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How The MLB Standings Would Look If Teams Stuck With Whoever They Drafted

As the MLB season heads into its September stretch run, many of the division winners are more or less decided — the Cubs, Nationals and Rangers have all but locked up their races, and the FiveThirtyEight model puts the Indians, Dodgers and Blue Jays north of 60 percent to win theirs. In the absence of any high-pressure, high-leverage series to pick apart, we have time to look into something a little more, let’s say, unconventionally relevant: How might the standings be different if each team had held onto its original players without dealing them away over the years?

Thanks to data from The Baseball Gauge, we can take a stab at that question. The site tracks how many wins above replacement (WAR) have been produced by players who were originally drafted (or otherwise acquired) by each franchise, which can be easily converted into wins and losses. Here’s how each division would look if teams were stocked exclusively with homegrown players:

FAKE HEADER
AL Central wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 Cleveland Indians 70 62 .530
2 Detroit Tigers 66 67 .496 4.5 4.5
3 Chicago White Sox 64 68 .485 6 13.5
4 Kansas City Royals 64 69 .481 6.5 7.5
5 Minnesota Twins 60 73 .451 10.5 27.0
AL East wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 Boston Red Sox 79 54 .594 2.0
2 New York Yankees 67 65 .508 11.5 6.5
3 Tampa Bay Rays 66 66 .500 12.5 19.5
4 Toronto Blue Jays 64 69 .481 15
5 Baltimore Orioles 63 70 .474 16 4.0
AL West wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 Texas Rangers 76 58 .567
2 Seattle Mariners 74 59 .556 1.5 11.5
3 Los Angeles Angels 73 60 .549 2.5 20.5
4 Houston Astros 67 66 .504 8.5 8.5
5 Oakland Athletics 54 79 .406 21.5 22.5
NL Central wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 Chicago Cubs 77 55 .583
2 Cincinnati Reds 66 66 .500 11 30.5
3 St. Louis Cardinals 63 69 .477 14 15.5
4 Pittsburgh Pirates 63 68 .481 13.5 18.0
5 Milwaukee Brewers 59 74 .444 18.5 29.0
NL East wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 New York Mets 69 64 .519 9.5
2 Atlanta Braves 67 66 .504 2 27.5
3 Miami Marlins 66 67 .496 3 10.5
4 Philadelphia Phillies 64 69 .481 5 18.0
5 Washington Nationals 63 70 .474 6
NL West wins losses win % Games behind Actual GB
1 Colorado Rockies 67 66 .504 10.0
2 Los Angeles Dodgers 67 66 .504
3 Arizona Diamondbacks 66 67 .496 1 18.0
4 San Diego Padres 64 68 .485 2.5 19.0
5 San Francisco Giants 63 69 .477 3.5 2.0
2016 MLB standings, if teams kept their original talent

Based on 2016 WAR of players who were originally drafted/acquired by each franchise.

Source: The Baseball Gauge

Some of the division leaders — such as the Indians, Rangers and Cubs — would be the same regardless of the players each team relinquished. But in other divisions, the results would be very different. The AL East-leading Blue Jays would drop to fourth place, for instance, if they relied on their homegrown talent alone. The Colorado Rockies would overtake the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West, and the Washington Nationals would drop to last in the NL East. (The Daniel Murphy Effect is strong in that division.)

Aside from trolling one fanbase or another about bad breaks and missed opportunities, these hypotheticals can tell us something about a team’s acquisition strategy over the years. The Reds and Braves’ records, dismal in reality, could have been much better if they hadn’t dealt away talent as part of long-term rebuilding schemes. The Nationals and Blue Jays, meanwhile, have aggressively upgraded their rosters over the past few seasons and have near-certain playoff berths to show for it.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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