The all-minimum contract team

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			
		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				
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.

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  1. Joel said...

    Interesting to mention that 8 of the 9 position starters are NL players. Sign of a shift change in power hopefully toward the NL going forward.

  2. Agent007 said...

    This comparison would be even more interesting if the American League team were comprised of players from the American League.

  3. Brad Johnson said...

    Right, I’m not looking at NL/AL all-stars, I’m looking at the projected win totals for the same team in the NL or AL. The DH and different league averages produce different expected WAR. Since this team has an extremely good DH, it is expected to win more games in the AL. In reality, the high competition level could erode that, but that isn’t what the simple model suggests.

  4. DonCoburleone said...

    Very interesting and man, what a team!  I’d take that team for the next 10 years over any current team in MLB…

  5. Brad Johnson said...

    I could see replacing Gio Gonzalez with Bumgarner, in fact he probably should in order to leverage matchups. That’s an oversight on my part. However, his case for being a part of the rotation is roughly similar to Hudson’s and weaker than the other four.

  6. Shonepup said...

    No Masisom Bumgarner? How do you justify that?  I’m pretty sure he’s the only pitcher on a league minimum contact to throw a (near) shutout in the world series. Is take him over all those guys with the exception of latos, cahill, and garcia.

  7. Shonepup said...

    No Masisom Bumgarner? How do you justify that?  I’m pretty sure he’s the only pitcher on a league minimum contact to throw a (near) shutout in the world series. Is take him over all those guys with the exception of latos, cahill, and garcia.

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