MVP’s Go To WAR
“Wins Above Replacement” (WAR) has been discussed in this space on multiple occasions and the complete definition & calculation formulas can be found at baseball-reference.com as well as fangraphs.com. In essence, it is an attempt by baseball analysts to come up with a player’s overall contribution to their team in one statistic. The key question is, “if this player got injured and was replaced by an available minor-leaguer or AAAA bench player, how much value would the team be losing?” The answer is shown as the number of wins a player is worth to his team over the course of a season. If you’re an “old school” fan, this type of stat might not be your cup of tea but over the years it has become much more mainstream and is certainly taken into consideration by writers who vote on post-season awards.
With that background, let’s look at the real MVP’s of each major league team for 2015.
> Blue Jays – Josh Donaldson’s WAR rating of 8.8 is league MVP caliber…Kevin Pillar & Jose Bautista were both at 5+, the former for his defense and the latter for his offense.
> Yankees – For the second consecutive year, this highly compensated squad didn’t have a player with a WAR of 4 or better…Mark Teixeira at 3.9 and Dellin Betances at 3.7 led the way .
> Orioles – Manny Machado’s mark of 7.0 made him one of the best players in baseball…Chris Davis chipped in with 5.2.
> Rays – Modern defensive metrics indicate that Kevin Kiermaier was the best defensive player in the game and his WAR of 7.3 makes him the best player you’ve never heard of.
> Red Sox – The beantowners are re-building again but Mookie Betts (6.0) & Xander Bogaerts (4.6) give them a young foundation.
> Royals – Lorenzo Cain is a five-category Fantasy player and a real-world force on offense & defense…his WAR of 7.2 puts him in elite company.
> Twins – This team’s playoff run is even more amazing when you realize that their best WAR player (at 3.2) was SP Kyle Gibson, whose record was 11-11.
> Indians – Think about this when considering young stars in the making – Francisco Lindor & Jason Kipnis tied with a WAR rating of 4.6…Lindor only played 99 games in his rookie season at age 21.
> White Sox – Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana & Jose Abreu all produced WAR numbers just under 4.
> Tigers – Ian Kinsler ended up at 6.0 while Miguel Cabrera added 5.2 in only 119 games.
> Rangers – Adrian Beltre overcame a slow first half to post a 5.8 WAR at age 36.
> Astros – Dallas Keuchel will get bunches of Cy Young votes and his 7.2 number tells you why.
> Angels – No surprise here, as Mike Trout continues to put up unheard-of numbers….his 9.4 WAR was higher than Donaldson, higher than his MVP season in 2014, and his four-year total of 37 comes at age 24.
> Mariners – The 5.2 rating for Nelson Cruz was the best on this under-performing squad…Robinson Cano was 4th at 3.4 but he only made $24 Million.
> Athletics – Sonny Gray’s great season on the mound yielded a 5.8 WAR and will put him near the top in the Cy Young balloting.
> Mets – Curtis Granderson at 5.1 was the best position player while Jacob deGrom’s 5.0 led the hurlers.
> Nationals – A most disappointing season for this team, but you can’t blame Bryce Harper and his league-leading 9.9 WAR which should net him the NL MVP award. Max Scherzer won’t match up with the top three in Cy Young votes, but his 7.6 WAR was outstanding.
> Marlins – 20 games under .500 wasn’t what they had in mind and no player exceeded a WAR of 5…Dee Gordon was closest at 4.9.
> Braves – Working toward 2017 with an eye on their new stadium, the only player at 4.0 was Andrelton Simmons and that was mostly generated through defense.
> Phillies – A sorry lot in a re-building mode, rookie CF Odubel Herrera led the way with a rating of 3.8.
> Cardinals – A 100-win season for the Redbirds and Jason Heyward was the top contributor at 6.5.
> Pirates – 98 wins but only one post-season game, their best number went to Starling Marte at 5.4…last year’s NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen was close behind at 4.9.
> Cubs – Nothing but excitement from this young roster and Jake Arrieta’s stunning season equaled a 9.0…the offense was led by Anthony Rizzo’s 6.2 & Kris Bryant’s 5.9.
> Brewers – The fact that Ryan Braun at 3.8 WAR was their best player tells you everything you need to know about this team’s 94-loss campaign.
> Reds – 98 defeats with a big payroll isn’t the formula…even Joey Votto’s outstanding 7.6 WAR season couldn’t help..
> Dodgers – Mattingly took the fall, but beyond Zack Greinke’s 9.9 and Clayton Kershaw’s 7.5, they really weren’t very good.
> Giants – A little off-season tweaking could put them back in the mix because they have a nucleus of Buster Posey (6.1), Madison Bumgarner (5.9) & Brandon Crawford (5.6)…even rookie Matt Duffy added 4.9.
> Diamondbacks – They have one of the best players in the game with Paul Goldschmidt and his 8.8 WAR and keep an eye on A.J. Pollock with his 7.4 rating, which was better than many established stars.
> Padres – All the pre-season hype went up in smoke and their best player (Justin Upton, 4.4 WAR) is a free agent.
> Rockies – Nolan Arenado (5.8 WAR) is a star in the making but until they develop some home-grown pitching, the cellar is where they’ll be found.
Overall, the five best position players were…
1) Bryce Harper 9.9
2) Mike Trout 9.4
T3) Josh Donaldson 8.8
T3) Paul Goldschmidt 8.8
5) Joey Votto 7.6
And the top five Pitchers…
1) Zack Greinke 9.9
2) Jake Arrieta 8.8
3) Clayton Kershaw 7.6
4) Max Scherzer 7.5
5) Dallas Keuchel 7.2
As the developers of this gauge point out, you shouldn’t get too bogged down in decimal points. Over the course of a season, one player with a 6.4 WAR and another player with a 6.1 WAR cannot really be distinguished from each other. However, a 6.4 WAR player and a 4.1 WAR player are significantly different when calculating their value to a team in any given season. If you had no other information available and had been in solitary confinement since March, your MVP ballot with Trout or Donaldson in the AL and Harper in the NL along with a Cy Young ballot listing Keuchel in the AL and Greinke in the NL certainly wouldn’t put your BWAA membership card in jeopardy.