Over recent months I’ve had a resurgence with my interest in baseball. Similarly to how I was initially drawn to the sport, statistics and projections have drawn me back in. It’s incredible what metrics have been developed in the last decade and how these metrics have changed how many fans and professionals analyze baseball players. The statistic that I’ve seen the most in these last few years is WAR, aka Wins Above Replacement. I’m a huge fan of WAR, although I always go back and forth between whether I prefer Fangraphs’ or Baseball-Reference’s measurement. For this post we’re going to be looking at Fangraphs values.
What I did here was add the total WAR a team’s players accumulated throughout the 2015 season to the basis 47.7 wins. For those who don’t know, 47.7 is the number of wins that Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference decided a 0 WAR team would have. This should give us how many wins we would expect a team to have at the end of the season.
You can see for the most part this test worked pretty well with the playoff teams mainly at the top, and the worse teams in the league towards the bottom. As many of you know, there are a variety of reasons as to why the WAR totals don’t directly correlate to wins and in some cases have variances over 10 wins. For example if a team wins a game 12 to 1, all of the players who had big days with maybe 3-4 hits and 2 home runs will receive substantial increases to their value but their contributions still only go towards that one win. The next day when they lose 2-1 their players will still obviously look good value wise because of their previous big day but now they end up with a loss. Overall it has a lot to do with luck and streakiness of players.
The Big Losers:
The Houston Astros were -6.3 and had they performed closer to what their stats show, they could have easily beaten the Rangers for the division despite the Rangers over performing.
The Cleveland Indians were -9.9 which lead them to finishing with only 81 wins. In a middling AL Central, had the Indians been more consistent they could have given the Royals a serious run for their money. They also could have snagged a Wild Card spot without too much difficulty.
The San Francisco Giants were -5.3 and the Washington Nationals were -5.7. The reason I lump them together is because with the NL Centrals strong showing, even if all teams performed as expected they would be on the outside looking in with both the wild card spots, and their respective divisions. That being said, they both could have made it much more interesting and with some more favorable luck could have slid in the postseason. Maybe next year the Giants will make it back as it’s an even year, or maybe Bryce Harper can finally get the ring he thought he deserved.
The final big loser is the Cincinnati Reds who wound up -10.8. Despite having the largest differential from expected wins, even with those wins they would have been far out from the playoff picture.
The Big Winners:
The Pittsburgh Pirates finished +6.8 and the St. Louis Cardinals finished +8.8. That reflects what many of you already know which is that the NL Central wildly over performed and in fact the Cubs were the best team in that division. Using WAR both teams were at 91.2 which is still pretty darn good and I don’t mean to take away from their tremendous seasons. They just weren’t the best teams on the field despite posing the best records. But as it is with sports, anything can happen and the Cardinals and Pirates both displayed that for us.
The Kansas City Royals were +9. Yup, so even a team greatly beating out statistical expectations can win out in the end. The Royals weren’t in the top 10 in WAR, but they won ballgames in the regular season and continued to through their World Series victory. They’re a good, balanced, and timely team. Their division isn’t the strongest so there’s a good chance we see a lot of them in coming postseasons.
The Texas Rangers finished +8.1 and their division counterpart LA Angels finished +7.8. The Astros would have had a much easier time into the postseason if it weren’t for the Rangers and Angels playing above themselves. Both teams have major holes that need to be filled if they intend on making it so they don’t have to over perform to make it to October in coming years. Mike Trout can’t do everything (even though sometimes even I believe he can).
The final big winner is the Minnesota Twins who went +10.1 and deceived the baseball world into thinking they were a serious playoff threat. They were far from what was advertised. That may not be the case for long however, as they have young players along the way who could begin to make serious big league impact as soon as next season.
You can never predict when the offense will pile on, or when it will turn off completely. Teams will always over and underperform, however it’s clear that the best teams were all expected to be at least fairly good. Out of the 7 90+ win teams, 6 of them are in the top 7 for Wins+WAR. Teams paying for high WAR players are certainly trying to head in the right direction, but every game still has to be played.