If you’re like me, you’ve had a lot of spare time to think lately. I could be using this time to do something productive, but usually I end up playing my guitar, or video games, or watching something on the television. But I had a thought the other day: What if the Royals magically had the best position player, starting pitcher and closer in baseball on their team. Would those three be enough to get them into contention this year?
I’m going to try to be optimistic and assume a full 162 game season. I don’t know if I really believe that, but I think we all could use some more optimism in our lives. Originally I thought this was going to be a pessimistic article when it came to the Royals performances; and individually it is, but taken as a whole the Royals are projected (by Fangraphs at least) to improve significantly this year, so... there’s that.
For a start, I looked to Fangraphs to get projections for the season. In all, they project the Royals to have 24.6 WAR on the team. They also project the Royals to win 72 games. The specifics of how much WAR and how many wins aren’t terribly important for this thought exercise, so I’m going to spare the player by player analysis. If you’re interested, feel free to explore the links above.
To start with, we need to determine how many wins it will take to make the playoffs. Using the projections above, the two Wild Card teams currently are the Tampa Bay Rays (90 wins) and the Oakland A’s (87 wins). The Twins are projected to win the division with 88 wins, so a total of 88 wins is what we need to aim for. In short, we need to add 18 total WAR to the team either by dumping negative performers or adding better performing players.
Going with my initial thoughts, who is the best position player? Starting pitcher? Relief pitcher?
Well, the best position player is fairly obvious to anyone who has followed baseball for any amount of time the last decade. Mike Trout has yet to usurped, despite headlines every year proclaiming that so-and-so could be the one to unseat him. Fangraphs has different projections, so I’m taking the average of ZiPS, Steamer and Depth Charts.
Mike Trout is projected to be worth 8.6 WAR in 2020. We’ll look at how his addition shuffles the roster later (it’s more complicated than you would think).
As for the best starting pitcher in baseball? This is more complicated. The highest projection I can find is Gerrit Cole’s average of 6.3 WAR. This seems to mesh with the past few seasons, so we’ll go with that.
Relief pitching is extremely inconsistent and unpredictable. A reliever can be lights out one season and absolute garbage the next. The highest projection I can find is for Josh Hader at about a 2.2 fWAR average, but that’s both boring and difficult to stomach for me. I found an old friend, however, who is much more palatable. Liam Hendricks (6 appearances in 2014 for the Royals) was far and away the best relief pitcher last season. In 75 appearances (72 in relief) he posted a dizzying 3.9 WAR (for comparison, Wade Davis broke baseball in 2014 and posted 3.1 WAR). He’s only projected for something like 1.6 WAR, but I’m going to cheat and give him another 3.9 WAR season... because I can.
There are a number of 0 WAR pitchers, both in the projected rotation and in the projected bullpen. For the relievers, I will have Hendricks take the spot of (throws dart at dart board) Randy Roasario. The addition of such a dominant reliever will see some of the other relievers lose a few innings, or pitch in slightly higher leverage situations, but since the highest projected reliever was Kennedy (0.7 WAR in 65 innings) I’m going to say any variance in WAR there will likely be negligible, especially in the face of an added almost 4 WAR. This is made doubly moot by the fact that Cole will be eating up some innings other relievers would be pitching.
Cole presents a different problem. The current projected fifth starter is Jorge Lopez, projected to pitch 94 innings out of the rotation. This is actually handy as he already has some projections out of the bullpen (35 innings at 0 WAR). I feel confident enough slotting Cole into his spot and subtracting Lopez’s 0.8 WAR entirely. Any fractional wins he might provide in extra innings in the bullpen is again, negligible.
Mike Trout presents a bit of a dilemma, however. He will of course play center field. Currently Whit is projected as the every day center-fielder, getting 371 of his projected 665 while playing center. He could shift to right field, but that’s now Dozier’s projected starting spot.
The simplest solution is to utilize Nicky Lopez as a utility infielder and have Whit be the starting second baseman. This drops... I guess Erick Mejia off the roster entirely? It’s more complicated then that, however, as we then have to adjust both Lopez’s and Whit’s projected playing time and value. Whit is better defensively at second than he is in the outfield. When adjusting his total ABs it does show a slight difference (2.4 WAR projected instead of 2.3 going into the season), but this is negligible. I think it would likely be more, but this is supposed to be back of a napkin math.
Mejia adds 0 WAR total in about 50 ABs, and Lopez is worth 1.7 WAR in 546. He will see his playing time reduced, but I’m going to give him a lot of at bats that otherwise got to Kelvin Gutierrez and Matt Reynolds, since both are basically replacement level. This has Lopez providing 0.4 WAR in about 140 ABs. Again, this is not perfect, but close enough.
So, what do we end up with? We’ve added Trout (8.6 WAR), Cole (6.3 WAR) and Hendricks (insanely improbably 3.9 WAR) for a total of 18.8 WAR. We added 0.1 WAR to Whit’s value, but lost 0.1 from Matt Reynolds. We subtract 1.3 WAR for Nicky Lopez’s playing time, and 0.8 WAR from Jorge Lopez.
The grand total added is 16.7 WAR. We add that to the Royals projections and find that it puts us at 86 or 87 wins (depending on rounding). We needed 88 to get into the playoffs.
BUT WAIT! 88 wins would have the Royals tied for the division. If we’re adding 16 or 17 wins over the course of the season (a full 10% of games won) then we can also predict the Royals would win 1-2 more games against the Twins. This would move the Twins to 86 or 87 wins, putting the Royals in a virtual tie for the division. If we’re optimistic we could say they win the division by 1 game. Or, perhaps there is a play-in game 163 (remember the debate in 2014 on if the Wild Card game counted as post-season? Imagine the debate for a play-in game 163).
I’m going to say that my original thought is successful. For the Royals to make the playoffs as currently constructed, all we need to do is somehow transport three of the best players in baseball to their team.
I’m happy to offer my advice to the front office of the Royals at a reasonable cost, but you’d think they’d be able to see how easy it really is.