OOTP Brewers: And the Band Played On

You can’t make the postseason in a single day in July. You can’t be eliminated either, of course, even if you’re the valiant Brewers and your opponents are your perennial rivals, those darn St. Louis Cardinals. This past Friday, however, something momentous happened in our OOTP simulation.

Here, take a look at the box score:

So no, it wasn’t a spectacular performance, on either side, that makes this game the rare ultra-meaningful July clash. The 3-2 loss featured more squandered opportunities than you’d generally like to see, including two runners on third left stranded with less than two outs. That’s not really worth a column, though.

The scary part (and there is a scary part) probably jumps right out at you. But just in case, here’s the next day’s box score to drive the point home:

This one was a 4-2 win, keyed by a pinch hit home run from Justin Smoak — first and third, two outs in the top of the sixth, and excellent time to pinch hit. It dropped Jack Flaherty to a woeful 2-11 simulated record — oof. But the key to this game isn’t any of that. It’s Ben Gamel, batting seventh, with a quietly effective day.

Christian Yelich is hurt. He collided with Edmundo Sosa at second base in the first box score listed here on an otherwise uneventful fielder’s choice. The extent of the injury wasn’t clear for a day or two, but the fact that I’m writing this article should tell you that he didn’t simply shake it off. The verdict from the trainer was a strained oblique, and Yelich will miss the next six weeks recovering, plus another week or so rehabbing.

I won’t sugarcoat it: this one stings. Our team is built around Yelich; every other offensive player is a complementary type, and our pitching is no great shakes. With an offensive cornerstone as great as Yelich, however, it hardly matters. Plugging him into the lineup gives the team a huge head start every day.

So how does the team look without Yelich? The quick, back-of-the-envelope math doesn’t look great. Yelich has been worth 5.1 WAR so far this year. Let’s assume that backups playing in his place would have been worth roughly 1 WAR; that’s mostly Ben Gamel, but also a minor leaguer who would become the new fourth outfielder. A four-win difference over 89 games is the difference between a .585 winning percentage and .540. Over the next seven weeks, or roughly 45 games, that’s a two-win difference. Two wins, huh?

NL Central Standings
Team W L GB Run Differential
Brewers 52 37 +25
Pirates 50 39 2 +65
Cubs 44 47 9 +13
Reds 43 48 10 -18
Cardinals 36 55 17 -65

Adding and subtracting WAR is notably not how you should use the statistic, but I mean, it doesn’t look great. Whatever you thought of the team’s odds with a two-game lead on the Pirates before Yelich’s injury, that should be about the same as if we were tied now.

There are some silver linings to this tough turn of events. For one, none of the other three teams in the central are likely to interrupt our battle with Pittsburgh. The Cubs have swooned recently, and the Cardinals and Reds haven’t done anything to get back in the race. The Cardinals, in particular, have been struck by another wave of injuries.

That’s not to say the Pirates aren’t a threat — a quick look at their run differential will tell you they’re not pure flukes — but their lineup is, well, it’s the Pirates! Not only that, but Josh Bell and Colin Moran are both currently out. Bryan Reynolds has been their best hitter this year, and his 131 wRC+ is hardly imposing. They’re beatable, is my point.

To stay ahead of them, however, we’re likely to need something from Yelich’s replacement. The obvious choice is Gamel. He’s not a star by any definition, but he can handle the strong side of a platoon while playing excellent left field defense. So long as you minimize his exposure against lefties, his bat is fine:

It’s not good, necessarily: average across the board with good baserunning isn’t an All-Star profile by any means. Combine him with a decent right-handed bat, and you can tell yourself the whole package works out to an above-average position, though, particularly if the other player is as good with the glove as Gamel.

About that decent right-handed bat: in the absence of Yelich, this team is built around platoons. Smoak, Eric Sogard, Brock Holt, and Omar Narváez are all best left on the bench against left-handed pitching. Yelich was good enough that opposing pitcher handedness was irrelevant; Gamel hardly fits that bill. To create a reasonable major leaguer, we’ll need someone reasonable to pair with him.

Ryan Braun is the natural first choice. Just one problem: Braun is already playing first base against lefties. There are ways around that: you could, for example, stash Brock Holt at first, even with the platoon disadvantage, and install Braun in left. It’s not my preferred choice, but while we figure out a new plan, it could work.

Speaking of new plans: let’s take a look at the minor league options to fill in for Yelich. For now, we’re only looking at righties, though if a few of them don’t pan out, we can always try the Corey Rays and Jacob Robsons of the world. Our options seemingly boil down to three players: Alexander Palma, Tyrone Taylor, and if we’re extremely desperate, Joantgel Segovia. Let’s take a look at their ratings in table form:

Righty Left Field Options
Stat Alexander Palma Tyrone Taylor Joantgel Segovia
Contact 45 45 45
Gap 50 60 45
Power 55 50 30
Eye 35 50 45
Avoid K’s 50 50 55
Baserunning 50 65 60
LF Defense 55 55 70
Highlights denote the best rating in the group

All of those batting ratings are against left-handed pitching; there’s simply no way they’ll face many righties in this short call-up, so I ignored that side of the plate completely. It comes down to what you’d rather have. Taylor is the best hitter, Segovia the best fielder, and Palma has the most power.

There are a few other options if none of these tickle your fancy. Matt Joyce is still available in free agency. Anthony Santander is on the trading block, and he’s a switch hitter, though he’s better when batting lefty. There may be other trade pieces available, though trading something of value for a short-term replacement isn’t high on my to-do list. What should we do?

Being good against lefties will matter immediately. Our next three games (after an off day today) are against southpaws Brendan McKay, Anthony Banda, and Kyle Freeland. Whoever gets called up will be stepping right into a gauntlet of major league pitching — perhaps the longest streak of lefty starters the team will face all year.

Maybe it won’t matter. Perhaps the Pirates will fade away, and the Cubs will remain too far back to re-establish contact. The differences between the hitters we’re considering calling up are tiny; what we do with this roster move probably won’t be the difference between making the playoffs and staying home. Still, I’d like to get it right. We’ve reached this point, a season-high 15 games above .500, by pressing every advantage and micro-managing every option all year. Let’s not get discouraged when we hit a bump in the road, even if it’s a Yelich-sized bump.

As always, I’ll be on FanGraphs Live tomorrow at noon ET to discuss the Yelich injury and what we’re doing about it. This week, we’ll also discuss our July 2 signing, Bernard Bus, a live-wire shortstop from Aruba with off-the-charts contact potential. See you then.

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Ben is a contributor to FanGraphs. A lifelong Cardinals fan, he got his start writing for Viva El Birdos. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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Santander might be a good option if the price isn’t too high – even when Yelich is back he is good enough and versatile enough to be a useful, long-term fourth outfielder/future injury replacement.