MLB - The So What (05/25/17)

By Frank Brank @realfrankbrank
Typically, this article would focus on the biggest injuries of this week, like Dallas Keuchel and Brian McCann being sent to the disabled list for the Astros. However, both Stros are likely to return this weekend, only missing a handful of starts collectively. The effects of those few starts are minimal and nearly unmeasurable. Thus, this week, we'll go through the additions that may strengthen a few ball clubs around the league.

Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson Return
The Toronto Blue Jays have played majority of season without two of their best offensive and defensive players. Some may mock the idea of Troy Tulowitzki being a top player since his descent from Coors Field; however, he's still been a plus hitter from the shortstop position and an impressive defensive player. Tulo saved ten runs last season, according to Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), or about the value of one win just on defense alone. Tulowitzki is also a considerable upgrade to his potential replacements, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, who are simply replacement-level players. Goins and Barney support a 53 wRC+ (47% below average) and 55 wRC+ (45% below average), respectively, this season.

On the same side of the infield, Josh Donaldson also looks to make his return this weekend. Donaldson is and has been the best third baseman in Major League Baseball over the last few seasons. Donaldson has only played nine games this season, but if he were to return and stay healthy, he could still reach around 400 plate appearances in which we'd anticipate he'd be worth about four wins to the Blue Jays. Chris Coghlan has mainly been filling in at third base along and is a more impressive hitter than Goins or Barney; however, he's still hardly above a replacement-level player.

What does it mean?
Without both Tulowitzki and Donaldson, the Blue Jays were expected to amass a 75.2-86.8 record, on average. As both return this weekend, we project Toronto to play the rest of the season at an above average rate and finish with a record of 81.1-80.9 meaning Tulowitzki and Donaldson are worth nearly six wins in their remaining 400 or so plate appearances. Again, this assumes both players will remain healthy for the rest of the season, which may be wishful thinking with Tulowitzki's injury history. The Jays may not make the playoffs at 81 wins, but they may be one win streak away from sneaking into a wildcard position.

Sam Travis Gets the Call
The Red Sox, needing a boost to their offense to support their pitching staff, called up Sam Travis to fill a void as a bench hitter and a spot-starter against left-handed pitching. Travis, playing first base, will not replace Mitch Moreland full-time just yet, as Moreland has shown off a 117 wRC+ (17% above league average) and 16 doubles this season. Travis' primary duty will be playing against left-handed starters and relievers. With that expectation, for now, Travis may only acquire around 200 plate appearances for the rest of the season. In terms of value, it is difficult for any prospect to obtain a helpful amount of value with such a short leash.

Nonetheless, Travis was a top hitting prospect in the Red Sox minor league system at every level. Granted he doesn't have a large minor league sample of plate appearances to work with, but he's held a 120 wRC+ at every level with nearly no extended struggles. By our calculation, his minor league stats, combined with a level of uncertainty due to a small minor league sample, we anticipate Sam Travis to be a slightly above average hitter for the rest of the season. That level of uncertainty also extends to his defensive abilities. To be fair to Travis, it is more difficult to provide value playing defense at first base; however, we won't have a better feel for the value of his glove for some time.

What does it mean?
All of this combines into less than a whole win for the Red Sox for the rest of the season, unless he begins to get more plate appearances. That could backfire, though, if those plate appearances begin disappearing for Moreland who has been well above average this season. The Red Sox are still the highest ranked team, by our projections, in the AL East and are projected to just edge the Yankees in the division with an expected 90.2 wins. Sam Travis may contribute to a higher win total than expected but his anticipated playing time and ability doesn't project to help out all that much, at the moment.

Bradley Zimmer Fills a Void
For the Indians, Bradley Zimmer is in a different position than Sam Travis. As a left-handed batter and projecting better than Cleveland's other options, Zimmer is expected to play nearly every day. Also, we know from his sufficient minor league sample, around 300 plate appearances in AAA and over 600 plate appearances in AA, that we can be more certain that he's a plus defensive outfielder. From that sample, we also know Zimmer's strikeout rate in the minors doesn't play that well in the majors.

Even with his elevated strikeout rate, Zimmer was still a plus hitter at every level. However, a boost in strikeout rate once reaching the Majors will reduce his production a bit. We project that he'll be slightly below average in run creation offensively, but will provide some pop with his strikeouts. Zimmer projects closely to Javier Baez, both offensively and defensively. Given Zimmer should compile about 350 plate appearances, he's projected for ten home runs for the rest of the season.

What does it mean?
Like most young hitters, Zimmer will need to improve his plate discipline; however, his speed on bases, in the outfield, and sufficient power makes him worth a little over one win for the rest of the season if he continues to play on most days. In Zimmer's 25 plate appearances, he's already shown all aspects of his game. He's hit a home run, stolen two bases, and struck out in 36% of his plate attempts.

Though one win may seem like a negligible amount, Bradley Zimmer would be expected to be worth two wins above a replacement level player in a full season. That may not seem like it's a massive success story given the recent history of young players in the MLB, but this is relatively high praise for a prospect without major league experience. For reference, Javier Baez was worth 2.7 wins above replacement last year, according to fWAR.