No team can afford to lose a star player for an extended period of time. After all, teams are generally identified with their best players, and fans from Boston to San Diego share the same desire to see their home team win games.
But when it comes to baseball's biggest prize, winning the World Series, some stars have a bigger effect than others. We spend a lot of time arguing about who baseball's best players are, but here's a more relevant question: Who are baseball's most indispensable ones?
Being indispensable in the context of a team winning the World Series has a lot more to do with just the quality of a player. Some teams have better depth and are better able to handle the loss of a big-name player than others. And let's be honest: Some teams have a much less chance at playing in October even with their stars. Here on Opening Day, we all repeat the cliche that all teams begin the season with the same record, but few people really believe the Philadelphia Phillies or Colorado Rockies are just as likely to win the World Series as the Washington Nationals or Los Angeles Dodgers.
To answer this question about indispensability, I turned to the ZiPS seasonal projection system. To come up with estimated team win totals, ZiPS simulates a million seasons, and in order to more accurately portray the things that can happen over the course of 2,430 games, ZiPS will vary the playing time of players in a manner to reflect missing time. For each of baseball's best players, I instructed ZiPS to assume that the player would miss all 162 games, essentially simulating the loss of a player headed for Tommy John surgery. I then looked at the change in World Series odds as a result.
And with that, here are the 20 players ZiPS found to be the most valuable to their respective teams:
1. Clayton Kershaw, SP
Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 WAR: 7.5
Admit it, you expected to see Mike Trout here, didn't you? Kershaw would not have ranked No. 1 had it not been for the Padres adding a couple of projected wins Sunday by trading for closer Craig Kimbrel. This move made the Dodgers' odds of winning the NL West slightly more precarious than it was before the deal, as while they're still projected to win the division title, the margin for error is a bit smaller.