MLB - The So What (4/27/17)

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?

Just four years removed from back-to-back MVP awards, objectively one of the best and most valuable players of the last 12 years and still the most valuable player to the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera recently landed on the disabled list with a groin injury. He had been slashing .268/.369/.464 with three HRs and a strikeout rate over 20% (something he has not done for a season since 2004) in 65 plate appearances. Though Cabrera does not stand out immediately among so many younger stars one of the game's elite, he hit 38 HRs last season with a .393 OBP and .563 SLG. Even likely passing his peak years, Cabrera has still been the 12th most valuable position player by WAR and fifth best hitter by wOBA over the last three years.

While this happened shortly after we published last week's article and Cabrera is seemingly on track to return early next week (May 2) when he is eligible to do so from the new 10 Day DL, there is still cause for concern. Cabrera is 34 years old, likely on the downward trajectory of his career. He is a large, slugging first baseman who has typically carried between 235 and 285 pounds in his career, which will take its toll on the body, especially lower body. Cabrera has also been dealing with groin, back and leg issues since early Spring. On the promising side, this is only Cabrera's second ever stint on the disabled list. He has played in 148+ games in 12 seasons (and still may this year). His previous time on the disabled list, though, was just in 2015 when he missed 43 games. Recent injuries, age and previous weight concerns could mean that the groin and back issues linger throughout the season.

John Hicks and Alex Avila have been filling in for Cabrera in the most recent four games. Hicks is a 27 year old with 18 career MLB games played before 2017. He hit for decent average in the minors, yet minimal home run power for someone who is a 6'2", 220 lbs. first baseman. Avila has a career .242/.348/.401 slash line in 751 games, 692 of which came as a catcher. Detroit does have some other concerns with Jose Iglesias and JD Martinez both hurt. For this analysis, we will assume Iglesias is healthy (he is coming off the disabled list today) and Martinez comes back in about a month (he's taking BP now).

What does it mean: A true ten day stint on the disabled list has minimal discernable impact on the Tigers, especially since that means he would only miss five more games (Detroit is 3-1 in his absence). But let's take a deeper look at what Cabrera currently means to the first place (11-9) Tigers. We will evaluate the rest of the season with Cabrera at his normal expectations for a 34 year old player of his pedigree playing every remaining game. Though it's not likely, we can then do the same without him playing a remaining game at all for the Tigers. Additionally, there is a chance that his injury will linger while he plays and that the usual .320/.399/.561 hitter he has been in his career will actually appear more like what we have seen in 65 plate appearances thus far.

With Miguel Cabrera (Iglesias and most of the remaining games with JD Martinez), the Detroit Tigers would be expected to win 81.0 games and make the playoffs 22.5% of the time.

Without Cabrera at all, Detroit would be projected to win 77.5 games and have an 11.4% chance at the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians are 96.3% likely to win the AL Central in that scenario.

If Cabrera emulates exactly what we have seen thus far for the rest of the season, Detroit would be projected to win 79.0 games and have an 17.0% chance at the playoffs.

A fully healthy Miguel Cabrera means 3.5 wins for the Tigers the rest of the season and adds 11% to the team's chances of making the postseason (essentially doubling their likelihood).

Mark Dankenbring addressed this further in his weekly MLB Power Rankings Risers and Fallers article.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, a team with few glaring weaknesses in roster construction that generally grades well in our numbers, made the biggest splash in the prospect world this week by promoting 21 year old outfielder Cody Bellinger. They are in a position to do something similar with 20 year old top pitching prospect Julio Urias soon. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, that excitement is tempered by the fact that Logan Forsythe, Andre Eithier, Joc Pederson, Rich Hill and Scott Kazmir on the disabled list (not to mention a 10-12 start to the season).

Digging into the offense, we can review the impact of Bellinger and recently injured Pederson. Bellinger is a former fourth round pick from the 2013 draft. At 6'4", 210 lbs, he more than looks the part of a slugging corner outfielder and his 56 HRs in the last two seasons supports that. That being said, Bellinger hit just .270 in the minor leagues and struck out more than 25% of the time. And, though minor league defensive metrics are not ideal, there is little to suggest that his is a better than average defender. Pederson actually has a very similar minor league profile, though he is an adequate fielder and can play CF. In MLB, he is .224/.347/.438 with 52 HRs in 1158 PAs. We can play the rest of the Dodgers' season with Bellinger and no Pederson, Pederson and no Bellinger and both of them together. Yasiel Puig will man the other outfield position with Andrew Toles generally filling in when one of those players is out.

What does it mean: Playing the rest of the season of the Dodgers' schedule 50,000 times with Pederson and Bellinger in the lineup, Los Angeles, which is currently four games behind the Rockies for first place in the NL West, projects to win 93.3 games, make the playoffs 91.5% of the time and are the third most likely World Series Champions at 16.3% (behind Cubs and Indians). Without Pederson the rest of the way, little changes. The Dodgers win 93.1 games, make the playoffs 90.6% and are 14.7% likely to win. If the Dodgers did not promote Bellinger at all this season, they would be expected to win 93.3 games, make the playoffs 91.4% and win the World Series 15.8%.

As exciting as a young player like Pederson or a prospect like Bellinger may be, neither has a profound impact on the Los Angeles Dodgers rest of season expectations. In fact, in all three scenarios, the team is projected to slug .433 (though the batting average increases without them, so the ISO is higher with both).

Additionally, there has been talk of which player in the rotation that Urias should replace. For now, let's assume Rich Hill is out of the discussion (he will likely come back, but his health history suggests he is not someone to place much emphasis on - similar note for Scott Kazmir). That leaves Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alex Wood as the current rotation. Kershaw and Maeda (even off to a slow start) are not likely to fall out of the rotation (ever). Conventional wisdom seems to be that Wood will move to bullpen/spot starter/long relief role when Urias is promoted.

Wood, however, is off to a great start with a 2.29 ERA and 2.92 FIP. He's also just 26 and has a career ERA of 3.31 and FIP of 3.3. He is only making $2.8M this season as compared to McCarthy's $12M and Ryu's $6M. McCarthy is 33 and is also pitching well (2.25 ERA/3.22 FIP), while the 30 year old Ryu is not pitching well to-date (4.64 ERA and 5.74 FIP) in his return from missing most of last season, but he does have a 3.36 career ERA and 3.16 FIP. We can assess this by playing the rest of the season without Urias at all and then with him in place of Wood, McCarthy and Ryu.

What does it mean: Playing the rest of the season of the Dodgers schedule 50,000 times with the current rotation of Kershaw, Maeda, McCarthy, Ryu and Wood, Los Angeles projects to win 93.4 games and have a 91.5% chance of making the playoffs, winning the NL West 83.0% of the time.

Replacing Wood with Urias for the rest of the season: The Dodgers win 93.5 games and have a 92.3% chance to make the playoffs. Urias improves the Dodgers by 0.1 wins and 0.8% playoff likelihood in place of Wood.

Replacing McCarthy with Urias for the rest of the season: The Dodgers win 94.7 games and have a 94.4% chance to make the playoffs. Urias improves the Dodgers by 1.3 wins and 2.9% playoff likelihood in place of McCarthy.

Replacing Ryu with Urias for the rest of the season: The Dodgers win 94.3 games and have a 94.1% chance to make the playoffs. Urias improves the Dodgers by 0.9 wins and 2.6% playoff likelihood in place of Ryu.

In general, the Dodgers are very good and very likely to make the playoffs regardless of what happens with their top prospects.

On the surface, it would seem like the Seattle Mariners are a mess. They are 9-13 and put ace Felix Hernandez and their most product player to-date, Mitch Haniger (.338/.442/.600 in 95 PA), on the disabled list yesterday. Meanwhile, Kyle Seager is dealing with his own injuries, missing the last three games and hitting just .246/.360/.344. Robinson Cano is well below his normal standards at just .264/.337/.425. And the bottom half of the lineup is essentially a question mark (with such names as Ben Gamel, Taylor Motter, Jarrod Dyson and Danny Valencia). It would be pretty easy right now to say I told you so.

Yet looking at this a little closer may lead to some optimism. Despite those issues and star players failing to live up to expectations early, the Mariners are just 5.5 games back and have a positive (+3) run differential. They have also played the league's second toughest schedule to date (behind the Rays). A 5.5 game lead in August does not even sound that difficult to overcome, let alone after an underperforming April. And none of the injuries to key players - including Jean Segura, who just returned from the DL - are considered serious. Plus, while Nelson Cruz has caught fire as of late, Cano, Seager (assuming he's healthy) and others should improve as well.

Haniger is not likely to continue to hit this well after he returns (very few players in baseball history can sustain that), but he does have a career minor league slash line of .290/.370/.490, which almost exactly matches what he has done in 218 plate appearances in MLB.

As a means to put the entire Mariners season in context, we can specify the impact of losing Haniger and Hernandez as well as the banged up Seager for the next three weeks.

What does it mean: At the extremes, simulating the entire rest of the season without Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez or Mitch Haniger, Seattle wins a projected 78.8 games and makes the playoffs 15.9% of the time with the Houston Astros finishing 94.4-67.6 and winning the division 91.8% of the time. In this scenario, even without those three key players, Seattle finishes second in the division.

If the players remained healthy throughout the rest of the year, Seattle wins 83.5 games and makes the playoffs 38.8% of the time. While they still fall well short of the Astros (94.0 wins, 86.0% to win division), Seattle ranks tenth in MLB in wins.

Though a takeaway is that this team is likely to hover around .500 in the long-run, that's still a pretty tangible difference, yet it is not really the situation we find ourselves in. With those three players missing just three weeks, Seattle is projected to win 82.8 games and make the playoffs 37.4% of the time. A weak American League (beyond clear division favorites Cleveland, Houston and Boston) should keep the Mariners in this. Losing Haniger, Hernandez and (potentially) Seager for the next three weeks costs the Mariners 0.7 projected wins and decreases their chances of making the postseason by 1.4%.