MLB - The So What (5/4/17)

By Paul Bessire
Each Thursday during the MLB season, we will use 50,000 simulations of the rest of the MLB season to analyze the major personnel changes of the week. This will likely be in response to players placed on or soon to come off the disabled list, but could also include prospect call-ups (actual or speculated), suspensions or notable changes to rotations, bullpens or lineups.

Like with the rest of our MLB content, we will look at impact in the context of teams. Simulation is uniquely prepared to address these topics, since it can account for the actual schedule a team plays and what the adjusted roles look like with and without the player to decipher the true impact a player (or players) has on his team's projected win total, likelihood of making the postseason and more. You know what has changed. Now you'll know what to make of it - the "so what" of MLB news. With that, here are some of this week's most notable "So Whats?"

Even in fantasy baseball circles, Adam Eaton is not a household name. He was the 109th player off the board in full season drafts and the 29th outfielder. Generally, a player that plays a significant role on a championship contender will post stats that are more appealing to fantasy baseball players - especially in this case since Eaton plays a relatively scarce position (CF - for leagues that differentiate) and brings a premium asset (steals) to fantasy baseball. He has a career slash line of .284/.358/.416 with averages of 11 HRs, 17 SBs, 104 runs and 57 RBI per 162 games. Serviceable, but not spectacular.

Despite the lack of pop in his numbers, Eaton was a key piece to a deal that also included Hector Santiago, Mark Trumbo and Tyler Skaggs three years ago and then was traded this offseason for the Washington Nationals top two pitching prospects (both widely considered to be among the Top 30 pitching prospects in all of baseball). Why would an organization built from within (Bryce Harper, Steven Strasburg, Anthony Rendon, etc.) mortgage part of its future for such a player?

First of all, though he has already been involved in two high profile deals, Eaton is just 28 years old and has played just 544 career games, just now entering his prime. In the minor leagues, Eaton hit .348/.448/.499 over 349 games and parts of five seasons as an elite prospect. A .284/.362/.428 line last year (with 14 HRs and 14 SBs) and .297/.393/.462 line in 23 games this year, suggest he is improving at the plate, especially with respect to getting on base.

More importantly, he plays a critical position on the field. Players are quickly evolving their swings to garner more loft and hitting more fly balls than we have seen in recent time. Outfield defense has generally been underrated and is also quickly gaining in importance. Eaton was not an elite defender early in his career, yet has become one of the league's best as of late. Adding Eaton to the Nationals, allows everyone else on the roster to play at an appropriate position. Slugging outfielders Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are not needed as much defensively in the corners, while Trea Turner, who has minor league experience at CF, can remain at SS where he is even more valuable. Eaton gets on base, plays elite defense, can hit for average and solid power for his position and add speed to a slugging lineup.

The well-constructed Nationals continue to have the best record in baseball. Eaton, however, is out for the rest of the season with a tear to his ACL and meniscus (ouch - he also has a high ankle sprain, which is usually a 4-6 week injury itself). Michael Taylor, a 26 year old homegrown Nationals' outfielder who has spent parts of the last four seasons with the big league team, is the only player to have played any time in CF this year. While he is a plus defender there and has good speed as well, Taylor has a career .229/.280/.361 line, totally lacking the average and on base skills of Eaton. A .237/.268/.316 output this season is not promising, even in a 41 plate appearance sample size. Turner will likely stay at SS, with Rafael Bautista and Brian Goodwin helping Taylor in CF (potentially Harper at points).

Without Eaton, what does the rest of the season look like for the MLB-leading Nationals?

What does it mean:

Based on 50,000 simulations of the rest Eaton at all, Nationals now project to win 95.6 games, have a 98.2% chance at the playoffs and win the World Series 14.8%. In this scenario, only the Chicago Cubs (16.3%) have a better chance at winning it all. With Adam Eaton healthy, the Washington Nationals would have been expected to win 97.6 games, make the playoffs 99.1% of the time and win the World Series 20.7% of the time. The Nationals team projected slash line with Eaton is .273/.345/.445 and .265/.334/.436 without him.

A fully healthy Adam Eaton means 2.0 wins for the Nationals the rest of the season and adds 5.9% to the team's chances of winning the World Series. The team is as close as it gets in May to be a lock to make the postseason in either scenario, but the likelihood of home field advantage and the impact against elite teams in the playoffs is very tangible. With Eaton, the Nationals would be the World Series favorites.

Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard and Cole Hamels are all names that you have heard of before so we are not going to spend much time recapping who they are, but we can address the impact of their recent injuries to the Giants, Mets and Rangers respectively.

Bumgarner, one of the three best pitchers in the game, is on the 10-day DL with a shoulder sprain from a dirt bike accident and has been replaced by Tyler Blach for the time being. He has been out more than ten days and is working on his rehab now. In the interim, the Giants, who also played without star catcher Buster Posey earlier in the year, are just 11-18. Does his injury even matter?

What does it mean: Playing the rest of the season of the Giants' schedule 50,000 times from this point on the schedule without Bumgarner pitching every fifth game, the Giants, project to win 72.2 games and make the playoffs just 1.8% of the time. They rank fourth in the NL West (ahead of the Padres) and 19 games behind division favorite Los Angeles Dodgers. With Bumgarner from here on, the Giants would win 74.4 games and have a 3.3% chance at the playoffs. Clearly, that's a tangible difference. However, no matter when he returns, Bumgarner is not likely to alter the Giants enough to hope for anything more than a run at .500.

Cole Hamels is a very recent addition to the disabled list. He has an oblique strain that will cost the 33 year old left hander about eight weeks. The Rangers are already seven games behind the AL-leading Houston Astros in the West and lack starting pitching depth. Embattled and oft-injured A.J. Griffin gets the start in Hamels' place in the rotation. Tyson Ross is another injured pitcher who could return to help soon. Otherwise, the rotation consists of Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Andrew Cashner and Nick Martinez. With the weather heating up at the hitters' park in Arlington, as we discussed with Coors Field earlier this season, pitching depth will be critical and the Rangers do not have it right now.

What does it mean: Playing the rest of the season of the Rangers' schedule 50,000 times without Hamels at all, Texas would be projected to win 75.4 games and makes the playoffs 3.9% of the time. The Rangers trail the Astros by 18.8 games in that scenario. With Hamels from here on, the Rangers would win 77.8 games and have a 9.4% chance at the playoffs. That is a pretty big difference (+2.4 wins and +5.5% to make playoffs). Over two months, Hamels' injury projects to impact the Rangers by decreasing their win total by one full win and minimizing their chances of making the postseason by 2.7%. All is not lost, yet none of these outcomes is promising.

We covered Syndergaard in our first So What? blog. At that time, he meant 3.1 wins and an 18.6% difference in making the playoffs, the most impactful of the Mets' pitchers. That scenario assumed the other elite, young talents were still in the rotation. Now, Steven Matz is still out and the 24 year old Syndergaard will miss at least three months with a back injury. That leaves the Mets with Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Robert Gsellman and, for now, Rafael Montero.

What does it mean: Revisiting the Mets with the Syndergaard news, without him at all the rest of the way, New York would be projected to win 76.3 games and makes the playoffs 9.5% of the time. With Syndergaard (and still no Matz) from here on, the Mets, who are currently 12-15, would win 80.1 games and have a 22.0% chance at the playoffs. Both of those examples are bleaker than our original analysis on the Mets (who now also do not have Yoenis Cespedes for the foreseeable future). Syndergaard himself means 3.8 wins and a 12.5% increase (more than doubling) in playoff chances.

Yoan Moncada entered the season as the consensus top prospect in baseball and figured to get some experience at the Major League level for the Chicago White Sox in the latter half of the year to prepare him to a major contributor in the future. What the White Sox, who acquired Moncada as part of the trade sending Chris Sale to the Red Sox, did not expect at the time is that they would be a half game out of first place in the AL Central and a legitimate discussion could be had around whether or not the team should call up the 21 year old second baseman intending to make him an integral piece of a run at the division. That Moncada is currently hitting .330/.406./.532 fuels this discussion.

Should the White Sox bring him up soon? Moncada plays adequate defense and has great speed, but he has a ways to go as an offensive player. Despite the great numbers this year, Moncada is still striking out 29% of the time (he struck out 60% of his 20 MLB plate appearances last season) and he currently has an inflated .448 batting average on balls in play. He should be able to beat the league average BABIP with his speed, but some regression from his current levels is still expected. That being said, he should be able to best the .211/.325/.282 put up by second baseman Tyler Saladino thus far this year. There are cost concerns associated with calling Moncada up (that will be alleviated soon) in addition to any playoff aspirations hanging in the balance. How much of a difference would that make?

What does it mean: Simulating the rest of the season without Yoan Moncada at all, Chicago would be projected to win 76.6 games and makes the playoffs 7.8% of the time. With Moncada as the everyday second baseman the rest of the way, the White Sox, who are currently 14-12, would win 76.7 games and have a 9.1% chance at the playoffs. Clearly, any optimism around an above .500 start should be tempered for the White Sox, as should any hopes that Moncada would make a major difference on this team for 2017.