Monday, September 13, 2010

WAR, what is it good for?

Inspired by this post by the always awesome Joe Posnanski over on his blog (which should be required reading every day), I thought I'd have a little bit of fun with WAR - Wins Above Replacement - a stat that old fogies hate and new stat nerds love.  I sit in the middle somewhere, but am far closer to the nerd side

It's a pretty complicated formula I won't get into here, but it basically puts a number to "how many more games would you win with this guy in your lineup than the dork on the end of the bench or that career minor leaguer in AAA."  Pretty simple in concept, if not execution.  Evan Longoria leads the American League with a 6.7 number, meaning the Rays, currently 86-56, would be approximately 79-63 without him and with someone like Alexi Casilla in there instead, and would be in a dead heat with Chicago and Boston for the Wild Card and no where near the AL East crown.  Sounds about right.

So with that in mind, I took a look at some Twins, past and present, to see if I could uncover anything interesting.  You be the judge.

-  The first thing I notice about the current squad is that Denard Span has a WAR of 0.0.  That means he his the very definition of a replacement level center fielder.  At first it seems hard to believe, but he's a mediocre defensive player, a terrible base-runner, and his biggest strength as a batter - his plate patience and ability to draw a walk - has deserted him the second half of the season as pitchers realize he's not all that dangerous if you give him a strike.  His numbers are down across the board - batting average by 47 points, his OBP by 59, and his slugging by 66 - and his OPS+, a healthy 114 last year which was #2 amongst American League Outfielders, has plummeted to 87, 11th among AL center fielders, trailing the great Mitch Maier.  Jesus, I was so focused on his terrible baserunning I didn't even realize what a god awful all-around year he is having.  Maybe that contract they just signed him too wasn't such a bargain after all.  Also, I'm burning my Span T-shirt tonight.

-  Pitching-wise, Carl Pavano and Francisco Liriano are virtually tied at 4.6 and 4.7, which jibes with all the "who is the true ace?"  talk.  HINT:  It's Liriano.  In any case, this makes them the third and fourth most valuable Twins behind Morneau and Mauer at 5.4 and 5.3.  Yes, even though he's been out since July, Justin Morneau is still the most valuable Twin (and yes, WAR takes playing time into account).  Brian Duensing (3.3) and Jim Thome (3.2) round out the top six, followed by Danny Valencia (2.5) and Orlando Hudson (2.4) as the only Twins above 2.  Remember, position matters, which is why Hudson ranks better than Kubel and Delmon despite their better raw numbers.  Valencia is just a stud all the way around.

-  No shocker here, but Michael Cuddyer has to be one of the most disappointing players, ranking at a -0.1.  As an outfielder when he has a good year he's a valuable player (2ish WAR), but as a first baseman where the big hitters play, and when he's having a down year like this year, he's pretty much a liability.  It doesn't help that he's an absolutely terrible fielding first baseman, both in things quantifiable (-18 runs allowed worse this year than average) and not quantifiable (when is the last time he actually scooped a throw in the dirt?  June?)

- The all-time career Twins leader in WAR is Rod Carew, at 62.7, followed by Harmon Killebrew at 61.4.  Obviously Carew jumps ahead since he was a 2b, but that sounds pretty accurate to me.  Excluding guys who were Senators, the rest of the top five is Kirby Puckett, Tony Oliva, and.....Joe Mauer.  No joke, he's already top five in all-time WAR for Twins.  Such is the advantage of having such an outstanding offensive player at position that traditionally doesn't produce great offensive numbers.  The fact that he's a pretty damn good defensive catcher just hammers home how valuable he really is.  I like to rip on him because I hate media adoration no matter where or how it happens, but the guy is seriously amazing, and we're all lucky to watch him play.  Now if you'll excuse me, I need to go put in a new tampon and watch Vampire Diaries.

-  Shane Mack (career 18.5) was more valuable than Torii Hunter (16.9).  Ok.

-  The best season recent season was The Situation on Jersey Shore Season 1 with a 35.5, the second best mark of all-time, just ahead of Dwight Schrute Season 2 (34.4) but still behind Barney Stinson Season 3 (40.7).

-  The top pitchers in Twins history are Bert Blyleven (45.7), Brad Radke (41.4), Johan Santana (32.1), Camilo Pascual (30.5) and Jim Kaat (26.7).  But that's only if you don't count Walter Johnson on the Senators, who racked up a WAR of 127.7.

-  Speaking of the Big Train, he also has 8 of the top 10 single season by a Twin/Senator pitcher, including the top four and 8 of the top 9.  The only two guys who sneak into top 10 are Bert Blyleven in 1973 and Frank Viola in 1987.  Despite that, Johan does have more top 20s than anybody other than Walter, finishing 11th in 2004, 15th in 2006, and 19th in 2005. 

-  Amongst pitchers with at least 25 starts in a season, the worst WARs belong to Joe Mays in 2005, Jim DeShaies in 1994 and Carlos Silva in 2006.  Sounds about right.  And, funny, those guys were all way worse than Nick Blackburn this year.  I know that seems hard to believe.

-  Hitting wise, best Twins seasons belong to Rod Carew 1977, Chuck Knoblauch 1996, Joe Mauer 2008, Rod Carew 1975, and Joe Mauer 2009.  You know, the Twins really have a nice history of players at non-historically offensive positions having good/great offensive seasons.  Besides those five above, the next five have a shortstop (Zoilo Versalles 1965), a center fielder (Kirby Puckett 1988), and a second baseman (Carew 1976).  So 8 of the top 10 WAR seasons in Twins' history have come from "defensive" positions.  Then in the next 10, you get six more from either C, 2b, or CF.  Looks like the Twins have historically always gotten a large chunk of offense from these types of positions.  Or their traditional power positions suck, outside of Killebrew.  I know my opinion.

-  Kent Hrbek was pretty good though.  He never hit any amazing highs (his best season was 1984, at a WAR of 5.4 which ranks 31st in Twins history), but he also never had a full season (470+ PAs) where his WAR was less than 1.4.  That is the value of getting out early in order to spend your days fishing and drinking beer.

-  Finally, Gary Gaetti posted numbers of 2.7, 2.9, 2.1, 5.3, 2.4, and 4.2 from 1983-1988, an average of 3.0 per year.  Pretty good.  That ranks him as the 18th best 3b since 1980 during that portion of his career (years 3-8), ranked right with Edgar Martinez and Paul Molitor (and Corey Koskie!!).  Then, starting in 1989, he posted 1.1, 1.7, 1.4, -0.8, and -0.3.  Yes, at one point there he was actually worse than a journeyman AAA player.  What possibly could have happened to Gaetti between 1988 and 1989?  Yes, you guessed it.  He became a crazy religious zealot.

So the question is, did Jesus turn Gary Gaetti from the next Paul Molitor to the next Ed Sprague?  Yes, I think he did.  He's a madman who rode Dinosaurs, became an undead zombie, turned some poor broad into a table condiment, and would stone you to death for eating delicious prawns, so yes, I think it's entirely possible he'd be up for ruining a hard-nosed, hard-partying corner infielder's career.  I mean, look at this loon:

G-Man never had a chance.

By the way, if you put "Gary Gaetti Jesus" into google image search, somehow the seventh image that pops up is the picture of Baby BenTM flipping you people off.  I don't know how that shit works, but I love that one.


Black Snake said...

Are you burning the span t-shirts because A) Span sucks or B) the seams are busting on the XL? My guess is B. Mix in a salad fatman!

snacks said...

I must be some kind of WAR savant. I didn't need some fancy formula to tell me that Span and Cuddyer are the two most disappointing Twins position players - which I have been preaching all year.

rghrbek said...

I can handle Sperm's contract, for at least this year. It's Cruddy's that I cannot get over. Brutal.

WAR is obviously flawed, as the greatest athlete in the history of sports, only gets as hi as 31st on the Twins list? Clearly WAR is biased against fat people.

WWWWwwww's WAR for this blog is -127, which goes to show you there is no love for fat people using WAR.