The So What? The Impact of an Ace (5/30/18)

By Mark Dankenbring @MarkDank

MLB So What? The Impact of an Ace

Every major league team is looking for a top of the rotation arm that can take the mound and give their team a great chance to win every fifth day. Some are lucky enough to have found at least one reliable ace (or three in Houston's case), but teams are always looking to add dynamic arms to their rotation. We've seen aces like Madison Bumgarner shut down opposing offenses in the playoffs and almost singlehandedly win the World Series by impacting three or more games. That influence isn't quite as strong in the regular season for obvious reasons, but the absence of a number one starter can place unwanted stress on the rest of the rotation and certainly impact their season long projections. In this week's edition of So What, we'll take a look at some staff aces who are currently injured, and just how big of an impact their absence has on each team's season long projections and World Series aspirations. Let's start it off by looking at the aforementioned lefty, Madison Bumgarner.

In order to assess the true impact of each player, our projections are based on if the pitcher were to join the rotation tomorrow or miss the rest of the season.

Madison Bumgarner - San Francisco Giants

W/o Bumgarner Rest of Season: 77.9 wins, 9.6% Division, 0.6% Wild Card, 0.2% World Series
With Bumgarner Rest of Season: 80.1 wins, 20.1% Division, 1.1% Wild Card, 0.3% World Series

Putting Bumgarner back in the rotation tomorrow would net the Giants 2.2 more wins and more than double their chances of taking home the NL West crown. Putting them just over 80 wins barely helps their Wild Card or World Series chances, so it looks like we may not see any October magic from the lefty in 2018. The Giants would be just 0.3% likely to win the World Series with Bumgarner in the rotation. The longer he's on the DL, the closer their playoff chances would creep towards the 10% mark rather than 21%, so Bruce Bochy and the rest of the club should be eagerly awaiting his return.

Clayton Kershaw - Los Angeles Dodgers

Without Kershaw Rest of Season: 80.0 wins, 17.8% Division, 1.5% Wild Card, 1.2% World Series
With Kershaw Rest of Season: 82.3 wins, 29.0% Division, 2.3% Wild Card, 2.4% World Series

Kershaw would likely be dubbed the most valuable pitcher on this list by MLB fans, and our numbers bear out the same results. The three-time Cy Young winner would add 2.3 wins to the Dodgers' total and increase their playoff odds by 12%. We expect the Dodgers to win the division nearly a third of the time with Kershaw back in the rotation, while their World Series chances double with Kershaw at the helm. The southpaw would clearly have a positive impact on LA's rest of season projections and gives them a much better chance at returning to the World Series. Luckily for Dave Roberts, Kershaw is expected to return this Thursday to start against the Phillies.

Yu Darvish - Chicago Cubs

W/o Darvish Rest of Season: 94.7 wins, 60.7% Division, 31.7% Wild Card, 12.4% World Series
With Darvish Rest of Season: 94.7 wins, 61.3% Division, 31.3% Wild Card, 16.1% World Series

Darvish may not currently be seen as the ace of Chicago's staff, but he's certainly being paid as such. The former Ranger was signed to a 6 year, $126 million deal this past offseason, so Theo Epstein is hoping his nine-figure investment helps add another ring to his collection. Based on our projections, Darvish actually doesn't move the Cubs' win total at all. Their chance to win the division goes up ever so slightly, but the big thing to note here is the jump in their World Series odds. Having Darvish in the rotation adds 3.7% and would make Chicago the NL favorite to win the championship at 16.1%. Darvish has always been an elite strikeout pitcher, holding a career 11.09 K/9, making him a valuable commodity in the postseason. While he might not be super valuable for the rest of the regular season, Epstein will be happy with his investment if Darvish can deliver postseason success.

Jimmy Nelson - Milwaukee Brewers

Without Nelson Rest of Season: 92.1 wins, 34.0% Division, 47.9% Wild Card, 4.6% World Series
With Nelson Rest of Season: 93.5 wins, 43.4% Division, 45.2% Wild Card, 6.2% World Series

Jimmy Nelson is one of the more underrated aces in the league, as he led the Brewers in 2017 with a 12-6 record, posting a 3.05 FIP and a 10.21 K/9. The 28-year old right hander would add 1.4 wins to Milwaukee's season long total and cause them to make the playoffs nearly 90% of the time if he returned tomorrow. Nelson's return would also net the Brew Crew 1.6% on their World Series odds, putting them up over 6% and making them the third-most likely team in the NL to win it all. An NL Central title would be much more attainable with Nelson at the helm as well, as they would be nearly 50% likely to bring home the division crown. Their actual projection will likely be a little lower considering Nelson isn't expected to return until July, but the Brewers will welcome him back with open arms regardless of his return date.

Robbie Ray - Arizona Diamondbacks

Without Ray Rest of Season: 82.2 wins, 31.7% Division, 2.0% Wild Card, 1.8% World Series
With Ray Rest of Season: 83.6 wins, 40.7% Division, 2.6% Wild Card, 2.8% World Series

Robbie Ray is another ace who broke out in 2017, posting a 15-5 record with a 2.89 ERA and an NL-best 12.11 K/9 among starters. Ray is the third lefty from the NL West to make this list, but doesn't have quite the impact as Bumgarner and Kershaw do on their respective teams. Ray's impact is much more similar to Nelson's numbers, as he adds 1.4 wins and nearly 10% to the Diamondbacks' postseason odds. The 26-year old would put them over 40% likely to win the division, making them the favorite in the NL West if he were to return tomorrow. Ray's return also improves their World Series chances, bumping them up 1% and making them the most likely team in the NL West to bring home the Commissioner's Trophy, even with Kershaw's return for LA.

It's pretty clear how important these aces are to their respective teams. Four out of five see around a 10% increase in their division odds, and the lone team without a big increase (Cubs) see the largest jump in their World Series chances with Darvish healthy. It's really interesting to see the parallels between all these teams, as Kershaw and Bumgarner have essentially the same effect on their respective teams, with Nelson and Ray also mirroring each other's production. With every team currently in playoff contention, these aces could very well determine whether or not their team makes the postseason. It will be interesting to monitor each team's progress moving forward, but each clubhouse will certainly rejoice when their respective ace rejoins the rotation.