96-66)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Kinsler, Beltre, Napoli)

3-5 WAR players: 5

2-3 WAR players: 2

This Rangers team was fairly deep across the board, with numerous star level players on offense and a handful of other above-average options. Though lacking a “star” on the pitching side, every member of the Rangers rotation managed to post a WAR of at least 2.6, except Colby Lewis who put up a respectable 1.9 mark.

2010 San Francisco Giants (Record: 92-70)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Torres, Huff)

3-5 WAR players: 5

2-3 WAR players: 2

Interestingly enough, this squad had two star level players, and they happened to be Aubrey Huff (5.4) and Andres Torres (5.1) of all people. Of course, this team is notable for its rather weak offensive output. Aside from Huff and Torres, Buster Posey (3.7) and Pat Burrell (2.0) were the only other 2+ WAR position players.

Pitching wise, this team was incredibly deep, featuring four 3+ WAR members and a total of 9 pitchers worth at least 1.0 WAR. The rotation was especially deep with Cain (3.5), Tim Lincecum (3.7), Madison Bumgarner (2.7), and Jonathan Sanchez (3.7) all posting WARs in the 2.5-4.5 range, and Barry Zito (1.5) enjoying one of his better seasons as a Giant.

2010 Texas Rangers (Record: 90-72)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Hamilton)

3-5 WAR players: 4

2-3 WAR players: 6

Josh Hamilton certainly had an outlandish season, hitting .359/.411/.633 with an 8.9 WAR, but this team was pretty high functioning across the board. It should be noted here that I included Cliff Lee’s (4.8) total combined WAR (he was acquired mid-season from Seattle) to illustrate his presence as a catalyst.

2009 New York Yankees (Record: 103-59)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Sabathia, Teixeira, Jeter)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 4

The Yankees were the finest team money could assemble in 2009. Scoring an extraordinary 915 runs, the 103-win Yankees cruised through the regular season on the backs of captain Derek Jeter (6.6) and recent free agent signings Mark Teixeira (5.3) and CC Sabathia (6.2). Of course, this team was pretty much great across the board. The offense was especially outstanding, with every regular (except Melky Cabrera) posting an OPS+ of at least 118.

2009 Philadelphia Phillies (Record: 93-69)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Utley, Lee)

3-5 WAR players: 4

2-3 WAR players: 3

Chase Utley (8.2) and Cliff Lee (5.4 – split between Cleveland and Philadelphia) anchored the lineup and rotation, respectively, and JA Happ (4.2) surprisingly finished as the 2nd best pitcher on the team (edges out Lee’s 1.1 total in Philly). Like that year’s Yankees, the Phillies were a highly gifted offensive team, with their only weakness that year being at third base with Pedro Feliz (1.2).

2008 Philadelphia Phillies (Record: 92-70)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Utley, Rollins)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 3

Not as good as the following year’s squad, the 2009 Phillies once again saw an incredible year from Chase Utley (9.0), as well as a 117 ERA+, 2.8 WAR season from 45-year-old Jamie Moyer. Again, not a lot of depth, but solid carrying seasons from Utley, Jimmy Rollins (5.4), Shane Victorino (4.3), Cole Hamels (4.3), and Ryan Howard (1.7 WAR, but 48 home runs and ALL OF THE RBIs).

2008 Tampa Bay Rays (Record: 97-65)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Pena)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 5

The Rays’ out of the blue franchise turnaround season was lead by Carlos Pena (5.1) and rookie Evan Longoria (4.8) on offense, with Scott Kazmier (3.8) and James Shields (3.8) manning the pitching staff.

While this team did win 97 games, its pythagorean record suggests that it was more of a 92-win team, and that’s evident when looking at the players’ performances. Carlos Pena was the only player to top 5 WAR, and just one other (Longoria) even topped 4 WAR.

Of course, this team is another great example of depth leading to wins, with a total of 11 players posting WAR totals in the 2-5 range. 6 position players put up at least 2.0 WAR and that’s not even including a very good Jason Bartlett (1.8), a young Ben Zobrist (0.9), and a trio of productive veterans in Eric Hinske (1.4, 109 OPS+, 20 HR’s), Cliff Floyd (0.9, 111 OPS+), and Gabe Gross (1.3, 101 OPS+). Pitching wise, four of the team’s five primary starters were worth 2.0+ WAR, and the other (Andy Sonnanstine) was worth 1.3. They also got solid relief production from guys like Chad Bradford (0.9), JP Howell (2.3), Dan Wheeler (1.4), and Grant Balfour (2.9). It also should be mentioned that this was the year in which David Price (0.4) came up at the end of the season and was absolutely dominant throughout September and October.

2007 Boston Red Sox (Record: 96-66)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Beckett, Lowell, Ortiz)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 4

The 2007 Red Sox had a pretty good balance of star power and depth. David Ortiz was incredible (6.4, 171 OPS+), Dustin Pedroia (3.9) had a ROY-winning campaign, Josh Beckett (6.5, 145 ERA+) nearly won the Cy, and Mike Lowell (5.0), Manny Ramirez (1.1 but .881 OPS), and Youkilis (4.7) were fantastic, Jonathan Papelbon was dominant (3.1, 1.85 ERA), and Curt Schilling (4.0) was great in his last hurrah. 7 total position players and 6 pitchers surpassed 2.0 WAR overall. Just a really good team overall.

2007 Colorado Rockies (Record: 90-73)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Holliday, Tulowitzki)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 2

This was a surprisingly weak team for a World Series runner-up in retrospect. Matt Holliday (6.0) had what may have been the best year of his career, Troy Tulowitzki (6.8) was phenomenal in his rookie year, and Jeff Francis (3.9) was the rare Colorado pitcher to actually be good. That’s about it.

2006 St. Louis Cardinals (Record: 83-78)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Carpenter, Pujols, Rolen)

3-5 WAR players: 0

2-3 WAR players: 0

Wow! Now, this is really the ultimate example of stars and scrubs. The 2006 St. Louis Cardinals saw Albert Pujols post a monstrous 8.4 WAR, Scott Rolen put together a 5.8 WAR season, and Chris Carpenter accrued a 5.1 WAR.  Pujols and Carpenter won the MVP and Cy Young awards, respectively.

Amazingly, after the above trio, not a single Cardinals player topped 1.8 WAR. And as much as WAR shouldn’t be the ultimate judgement, this team’s 2nd best starter was Jeff Suppan (1.4), and their 3rd best was Anthony Reyes (0.4) who had a 5.06 ERA! And it’s not like the offense was much better, as aside from Pujols and Rolen, Jim Edmonds (1.3), Chris Duncan (1.8), Scott Spezio (1.6), and David Eckstein (1.6) were the best position players and their combined WAR (6.3) was still more than 2 wins less than Pujols’ total alone.

Of course, this team is a bit of an outlier, as they took advantage of a weak National League and squeaked into the postseason with a 83-78 record and got quite lucky with some fantastic postseason performances from guys like Jeff Weaver (0.0) and a rookie Adam Wainwright (1.4).

2006 Detroit Tigers (Record: 95-67)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Guillen)

3-5 WAR players: 7

2-3 WAR players: 0

The Tigers team that lost to St. Louis in the 2006 World Series was a vastly superior ballclub on paper, winning 95 regular season games, 12 more than the Cardinals. While they lacked star power (Carlos Guillen, who posted a 6.0 WAR, was the only Tigers player to post a WAR of at least 5.0), this team had an abundance of above-average players, featuring 7 names who were worth between 3 and 5 WAR.

Led by Guillen, Magglio Ordonez (1.8), Ivan Rodriguez (3.1), Curtis Granderson (3.3), and Brandon Inge (4.9) on offense, this team received at least 1.0 WAR from 10 different position players. Their pitching was even better, with 4 starters posting a 3+ WAR in Justin Verlander (4.1), Nate Robertson (3.5), Kenny Rogers (3.3), and Jeremy Bonderman (3.2). They also got solid production from their bullpen, led by Jamie Walker (1.3) and the flame-throwing Joel Zumaya (3.2)

2005 Chicago White Sox (Record: 99-63)

5+ WAR players: 0

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 7

With 13 players posting WARs in the 2-5 range, the 2005 White Sox went 99-63 and handily swept the Astros in the World Series. This squad is probably the epitome of how depth can be better than star-power. On offense, their top producers were Paul Konerko (4.1), Jermaine Dye (2.5), Tadahito Iguchi (2.8), and Aaron Rowand (3.7), while Carl Everett (0.0) was their only regular to post a WAR less than 1.7. Their pitching was even deeper than their offense, as their 4 primary starters were all worth at least 3.5 WAR, and they received at least 2.0 WAR from 3 different relievers.

2005 Houston Astros (Record: 89-73)

5+ WAR players: 4 (Ensberg, Clemens, Oswalt, Pettite)

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 4

This is the prime example of winning with pitching, as the 2005 Astros had 3 starters with a WAR of at least 5.9 in an utterly dominant Roger Clemens (7.8), Andy Pettite (6.8), and Roy Oswalt (5.9). Their bullpen, led by Brad Lidge (2.0) and Dan Wheeler (2.2), was exceptionally strong as well.

Though they had the likes of Lance Berkman (3.2) and Craig Biggio (2.1) (plus a way past his prime Jeff Bagwell), Morgan Ensberg (6.3) was actually the best position player on this team by WAR.

With a lack of mid-level talent, this team falls into the “stars and scrubs” category.

2004 Boston Red Sox (Record: 98-64)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Martinez, Schilling)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 2

The Red Sox team that broke “the curse” was extremely top-heavy pitching wise, but had a good amount of depth on offense. Their rotation was led by a duo of future Hall of Famers in Pedro Martinez (5.5) and Curt Schilling (7.9), along with a young Bronson Arroyo (2.7). Keith Foulke (3.5) was outstanding as their closer, posting a 223 ERA+ with a 5.27 SO/BB rate.

The lineup had a quartet of 4-win players in Johnny Damon (4.3), David Ortiz (4.2), Manny Ramirez (4.1), and Jason Varitek (4.0). They also got strong production from Mark Bellhorn (3.7), Kevin Millar (2.8), and mid-season acquisition Orlando Cabrera (1.4). A total of 11 position players had a WAR of at least 1.2, and that’s not even including a productive, but injured Trot Nixon (0.9), and the postseason hero Dave Roberts (0.4)

2004 St. Louis Cardinals (Record: 105-57)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Rolen, Pujols, Edmonds)

3-5 WAR players: 2

2-3 WAR players: 2

An absolute juggernaut, the 105-win 2004 Cardinals had three players put up WARs higher than 7.0 in Albert Pujols (8.4), Scott Rolen (9.1), and Jim Edmonds (7.1). Much like their counterpart two years later, this Cardinals team was very top-heavy, though their top trio was absurdly good.

2003 Florida Marlins (Record: 91-71)

5+ WAR players: 0

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 5

Lacking star-caliber players, the 2003 Marlins were exceptionally deep, especially in their rotation where all 5 of their primary starting pitchers had a WAR of at least 2.3*. Their offense was led by Ivan Rodriguez (4.4), Luis Castillo (4.4), and Juan Pierre (3.4).

*That rotation featured Dontrelle Willis (3.9), Mark Redman (3.8), Josh Beckett (3.8), Brad Penny (2.8), and Carl Pavano (2.3). Willis, Beckett, and Penny were all younger than 25, and Pavano and Redman were just 27 and 29, respectively. 

2003 New York Yankees (Record: 101-61)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Mussina, Posada, Soriano)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 3

A fairly well-balanced Yankees team, this club won 101 games but lost to the Marlins in the World Series. With Jorge Posada (5.9), Alfonso Soriano (5.4), Jason Giambi (4.8), Derek Jeter (3.5), and Nick Johnson (2.5) all in tow, this team scored 877 runs and had the 2nd highest OPS+ (114) in all of baseball. Their top 4 starters, Mike Mussina (6.6), David Wells (4.3), Roger Clemens (4.1), and Andy Pettite (3.1), all had WARs higher than 3.0, while Mariano Rivera (3.6) has a 1.66 ERA and saved 40 games.

2002 Anaheim Angels (Record: 99-63)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Erstad, Eckstein, Anderson)

3-5 WAR players: 5

2-3 WAR players: 3

Growing up mesmerized by this club, it’s somewhat surprising to look back and see that they really didn’t have much in the way of “stars”. Sure, Darin Erstad (6.4), David Eckstein (5.2), and Garret Anderson (5.1) all topped 5.0 WAR, but Erstad’s total is somewhat misleading due to an astronomically high 4.2 dWAR, while he was actually one of just two full-time Angels (Bengie Molina being the other) to post a sub-100 OPS+.

Still, it’s insane how deep this offense was. 8 position players topped the 2.0 WAR mark, and the only regular who didn’t was Bengie Molina (0.4) who won a Gold Glove that year. Defensively sound across the board, all but Erstad and Molina had an OPS+ of at least 100 with a OBP no lower than .332 (Anderson was the only player with a sub-.345 OBP, but he slugged .539 and hit 56 doubles to go along with 29 home runs and a .306 batting average). Even their top bench option, Orlando Palmeiro (1.0), had a .368 OBP.

The pitching was slightly less impressive, as their top two, Jarrod Washburn (4.5) and Ramon Ortiz (3.1), aren’t exactly the ideal staff aces on a World Series winning team. However, they did also get solid production from Kevin Appier (1.8 WAR, 113 ERA+) and a rookie John Lackey (1.0 WAR, 121 ERA+).

Despite some shortcoming in the rotation, the 2002 Angels featured a dominant bullpen, consisting of Ben Weber (1.7), Dennis Cook (0.4), Scot Shields (1.2), Scott Schoeneweis (0.0), Brendan Donnelly (1.7), Troy Percival (2.4), and eventually, Francisco Rodriguez (0.3)

2002 San Francisco Giants (Record: 95-66)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Bonds, Kent)

3-5 WAR players: 2

2-3 WAR players: 5

This team won 95 games and nearly won the World Series almost entirely on the backs of Jeff Kent (7.0) and an out-of-this-world Barry Bonds (11.8)*. The 2002 Giants saw 9 players get at least 205 plate appearances, and amazingly, all but David Bell (3.2) were in their 30’s.

Their pitching staff wasn’t as good, but they still had a trio of solid, above-average starters in Russ Ortiz (2.8), Kirk Rueter (2.8), and Jason Schmidt (2.4). Rob Nenn (2.4) also had a great season as their closer, saving 43 games and striking out 81 batters in 73.2 innings.

*Let’s just take a moment to remember Bonds’ obscenely graphic 2002 campaign: .370/.584/.799, 117 runs scored, 46 home runs, 110 RBIs, 198 (!) walks (68 of which were intentional), 1.381 OPS (268 OPS+), 11.8 WAR. 

2001 Arizona Diamondbacks (Record: 92-70)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Schilling, Johnson, Gonzalez)

3-5 WAR players: 2

2-3 WAR players: 2

My oh my was this team top-heavy. Their top 3 was absolutely incredible. Luis Gonzalez put up a 7.9 WAR (8.9 on Fangraphs) while blasting 57 home runs with a .325/.429/.688 (1.117 OPS) slash line, 174 OPS+, 173 wRC+, and .454 wOBA. Even at the height of the steroid era, Gonzalez’s 2001 campaign was tremendous. While Gonzalez headlined the lineup, Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling formed what was probably one of the best one-two punches of all time. Johnson, in the midst of a historic stretch, took home the Cy Young award by compiling a 10.0 WAR, 21-6 record, 2.49 ERA (188 ERA+), 2.13 FIP, 1.009 WHIP, 6.5 H/9 rate, and 372 strikeouts in 249.2 innings. Schilling’s performance was also on another level, though nobody except Pedro Martinez could really compete with Johnson’s numbers during this time period. He posted a 8.8 WAR, 22-6 record, 2.98 ERA (157 ERA+), 7.51 SO/BB rate, and 293 strikeouts in 256.2 innings. Johnson and Schilling’s dominance would continue through the World Series, where the duo was named co-MVPs of the Fall Classic.

Outside of that tremendous trio, the D-Backs were bolstered by a stellar bullpen and solid cast of supporting players. Reggie Sanders (3.3), Mark Grace (2.4), Craig Counsell (1.7), and Matt Williams (1.0) made up the core of Gonzalez’s supporting cast on offense. Behind Johnson and Schilling, Arizona’s best starter was probably Albie Lopez (1.5), though he pitched in just 13 games. Miguel Bautista had substantial value in a swingman role. He pitched in a total of 48 games, making 18 starts and collecting a 2.9 WAR. Bautista, Bret Prinz (1.2), and Byung-Hyun Kim (3.1) formed the core of the bullpen. It’s clear that if it weren’t for their top 3, the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks probably wouldn’t have even sniffed the postseason.

2001 New York Yankees (Record: 95-65)

5+ WAR players: 4 (Mussina, Clemens, Williams, Jeter)

3-5 WAR players: 2

2-3 WAR players: 6

Strong up top with a decent amount of depth, especially on the pitching side. The rotation was led by a fantastic trio of Mike Mussina (7.1), Roger Clemens (5.6), and Andy Pettitte (3.4). They got a decent half season out of Orlando Hernandez (1.5), but for the most part, the last two rotation spots were pretty brutal (led by Ted Lilly and Randy Keisler, who each posted negative WARs). The bullpen was also excellent, especially at the back, with Mariano Rivera (3.3), Mike Stanton (2.7), and Ramiro Mendoza (2.0) all topping 2.0 WAR.

The offense was fairly solid all around, led by incumbents Derek Jeter (5.1) and Bernie Williams (5.2). Four other position players also reached the 2.0 WAR mark in Jorge Posada (2.9), Tino Martinez (2.2), Scott Brosius (2.1), and Shane Spencer (2.0). Veteran right fielder Paul O’Neill (0.5) was also solid, posting a 105 OPS+, and Alfonso Soriano (-0.1) struggled defensively, but nearly finished with a 20-40 season offensively (2 home runs shy) in his first full big league season.

2000 New York Yankees (Record: 87-74)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Posada, Williams)

3-5 WAR players: 5

2-3 WAR players: 2

In their final World Series championship until 2009 (and 4th since 1996), the Yankees won only 87 games, though it was still good enough to win the AL East by 2.5 games. The team isn’t really exceptionally deep or loaded with star power, as Jorge Posada (5.5) and Bernie Williams (5.2) were the only players to qualify as “stars”. Derek Jeter (4.6) and David Justice (3.2) were the only other position players to even top 2.0 WAR, and just 3 regulars finished with an OPS+ better than league average (100).

On the pitching side, things were a bit better, even with horrendous seasons from David Cone (-0.9, 6.91 ERA) and Denny Neagle (0.3, 5.81 ERA). Pettite (3.6), Clemens (4.6), and El Duque (3.2) formed a formidable trio. The bullpen was once again a strength, as Rivera (2.6), Jeff Nelson (2.1), Mendoza (1.6), Dwight Gooden (1.3), and Mike Stanton (1.1) were all worth at least one WAR.

2000 New York Mets (Record: 94-68)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Alfonzo, Piazza)

3-5 WAR players: 2

2-3 WAR players: 6

A far superior team than their World Series counterpart based on wins and losses (94 wins versus 68 losses), the 2000 Mets weren’t actually that great of a team (relative to other World Series contenders). Two players topped 5.0 WAR in Mike Piazza (5.1) and Edgardo Alfonzo (6.4), but only two others in total reached the 3.0 WAR mark.

This was an interesting year when it came to World Series opponents, as the Mets might have been just the 5th best team in the NL (behind Atlanta, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Los Angeles), while the Yankees were also probably the 5th best team in their league, behind the White Sox, Indians, Athletics, and Mariners.

So, exactly how many stars do championship contenders generally need?

5+ WAR Playerssss

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So, from the graph above, we can determine that a vast majority of World Series winners or runner-ups had two or three “star” players. Of course, there are outliers, especially with the ’04 Astros and ’01 Yanks (4 each), and on the opposite end, the ’05 White Sox and ’03 Marlins (0 each). The average team had 2.2 “stars”, while the median team had 2.

3-5 WAR Players

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Going further, it appears that most World Series squads have somewhere in the range of 3-6 players with WARs in the 3.0-5.0 range. The average club had 4 players fall in that range, and the median had 4 as well. Noting the outliers in the prior graph, it’s interesting to note that the 2003 Marlins and 2005 White Sox, who each had no 5+ WAR players whatsoever, both had 6 players fall in the 3-5 range. On the other end, the 2005 Astros and 2001 Yankees, who each had four 5+ WAR players, had either one or two 3-5 WAR players. On this graph, the big anomalies are the 2006 Tigers (7 players) and 2006 Cardinals (0). The 2006 Cardinals are of course known for winning the World Series despite winning just 83 games in the regular season (as mentioned above). They had just 3 players in total top 2.0 WAR, so considering their regular season performance, they may not be a great example for this exercise.

2-3 WAR Players

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The average club had 3.5 players fall in the 2-3 WAR range, with the median being at 3. Again, there are some big outliers, most notably the 2012 Giants (8), 2005 White Sox (7), 2006 Tigers (0), and 2006 Cardinals (0). The ’12 Giants and ’05 White Sox are particularly interesting cases, as both teams had minimal 3+ WAR players. Based on the data, they seem to be true depth-based teams.

2+ WAR Players

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A player with a 2.0 WAR is essentially referred to as average, so this graph calculates the total number of average or better players that each team had. As you can see, the 2007 Red Sox and 2005 White Sox had 13 average or better players. As I’ve said before, these two teams (especially Colorado) were incredibly depth-driven. The ’05 White Sox are probably the epitome of a team winning on its depth, as they had no “stars”, but an astounding 13 players with at least 2.0 WAR. On the opposite end, we once again have the ’06 Cardinals. Again, this is a team that got incredibly lucky, so they probably aren’t a good example of the “stars and scrubs” theory. The ’01 Diamondbacks seem to be an excellent depiction of that theory, as they had three players top 7.9 WAR, while just four other players on the team had 2.0. The average here is 9.7 players, while 9.5 is the median.

To just drive home the concept even more, let’s take a look at some of the more noteworthy teams (good and bad) of the past decade and a half.

2013 Houston Astros (Record: 51-111)

5+ WAR players: 0

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 3

About as dismal as you would expect from a 111-loss team. The ’13 Astros had just two players post OPS+ of 100 or better, and one of them (Chris Carter) struck out 212 times. Their pitching was even worse, as just one player (Bud Norris) threw 100 innings with an ERA lower than 4.50.

2008 Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (Record: 100-62)

5+ WAR players: 2 (Santana, Teixeira)

3-5 WAR players: 3

2-3 WAR players: 8

Outside of the Jeff Mathis and Gary Matthews Jr. experiments, this was a great team. An amazing 13 players had WARs of at least 2.0, and only two (Ervin Santana at exactly 5.0 and Mark Teixeira at 7.8, though only half of that total came with the Angels) topped 5.0, meaning this team was about as deep as they come. Only 7 players started a game on the mound for this team, and of their 5 rotation regulars, only John Lackey (3.5) failed to reach the 30 start mark.

2004 Arizona Diamondbacks (Record: 51-111)

5+ WAR players: 1 (Johnson)

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 0

I admittedly completely forgot about this team, perhaps because the Tigers squad the year before them (see below) was even worse, or maybe because I seem to never recall that Justin Upton was the number one pick in 2005. Anyways, this team was bad. Just bad. 111 losses never looks good, but even this year’s Astros were better than this. Really, if it weren’t for Randy Johnson and his 8.5 WAR, this may have been the worst team ever. Even worse than these guys…

2003 Detroit Tigers (Record: 43-119)

5+ WAR players: 0

3-5 WAR players: 1

2-3 WAR players: 0

I dare you to look at this page. Seriously. This team was so awful that only Dimitri Young (3.5) was even worth 2.0 WAR. I mean when Nate Cornejo (1.5) and his 4.67 ERA was far and away your best starter (2nd best starter’s ERA: 5.56 from Jeremy Bonderman), then you know you were bad.

2002 Oakland Athletics (Record: 103-59)

5+ WAR players: 3 (Tejada, Zito, Hudson)

3-5 WAR players: 4

2-3 WAR players: 1

Ahh yes, the Moneyball squad. As much as Michael Lewis would want you to believe it wasn’t, this team was really top-heavy. They featured the AL MVP (Miguel Tejada, 5.6), AL Cy Young award winner (Barry Zito, 7.2), and three other stars in Eric Chavez (4.2), Tim Hudson (6.9), and Mark Mulder (4.7). Of course, WAR doesn’t exactly give them a fair cut as fair as depth goes. That is due to the fact that this team didn’t really seem to emphasize defense, a prominent component of WAR.

Of the 12 position players who got more than 170 plate appearances, only two (Ramon Hernandez and Terrence Long) failed to post an OPS+ higher than 100. And in the rotation, four starters had ERA+’s better than 110, with the exception being Aaron Harang, who was only slightly below-average with a 90 ERA+

2001 Seattle Mariners (Record: 116-46)

5+ WAR players: 4 (Boone, Suzuki, Cameron, Olerud)

3-5 WAR players: 6

2-3 WAR players: 4

Based on just the pure amount of 2.0+ WAR players on their roster, their 14 such guys is the best among our sample. While the pitching staff was certainly well above-average, it’s important to note just how superb this lineup was, with 10 guys reaching 2.0 WAR. They scored 927 runs and got All-Star seasons from Jon Olerud (5.2), Bret Boone (8.8), Ichiro Suzuki (7.7), Mike Cameron (5.9), and Edgar Martinez (4.8). The rotation was outstanding as well, led by strong seasons from Freddy Garcia (4.2), Aaron Sele (2.5), and a 38-year-old Jamie Moyer (3.4). If this wasn’t the best team of all-time, it’s certainly up there.

Alright, so now that we’ve looked through every pennant winner (and some others) of the past 14 years, what conclusions can we draw?

Personally, I think there are two major things we can surmise from this exercise. The first would be that there is no clear way to win. Obviously, this was the question that we attempted to answer at the start of this article, and this is sort of a cop-out response, but the results show that there is no definite answer. There are numerous teams that relied entirely on depth (’05 Astros, ’03 Marlins, ’08 Rays), and plenty of others who subscribed to basing their team around a number of stars with minimal depth (’01 Diamondbacks, ’05 Astros, ’06 Cardinals).

The 2nd thing is, that unless you are the 2006 Cardinals, you can have to at least have some depth. While there are certainly examples of teams with no stars that won (again, the ’05 White Sox and ’03 Marlins come to mind), there just aren’t any that had no depth whatsoever (’06 Cards excluded). Really, every team that has made the Fall Classic since 2000 had at least 7 big league “regulars”. You don’t necessarily have to be chock full of average or better big leaguers, but you must have at least a few to supplement your stars.

So, while the baseball world seems to favor star-studded lineups and look down on depth-based teams like the Oakland Athletics, teams like the A’s seem to have just as good a chance at a title as a squad such as the Tigers.

You can follow Justin Millar on twitter at @justinmillar1, or email him at Justinmillar1@gmail.com.

Posted on February 26, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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