Hope abounds when spring training begins. Every team is undefeated, every player is in the best shape of his life, and every fan base* thinks their team has a shot at the postseason. We’re allowed to dream about what the season could be if things clicked for everyone in the lineup.
*Except probably Minnesota Twins fans.
This got me thinking: what is the ceiling for this Detroit Tigers team? What would happen if every player was able to repeat the best season they’ve had in the respective careers? But then also the other side of the coin: what happens if everyone repeats the worst season they’ve had?
I wasn’t looking for something extremely scientific so I went the fast route and quickly went through each players FanGraphs player card and recorded their highest and lowest single-season WAR total in their career. Injuries are always a factor, but I wanted this to be more about performance so I tried to only select seasons in which a player played at least half the time (or something close). I also wasn’t looking to go ultra in-depth, so I didn’t look at bullpen or bench players.
Here’s what I came up with:
|Total||70 (115)||21 (66)|
The total column shows the estimated number of team wins in parenthesis using a team replacement level of 45 WAR.
*Victor Martinez earned his career high as a catcher, so dock him 2 or 3 wins if you want to adjust for him exclusively serving as a DH.
Extremely scientific? Absolutely not, but it was interesting to find that the high-low spread in single season player production equals roughly 50 wins.
Statements posing as analysis
- The good news: every player except Victor Martinez has had their best career season more recently than their worst.
- The above fact is almost certainly a result of selection bias — one pegs players as starters after very good seasons, not very bad seasons.
- Several players had their career lows very early in their careers (Dirks, Fielder, Peralta, Infante, Hunter).
- It’s nearly impossible to find a season for Anibal Sanchez in which he wasn’t either (1) very good or (2) very injured.
- Torii Hunter hasn’t had a below average season since the turn of the century.
- Many players would kill to be Justin Verlander at his worst.
- Averaging the non-rounded high and low totals equals a number very close to 90 wins.
In reality some players will have a career year and some will have career lows, and a whole bunch will end up right at their career averages. That’s how baseball tends to work.
I’d have to say that the Tigers are closer to the top end than the bottom end, but I’m a fan and fans tend to be irrationally optimistic at this time of year.