MLB - The So What (5/11/17)

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?"

Mike Trout is nursing a hamstring injury and has not played since last Friday. By most accounts, he should avoid the disabled list and could play again as early as tonight. He's Mike Trout, though, who by the WAR metric, theoretically has added approximately ten wins per 162 games for the Angels, so it is easy to immediately consider what this team woudl look like without him. Trout is likely on the precipice of his peak seasons at just 25 years old and carries a career .308/.407/.562 slash sline with a 162 game average of 34 HRs, 120 runs and 100 RBIs to go with 29 SBs and generally league average (to slightly better) defense in center field. He has played 157+ games in four straight seasons, yet is already well off that pace (he actually cannot achieve it). He is hitting .355/.446/.700 through 130 plate apperances.

The Angels are 17-19 overall and 2-3 in his absence. "If the season ended today..." the Angels would narrowly miss out on the second Wild Card spot (after the Yankees, Indians and Astros win divisions and the Orioles get the other spot). They are two games back of Minnesota for that other spot, only one game back in the win column. Of course, there are 12 American League teams within two games of making the playoffs so we have a ways to go. Before the season, sports books projected 79.5 wins and the Predictalator had the Angels at 77.6 wins. They are pacing in line with expectations, but contention for the postseason was not anticipated this year.

Without Trout, the Angels have played Cameron Maybin in CF with Kole Calhoun and Ben Revere in the corner outfield spots. Even though Maybin and Revere are known for their speed and have played CF, neither is as "good" of a fielder as Trout (Trout has been slightly below average defensively in the last two seasons, yet is still better in a relative sense). Maybin and Revere had been splitting time at LF before the injury. Maybin has a career .257/.321/.369 line and is hitting .206/.306/.278 this year at 30 years old, while Revere has gone .284/.318/.343 and is 29.

WAR calculations are not as concerned about the make up of the roster or expectations otherwise of an individual (and I understand why). Mike Trout is really valuable in almost any circumstance, but just how valuable is he to this iteration of the Angels?

What does it mean:

Based on 50,000 simulations of the rest of the season without Trout at all and with Maybin and Revere both playing every day, the the Angels project to win 74.7 games, have a 2.1% chance at the playoffs. In this scenario, the Angels slug 21 points lower AS A TEAM than they would with Trout in the lineup (and Andrelton Simmons becomes their most valuable player). With Mike Trout healthy the rest of the way, the Los Angeles Angels would be expected to win 77.5 games and make the playoffs 5.8% of the time. Over the course of the entire season (162 games), that would mean that Trout adds just 3.5 wins to the Angels, which is fairly inconsequential for a team that is likely to finish below .500 either way. This is not necessarily a blog about whether or not to trade Mike Trout, but the Angels do need far more help than he alone is able to provide.

The situation with Braun is similar in that we are talking about a star player who is not actually on the disabled list right now. It's a little more dire for the Brewers, though, since he totalled one at bat in a six game stretch last week with a forearm injury and is sitting out today's game after being pulled for a calf injury last night. He's also 33 years old and has much more of a history of injuries than Trout. Additionally, his team is playing better at 18-16 and just a half game out of a playoff spot.

The main reason the Brewers have succeded this season is power. They are currently tied with Washington for the league lead in HRs at 55. Braun has seven home runs and is slugging .574. For his career he has slugged .544 and has averaged 34.3 HRs per 162 games. The latter stat would carry a little more weight if Brand had ever played 162 games. He has not topped 140 games since 2012, averaging just 125.5 games a year in his MLB career.

The Brewers do have an advantage over the Angels' example above in that they are more flexible and deeper. Today, the team is not playing HR leader Eric Thames either and yet can still put Keon Broxton, Hernan Perez and Domingo Santana in the outfield, all of whom are 27 years old or younger, have played above average this season and are better fielders than Braun.

Before the season, sports books pegged the Brewers for 69.5 wins, the second lowest total in baseball. The Predictalator was far more optimistic at 73.0 wins, but that is hardly contention. The lineup may be very good - even better than anyone projected - but the pitching staff has below average talent in the rotation (Jimmy Nelson, Matt Garza, Zach Davies and Chase Anderson) and bullpen. What impact would keeping Braun's bat in the lineup have the rest of the season (versus otherwise)?

What does it mean: Playing the rest of the season of the Brewers' schedule 50,000 times from this point without Braun, Milwaukee projects to win 77.4 games and make the playoffs 7.6% of the time. They rank third in the NL Central (ahead of the Reds and Pirates) and 15 games behind division favorite, the Chicago Cubs. With Braun in the lineup from here on, the Brewers would project to win 78.9 games and have a 12.6% chance at the playoffs. Braun is worth 1.5 wins, but it's an important 1.5 wins for a team hovering around .500 as it increases playoff likelihood by five percent. For a full season, Braun is worth just shy of two wins and a little less than ten percent in playoff probability to the Brewers.

It's been a rough week for closers/relief aces as Mark Melancon and Nate Jones (the White Sox best reliever and likely future closer) hit the disabled list, Zach Britton was returned to it, Koda Glover and Shawn Kelley remain on it and Francisco Rodriquez remained healthy, yet was removed from his role. Since this Giants are unlikely to return to contention any time soon and we were covered how the Predictalator is down on the White Sox prognosis last week, let's focus on Britton, the Nationals situation and if benching K-Rod was the right thing.

In Baltimore, Britton has been a clear top five relief pitcher in baseball for multiple seasons. In the last three years, he has an ERA of 1.42 over 196 innings pitched in 196 games and has struck out four times as many players as he has walked. The Orioles bullpen has ranked as the second best in baseball in that span (behind Yankees). This year, they are now outside the top ten bullpens and Britton is on his second stint on the DL with only nine innings pitched. Brad Brach has eight saves, but he has struggled in the closer role (3.79 ERA, 3.76 FIP). What would the Orioles, who are currently 4.5 games up in the AL Wild Card race, look like with and without Britton the rest of the way?

What does it mean: Simulating the rest of the season with Zach Britton healthy, Baltimore would be projected to win 87.4 games and make the playoffs 68.6% of the time. In that scenario, the Orioles are 3.1% likely to win the World Series, which is the ninth best mark. Without Britton, Baltimore wins 87.1 games and is 64.5% likely to make the postseason. The Orioles are 2.6% likely to win the World Series without Britton, still ninth most likely. This suggests that a) Baltimore is overachieving now b) Britton is worth about a half a win to the Orioles over the course of the year and c) bullpens are generally more about the sum of the parts rather than an individual.

In Washington, the Nationals have the NL's best record despite not having a well defined bullpen. It's also not very good, ranking 28th in baseball to-date. Koda Glover, Matt Albers, Blake Treinen, Enny Romero and Shawn Kelley all have saves this year. Glover and Kelley are on the disabled list about to return soon. Both have been discussed with respect to the closer position and manager Dusty Baker does prefer defined roles in the bullpen when possible. Let's examine the Nationals' prospects with either closer (or neither) to examine what they should do.

What does it mean: Simulating the rest of the year with Glover, who has a career ERA or 4.76 and FIP of 3.89 in just 28.1 innings pitched (ERA no greater than 3.22 and FIP no higher than 3.00 in minor leagues) as the closer, the Nationals win 94.8 games, make the playoffs 98.8% of the time and win the World Series 13.5% of the time, which is the second best mark in baseball. Kelley, 33 years old, is far more seasoned with a 3.55 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 352.1 MLB innings. With him as closer, the Nationals go on to win 95.3 games, make the playoffs 98.8% of the timewin the World Series 13.5%. They improve by a half a win, but that makes very little difference otherwise. Without either of them as closer, the Nationals project to win 94.7 games, make the playoffs 98.6% of the time and win the World Series 13.3%. In all three circumstances, they are the second most likely team to win it all.

Who would make them the favorite? Kelvin Herrera of the 12-21 Royals may do it. If the Nationals acquired him now, they would be projected to win 96.5 games, make the playoffs 99.4% and win the World Series 14.9%. Is Victor Robles (or any other top Nationals' prospect) worth 1-2 wins and an increase in winning the World Series by 1.5% without any real difference in division win or postseason chances (in all scenarios, the Nationals project to win the division by 18+ games)? That is what Mike Rizzo and the Nationals are likely trying to figure out.

And, do the Tigers look better without Francisco Rodriguez at closer? Like the Nationals, the Tigers have long been a contending team without a strong bullpen. Rodriguez was serviceable last year with a 3.24 ERA, 3.83 FIP and 44 saves. That's not ideal for a closer, but it was much better than the 8.49 ERA, 6.54 FIP and 3.1 HR/9 we have seen from him this year. The Tigers are at .500 (16-16) despite four blown saves (all losses) from Rodriguez. Putting Justin Wilson in that position should be an improvement. How much?

What does it mean: Simulating the rest of the year with Wilson, who has a career ERA of 3.17 and a career FIP of 3.12 in just 272.2 innings pitched as the closer, the Tigers win 83.0 games and make the playoffs 37.3% of the time. In this example, the Tigers no longer use Rodriguez at all. Had they not made the change, they would be projected for 80.4 wins and make the playoffs 21.3%. Not having Rodriguez any more should mean about 2.6 wins added and 16% gain in playoff chances.

In a quick bonus update, we will revisit the Mariners. Two weeks ago, we gave Seattle some hope to turn things around despite the loss of Mitch Haniger and Felix Hernandez to the DL. Welp... now James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma are hurt as well. That leaves a rotation currently of Ariel Miranda, Yovani Gallardo. Chase De Jone, Dillon Overton and Christian Bergman. That rotation would win 78.6 games and make the playoffs 8.9% - a far cry from the 83.5 wins and 38.8% we gave a healthy Mariners' squad in late April.