The So What? - Harper to DL, Big Names Swap Positions (8/17/17)

By Ryan Fowler

After the Cavs ended Cleveland's 52-year title drought, Washington, D.C. was promoted on the sports-cursed cities depth chart. Setting aside the Capitals, Redskins and Wizards, the lack of ring bling for the Nationals stings considering the talent they've rostered. Well, the curse tapped Nats fans on the shoulder once again last weekend.

Although Bryce Harper (.326 / .419 / .614 with 29 HR) dodged a major knee injury while running out a grounder, his bone bruise will place him on the shelf for at least the next month. The Nationals enjoy a 14.5-game cushion on second place Miami, but Harper's injury provides Prediction Machine an opportunity to highlight and define the 24-year-old's impact on Washington's 2017 success.

What Does It Mean?
You can't sugarcoat losing an MVP candidate in mid-August, but you can toss salt in the wound. Harper hit 20 HR in 309 AB or one HR every 15.5 AB before the All-Star break, but improved to one HR every 10.8 (97 AB) after the break. His 5.0 WAR is tied for fifth in MLB with Corey Seager.

Howie Kendrick (34 years old), Andrew Stevenson (23) and Alejandro De Aza (33) are the projected platoon in right field until Harper returns. Harper is worth 2.0 wins more than Stevenson and De Aza as a replacement level player and 1.5 wins more than Kendrick despite his .441 August average.

Losing Harper isn't ideal, but leading off with Kendrick and Wilmer Difo (.339 OBP) isn't optimal. Dusty Baker should consider moving Anthony Rendon - .303 / .406 / .556 – up in the lineup. Difo's speed is evident (31 SB in 2016), but it's not like Rendon is a turtle and he carries a proven bat into the box.

One of my favorite players-to-be-named-later, Michael Brantley's 2014 (6.0 WAR) and 2015 (3.7 WAR) helped ease the pain of the Indians CC Sabathia for Matt LaPorta trade in 2008. However, Dr. Smooth has been unable to stay healthy over the past two seasons. He missed basically all of last season and sat out 29 more in 2017 to-date (1.9 WAR). The latest trip to the disabled list was courtesy of a sprained ankle.

So, the Indians were forced to make another bold move to bolster their roster as they seek back-to-back trips to the World Series. Jay Bruce (2.4 WAR) hit .264 / .331 / .525 with 29 homers in 103 games with the Mets before he was dealt for an Indians minor league prospect and Cleveland's cash to pay Bruce's remaining salary.

What Does It Mean?
Thanks to the Tigers selling (13 GB), Royals reeling a little (4-6 in last 10 games) and Twins a .500 team, the Indians six-game lead in the American League Central may appear stronger than it actually is. Bruce is worth 0.6 wins the rest of the season. His expected rest-of-season slash line is around .260 / .325 / .500. Jose Ramirez is the only everyday Indians hitter with a slugging percentage north of .500 (Edwin's is .491). Cleveland relies on its pitching to win games, but Bruce is expected to be the insurance policy when SP regression presents itself.

Now 34 years old and a 13-year MLB vet, Verlander ranks third in innings pitched among active pitchers (Colon, Lackey). Even with his ERA inflated more than a run year-over-year, squads in playoff contention are interested in his services. He's currently 8-8 with a 4.11 ERA (4.78 xFIP) and respectable 8.94 K/9 rate in 25 starts for the Tigers. His 2017 stat line and years of experience have the Houston Astros contemplating a mid-August deal to bring J.V. over to the AL West's varsity squad.

What Does It Mean?
If Verlander's xFIP has you wondering if his luck will run out after a trade to Houston, know that his xFIP has been higher than his ERA for the majority of his career. The Astros current rotation is Dallas Keuchel, Brad Peacock, Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers, and Colin McHugh. Verlander is worth nearly 0.1 wins per start the rest of the season – nearly double McHugh. The Astros lead the AL West by 12 games. So, while the difference between Verlander and McHugh isn't huge, Houston views the potential trade as a long play to win not only the division, but AL pennant. So, stack those 0.1 wins per start on into the postseason.