Recently at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron analyzed the all minor league contract team. Surprisingly, he found that the group he put together could be worth +15-20 WAR, which puts them in the 61-66 win range;basically, they would be a typical basement-dweller, but not historically bad. The article caused me to wonder: what would a team with all league-minimum contracts look like?
Obviously this is going to be a much better team than the one Cameron put together due to the caliber of player available to us. The question is, how good? Could the team produce a playoff berth? Break .500? Consistently beat the Royals? Let’s find out.
For the purpose of this exercise, we will limit ourselves to players who have appeared in at least one major league game so as to reduce the large pool of prospects we can select. The major league minimum in 2011 is $414,000, so the 25-man roster will cost a mere $10,350,000.
All players below are eligible to have their salary renewed at league minimum under the rules of the reserve clause, although some may see small raises. Some players like Gordon Beckham, Brett Gardner and Colby Rasmus were given small raises last year, which disqualifies them from consideration.
The Oliver projection system will be used for statistical purposes, while league numbers are derived from Fangraphs. Lineups are weighted using Jeff Zimmerman’s WAR calculator.
Position Players Position Player wOBA Catcher Carlos Santana .390 First Base Logan Morrison .378 Second Base Neil Walker .326 Shortstop Starlin Castro .322 Third Base Pedro Alvarez .349 Left Field Jason Heyward .386 Center Field Drew Stubbs .311 Right Field Mike Stanton .403 Bench Buster Posey .371 Peter Bourjos .301 Domonic Brown .340 Alcides Escobar .296 Mitch Moreland .354
Starting Rotation Player expected ERA Mat Latos 3.19 Jhoulys Chacin 3.50 Jeremy Hellickson 3.65 Jaime Garcia 3.67 Daniel Hudson 3.80 Bullpen Trevor Cahill 3.82 Gio Gonzalez 4.24 Craig Kimbrel 3.65 Joe Thatcher 3.69 Jerry Blevins 3.96 Chris Sale 4.10 John Axford 4.11
There is some scope for argument with much of this list, specifically in how the bench and bullpen are deployed. The lineup and rotation are pretty straightforward.
Moving along, I opted to construct lineups for both the National League and American League. For the sake of simplicity, platoon splits were ignored.
Projected Lineup - National League Position Player wOBA Left Field Jason Heyward .386 First Base Logan Morrison .378 Catcher Carlos Santana .390 Right Field Mike Stanton .403 Third Base Pedro Alvarez .349 Shortstop Starlin Castro .322 Center Field Drew Stubbs .311 Second Base Neil Walker .326 Pitcher Mat Latos .100 Projected Lineup - American League Position Player wOBA Left Field Jason Heyward .386 DH Logan Morrison .378 Catcher Carlos Santana .390 Right Field Mike Stanton .403 First Base Buster Posey .371 Third Base Pedro Alvarez .349 Shortstop Starlin Castro .322 Center Field Drew Stubbs .311 Second Base Neil Walker .326
Before evaluating the lineup, let’s examine the defense. This team is generally below average, with the notable exception of Stubbs. However, the bench contains some nice defensive replacements like Bourjos and Escobar. The former could help protect leads in place of Stanton, while the latter would sub in for Walker. Unfortunately, the slick fielding Matt Dominguez did not qualify for the team. He would be an ideal replacement for Alvarez. All told, we can expect this team to lose about five runs on defense.
Now let’s evaluate the lineups. The NL configuration will be the first under the microscope. If the above unit were to play 162 games, it would be expected to produce a .334 wOBA. Defensive replacements, injuries, and standard off days would reduce that figure slightly, perhaps to around .328. In 2010, this would have tied for 11th in the majors with the Rays and Phillies. National League teams averaged a .318 wOBA last season. As such, we can determine the expected value of our league-minimum-contracts lineup in the following manner:
Batting: (.328-.318)/1.15*6000 = 52 runs
Position: 2.5+2.5+7.5-12.5-7.5-7.5+2.5+12.5 = 0
Replacement: 20*9 = +180 runs
Defensive: -5 runs
Total: about +227 runs -or- +22.7 wins
To put this in perspective, this total is tied for 14th in the majors with the Athletics and Cardinals.
Next, let’s recalibrate the analysis for the American League. League-average wOBA was .324 in 2010. Replacing the pitcher with Posey bumps our sample lineup’s expected wOBA up to .356. Injuries, rest, and other factors can be expected to drag this down to around .350. When we run the numbers we find the following:
Batting: (.350-.324)/1.15*6000 = +136 runs
Position: 2.5+2.5+7.5-12.5-7.5-7.5+2.5+12.5-17.5 = -17.5
Replacement: 20*9 = +180 runs
Defensive: -5 runs
Total: about + 293 runs -or- +29.3 wins
By replacing the pitcher with Posey, the lineup adds an expected 6.6 wins. Only the Reds, Yankees, and Twins outperformed our experimental roster’s position players in 2010.
Moving over to the pitchers, due to the general youth of the rotation, the starting five should have some level of workload monitoring. As such, Cahill and Gonzalez will get their fair share of spot starts to lighten the workload, hence their inclusion in the bullpen. This will have to be carefully planned, since the remaining five members of the pen are going to be used very frequently.
Taking this into account and adjusting for some injury replacements, the above pitching staff can be expected to produce a 3.70 ERA, which in 2010 would have ranked seventh in the majors between the Phillies and Mets.
In 2010, the difference between the number of runs scored per game and the number of earned runs was 0.3. Thus, we can expect our pitching staff to allow four runs per nine innings, or about 640 runs in a season. If we assume a replacement-level pitching staff allows 5.3 runs per nine—or 848 runs per season—we find that our experimental pitching staff is +208 runs, or 20.8 wins, above replacement.
All told, it appears our experimental team is very good. Given a 48-win replacement level, we would expect this club to win about 88-94 games in the NL and a whopping 95-101 in the AL.
Results like this make it easy to justify why franchises invest so much time, money, and effort into player development. A franchise that gets lucky on a few of these players at the same time (like the Phillies with Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Cole Hamels, for example) will find itself in a very good position.