“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 2016.
> Red Sox – Mookie Betts’ WAR rating of 9.6 is league MVP caliber…Dustin Pedroia, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Ortiz & Rick Porcello were all at 5+.
> Orioles – Manny Machado led the way with a 6.7 while All-Star Closer Zach Britton added 4.3.
> Blue Jays – Josh Donaldson followed up his MVP season with a strong 7.4 WAR and the best hurlers were J.A. Happ & Aaron Sanchez with 4.7 each. Interestingly, their two big-salary free agents (Encarnacion & Bautista) weren’t worth 5 Wins combined.
> Yankees – Good results for a transition year as they finished 6 games over .500. Their best player was Masahiro Tanaka at 5.4 WAR.
> Rays – A dismal season for the franchise, but CF Kevin Kiermaier was worth his weight in Gold (Glove) with a 5.5 rating.
> Indians – Corey Kluber’s 18 Wins and 215 IP’s equaled a huge season at 6.5…Francisco Lindor was the best position player at 5.7
> Tigers – Justin Verlander’s comeback seems complete with a 6.6 rating while Ian Kinsler produced one of his best campaigns with 6.1.
> Royals – WAR tells you why last year’s champs finished at .500…not one player added 5 Wins, Danny Duffy was best at 4.2.
> White Sox – Another disappointing season on the Southside, but Adam Eaton did his part by posting a number of 6.2…Pitchers Jose Quintana & Chris Sale were both right around 5.
> Twins – 2015 was “smoke & mirrors” as the Twinkies only won 59 games this year. Brian Dozier was far and away their best player with a WAR of 6.5.
> Rangers – Adrian Beltre produced a 6.5 WAR season at age 37…he’s now over 90 for his career and that’s Cooperstown territory.
> Mariners – 10 games over .500 wasn’t enough, but you can’t blame Robinson Cano…he had a 7.3 WAR number and Kyle Seager wasn’t far behind at 6.9.
> Astros – Think about the future with a middle infield of Jose Altuve (7.7) & Carlos Correa (6.0).
> Angels – A dismal year, but they still had the best player in baseball with Mike Trout…his 10.6 WAR was MLB’s top number.
> Athletics – Have won only 68 & 69 games the last two seasons and the WAR stat tells the tale…Kendall Graveman was their best player at 3.2.
> Nationals – Max Scherzer is one of the few high-dollar investments who has paid off, with a 6.3 WAR this season…the best position player was Daniel Murphy at 4.6.
> Mets – Noah Syndergaard had the burden of being the only “young gun” left and he delivered with a 6.0 WAR. For Met fans hoping Yoenis Cespedes doesn’t opt for free agency, his rating was only 2.9 which really isn’t worth $25 Million.
> Marlins – Suspensions, injuries and tragedy was the story of their season…Christian Yelich was the best contributor at 5.3.
> Phillies – Won 71 games and actually overachieved…Odubel Herrera is their best young player with a 4.3 WAR.
> Braves – Rebuilding around Freddie Freeman isn’t a bad idea…he added 6.5 Wins to a lousy team.
> Cubs – 100+ Wins equals many contributions…Kris Bryant was at the top of the list with 7.7 followed by Anthony Rizzo at 5.7
> Cardinals – A good season, but not good enough. Pitcher Carlos Martinez was the best player at 5.9…16 Wins and 195 IP shows how good he was.
> Pirates – A disappointing season from the Buccos…Starling Marte contributed 4.9 Wins and missed much of September. The most amazing stat is that former MVP Andrew McCutchen had a negative WAR number (-0.7) for 2016.
> Brewers – The fact that Ryan Braun at 4.4 WAR was their best player tells you everything you need to know about this team’s 89-loss campaign.
> Reds – A last-place finish doesn’t bode well for the future…even Joey Votto’s 4.0 WAR season wasn’t up to his usual standards.
> Dodgers – Won the West with the help of rookie SS Corey Seager, who had a 6.1 WAR season…Clayton Kershaw added 5.9 Wins despite missing about 1/3 of his potential starts.
> Giants – Two starting pitchers were the key to their success as Madison Bumgarner & Johnny Cueto had 5.9 & 5.3 numbers respectively. Buster Posey was his usual solid self with 4.7.
> Rockies – Not sure they’ll ever find the answer to winning with Coors Field haunting their Pitchers. 3B Nolan Arenado is All-Star caliber with a 6.5 WAR.
> Diamondbacks – An ugly campaign and now they get to hit the reset button with new leadership. Here’s some advice…hold onto Jean Segura (5.7) & Paul Goldschmidt (4.8).
> Padres – How bad would they have been if they hadn’t cheated? Their best player was Drew Pomeranz and he’s been traded.
Overall, the five best position players were…
1) Mike Trout 10.6
2) Mookie Betts 9.8
3) Kris Bryant 7.7
4) Jose Altuve 7.6
5) Josh Donaldson 7.4
And the top five Pitchers…
1) Justin Verlander 6.6
2) Corey Kluber 6.5
3) Max Scherzer 6.3
4) Noah Syndergaard 6.0
5) Madison Bumgarner 5.9
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 Betts in the AL and Bryant in the NL along with a Cy Young ballot listing Verlander or Kluber in the AL and Scherzer in the NL certainly wouldn’t put your BWAA membership card in jeopardy.