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The War on WAR

Posted by jwiederin , 15 February 2017 · 869 views

This will be my first post and hopefully one of many. Most of my work will be from the sabermetrics/analytical angle as I spend too much time on sites like FanGraphs and Baseball Reference.

Today, February 15th, an article was posted on FanGraphs about WAR (wins above replacement) and relating it to the "stars and scrubs" model in forming a baseball team. The article written by Travis Sawchik (http://www.fangraphs...tars-and-scrubs) uses the White Sox as the example from the 2016 season with Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana being the "stars". Stars, in the context of WAR. WAR is as simple as how many wins the team would have gained or lost if that player were to be replaced by a "replacement level player".

To put it in Twins terms, in 2016, Brian Dozier had a WAR of 5.9. So, if a replacement level player had replaced him, the Twins would have somehow managed to lose almost 6 more games. On the flip side, Eduardo Escobar had a WAR on -.6. In theory, if a "replacement level player" had replaced Eduardo, the Twins would have won .6 more games. The stat is calculated by position player (offense and defense) and pitchers. Each is formulated differently but in this case I am writing for just a total war. Make sense? I'll put the actual formula that FanGraphs uses to calculate WAR at the end of the post. Baseball reference explains the concept well here.


For reference, here is a list of total WAR produced by players from last season. No surprise that Mike Trout leads the list at 10.55.

Travis writes that those three players had a WAR of 16 combined which is relatively high for three players. If you were counting on three players to come up with 16 wins, I would consider this to be a sort of "stars and scrubs model". The problem this creates is that those three players consisted of just over 50% of the teams total WAR. The chart below from FanGraphs shows the 6 division winners from last season.

Talent Distribution of 2016 Division Winners

Team --- Top Three WAR players -------- Total WAR ------ Top Three % of team WAR
Cubs = 18.3 = 59.1 = 30.9
Dodgers = 19.6 = 47.8 = 41.0
Nationals = 15.8 = 46.6 = 33.9
Red Sox = 18.2 = 52.5 = 34.6
Indians = 16.2 = 46.2 = 35.1
Rangers = 12.4 = 28.6 = 43.3
from FanGraphs

You see a more balanced attack from a WAR standpoint except for maybe the exception of the Rangers who have a lower WAR than most but we all remember what happened to them in the playoffs...

Now lets move our focus to the Twins. Would you be surprised if I told you the Twins had the Third worst pitching WAR in the league last season? I didn't think so. Fortunately, Dozier was able to bump up the total WAR. He lead the team at 5.9, the next 5 look like this,

Player WAR
Ervin Santana = 3.5
Byron Buxton = 1.7
Eduardo Nunez = 1.7
Rick Nolasco (its true) = 1.5
Miguel Sano =1.3

Many other players float around the 0 to 1 mark and 0 to -1. To put it in simple terms. Arguably, it wasn't a good all around season for anyone except for Dozier and Big Erv. Those were also the only two on the list who played a full season. Robbie Grossman would have made the list if he weren't such a liability defensively.

Looking forward, FanGraphs has the Twins predicted in a similar spot with pitching again being a problem. Given the market size in terms of salary and how little moves the Twins made its tough to predict a different season from a WAR standpoint unless the young guns like Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Berrios etc. really step up. I, like many others reading this are hopeful that is the case. Even though its been said for years, these players potential is unmatched. Oh no, its my homer side coming out again.

Relating it back to the article by Travis, to be successful, a team needs depth and the "stars and scrubs" isn't efficient in most cases. Not only did the Cubs have their top 3 players represent only 30% of the team WAR but had their total position players WAR and pitching WAR were both in the top 5 of the league. Dozier and Ervin Santana represented 45% of the Twins total team WAR.

The Twins are in a position where its at the least possible. Stay hopeful fellow Twins fans as we gear up for another season.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for some other geeky stat or stats next time.

Here is some more information on the calculations of WAR from FanGraphs.

Calculating WAR, especially for position players, is simpler than you’d think. If you want the detailed version with the precise steps and formulas, head to our page on Position Player WAR or Pitcher WAR. The short answer, though, is as follows:
● Position players – To calculate WAR for position players you want to take their Batting Runs, Base Running Runs, and Fielding Runs above average and then add in a positional adjustment, a small adjustment for their league, and then add in replacement runs so that we are comparing their performance to replacement level rather than the average player. After that, you simply take that sum and divide it by the runs per win value of that season to find WAR. The simple equation looks something like this:
WAR = (Batting Runs + Base Running Runs +Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment +Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)
● Pitchers – While position player WAR is based on Batting Runs and Fielding Runs, pitching WAR uses FIP (with infield fly balls), adjusted for park, and scaled to how many innings the pitcher threw. FIP is translated into runs, converted to represent value above replacement level, and is then converted from runs to wins. This is a slightly more complicated process than for position players and there will be a new post detailing exactly how we do this in the next week or so (stay tuned!)

  • Carole Keller and hybridbear like this

Very cool info!