WAR Games: Should they stay or should they go?


When most people think of the word “war”, they think of either of the World Wars, violence, disputes over land or even over other people.  However, what does WAR mean to a baseball fan? WAR is the acronym Wins Above Replacement, and to a fan it means tracking your favorite players on your favorite team in a unique way that creates a tangible number to represent the success, or failures, of those players throughout the season.  As you would imagine, the higher the number, the better the player.  The term “replacement” in WAR’s case represents a fictional, average Triple-A ball-player who is set to replace a major league player, presumably because of injury or other baseball inactivity.  The final number a player receives as their WAR ranking is how many wins their respected team would have with their starting, everyday player versus an average Triple-A replacement player.

Because of this term, teams are putting more emphasis on a players WAR ranking.  GMs and managers should now be considering this stat for who to pick up via free agency, acquire through a trade, or even get rid of altogether if a player is performing below expectations, *cough* Nick Blackburn.

Now think about the Minnesota Twins, they are an under-achieving team with more questions than answers as well as the dreaded “rebuilding” term floating around going into next season.  A fan would look at this year and imagine the Twins would have one of, if not the worst WAR ranking in all of baseball, which is true but for only one aspect of their team. WAR computes hitters/fielders separately from pitchers and their endeavors on the field.  Either way, fielders or pitchers, a player’s WAR number gives them a word status ranging from “scrub” to MVP caliber players.  The general consensus for grouping players and their WAR rankings in 2010, according to FanGraphs.com, was:

 

Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR
MVP 6+ WAR

 

Consider this, Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) is having a season for the ages. His WAR, as of September 20, 2012, is 9.2.  That is nearly a full two points higher than the second highest ranking, being shared by Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen in the National League respectively, and a full three points higher than triple crown hopeful Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers!  Despite Cabrera’s triple crown push and because of Trout’s potential playoff saving season for the Angels, Trout is the front-runner and almost a guarantee for MVP.

The Twins 2012 season may provoke adjectives such as; dismal, disappointing, and simply…gross.  But with every terrible season, there is always a silver-lining.  Even with a 90 loss season lurking in the near future, their have been a few perks for the “looking forward to next year” Twins.  They have their two franchise players, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, playing into September with little more than a few games here or there missed due to minor injuries; Josh Willingham has been nothing short of an absolute steal all season, producing at an extremely high, and if on a playoff bound team, a MVP caliber level; then of course the emergence of Trevor Plouffe as a much anticipated and needed every day third baseman.  With a team WAR ranking placing them 13th in all of baseball offensively, the Twins are considered to be a better hitting and fielding team than the two top dogs in the American League Central, Detroit (15th) and Chicago White Sox (22nd).  One would think the Twins would be a legitimate contender in the Central Division race, however, there is another aspect to a teams overall WAR ranking.

Twins pitching ranks dead last in WAR compared to all other teams in the majors.  In fact, their WAR is a humorous 5.1, meaning that if the entire Twins pitching staff was replaced by a troupe of average Triple-A pitchers, “The Replacements” would only lose five less games than the current players on staff!  Take into consideration that aside from Glen Perkins, Alex Burnett, Jared Burton and Brian Duensing, the rest of the current pitching staff all began the season in Triple-A and even lower.  Despite the revolving door from minors to the majors for these players, this number is still pathetic.

If the Twins expect to be contenders next year they are going to need to improve their pitching WAR number.  With some good quality starting pitching being bountiful via free agency, such as: Jake Peavy, (if the White Sox do not pick up his $22 million option) Zack Greinke, James Shields, Kyle Lohse, and Brandon McCarthy to name a few, even with the Pohlad pocket book locked in a chastity belt and his signing hand still recovering from the Joe Mauer contract, I’m sure there is enough room to lock up at least one of the starters for next year.  I mean, any pitcher should be better than Blackburn’s -0.8 he posted this season in, thankfully, limited duty.


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  • Jordan

    Very informative. Glad someone finally explained this for me.

    • http://twitter.com/longo44 Mike Longoria

      You’re welcome.

  • http://twitter.com/FBCrackerjacks Crackerjacks

    You did a good job with this one. I discovered this via Baseball-Reference, researching RBI opportunities comparing Trout and Miggy.

    My point is that it’s it’s important that writers such as yourself continue to explain advanced statistics clearly and practically. Thinking in baseball is a slow moving glacier but I know that statistics like WAR will make the game better for fans and owners alike. Just give it time.

    • http://twitter.com/longo44 Mike Longoria

      Thanks for the reassurance that I was making WAR understandable for everyone, not just baseball stat die-hards.
      Crackerjacks – excellent point. I really want the casual fan to understand how important these stats are to teams. Knowing the nuances of the game, or at least a couple of them, really puts more significance into enjoying a well played game.

  • Guest

    Thanks for the reassurance that I was making WAR understandable for everyone, not just baseball stat die-hards.
    Crackerjacks – excellent point. I really want the casual fan to understand how important these stats are to teams. Knowing the nuances of the game, or at least a couple of them, really puts more significance into enjoying a well played game.
    Jordan – You’re welcome.