“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 2017.
> Red Sox – Mookie Betts’ WAR rating of 6.4 isn’t quite up to 2016’s performance but still leads the AL Champs…Cy young contender Chris Sale leads the hurlers at 6.0
> Yankees – Two emerging young stars bode well for the Bombers future…Aaron Judge (age 25) had a MVP caliber season at 8.1 while Luis Severino (age 23) led the rotation at 5.4
> Rays – Only two games under .500, they got good performances from numerous players like Steven Souza, Logan Morrison & Evan Longoria but the one worth his weight in Gold (Glove) was Kevin Kiermaier with a 5.1 rating.
> Blue Jays – A disappointing year north of the border but Marcus Stroman pitched his way to a 6.0 WAR…Josh Donaldson led the offense with 4.8.
> Orioles – Cellar dwellers with lots of offense and dismal pitching…breakout star Jonathan Scoop led the way with 5.1.
> Indians – Corey Kluber’s 18 Wins and 2.25 ERA puts him in the hunt for the Cy Young Award with a 8.0 WAR…multi-talented Jose Ramirez added 6.8 Wins to the Tribe’s success.
> Twins – This year’s amazing turnaround with 85 Wins…Byron Buxton finally lived up to the hype with a 5.1 rating while Ervin Santana’s 16 Wins were worth 4.9.
> Royals – The last gasp of their core included a strong 5.3 WAR season from CF Lorenzo Cain.
> White Sox – They’re in full rebuild mode but Jose Abreu’s stability and consistency is a model for their young players…his 4.7 WAR was fueled by 33 HR’s, 102 RBI’s and a .304 BA.
> Tigers – This will be tough to watch in ’18, as their two best players were Justin Upton (5.2) and Justin Verlander (4.5)…both were traded in August.
> Astros – A great combination of youth and experience, they won 101 games…likely MVP winner Jose Altuve had a spectacular season that generated a rating of 8.4.
> Angels – Hung around in the Wild Card race despite a patchwork pitching staff because they have the best player in baseball…Mike Trout produced a 6.1 WAR in only 114 games. They also had the most under-rated player in the AL in SS Andrelton Simmons…his 7.1 WAR was based on 14 HR’s, 69 RBI’s, 19 SB’s and amazing defensive skills in the middle of the diamond.
> Rangers – A disappointing season at six games under .500, their top contributor was Elvis Andrus at 4.8.
> Mariners – Also six games under .500 as their pitchers couldn’t stay healthy, they did get a 4.1 WAR from Nelson Cruz due to his 39 HR’s & 119 RBI’s.
> Athletics – When your best player is Jed Lowrie (3.9), the season won’t be a success. In ’18, watch for Matt Chapman (3.6 in only 84 games) and Matt Olson (2.8 in only 59 games).
> Nationals – Max Scherzer leads an impressive pitching staff with a Cy Young Award caliber 7.5 rating, but both Stephen Strasburg (6.4) and Gio Gonzalez (6.5) have been stellar…the best position player is Anthony Rendon at 5.9.
> Marlins – Despite a losing season, Giancarlo Stanton will get some MVP consideration with his 59 HR’s & 7.6 WAR.
> Braves – Another franchise set on rebuilding, they still count on their cornerstone player in Freddie Freeman who produced a 4.5 WAR in only 117 games.
> Mets – That vaunted starting rotation fell apart other than Jacob deGrom and his 5.0 WAR.
> Phillies – Speaking of rebuilding, this team was 30 games under .500. Their best player was Aaron Nola with 12 Wins, a 3.54 ERA and a 4.3 WAR.
> Cubs – Most observers thought Kris Bryant didn’t have a great year, but he hit 2nd in the line-up and didn’t have Dexter Fowler batting leadoff. If you look closely at the numbers, what you find is a .295 BA, .409 OBP, .946 OPS & 29 HR’s. It all factors in to the team-leading 6.1 WAR
> Brewers – They had 86 Wins and were in the Wild Card race down to the last weekend of the season. The best news is that there’s talent all through the roster with six players contributing at last a 3.0 WAR…Travis Shaw was #1 at 4.0.
> Cardinals – A disappointing season from the Redbirds even though they won 83 games…their best player was a 29 year-old in his first full major league season and Tommy Pham produced a 6.3 WAR.
> Pirates – Starling Marte’s suspension for PED’s was the beginning of the end for the Bucs in ’17…Utility man Josh Harrison was their top contributor at 3.3.
> Reds – Another last-place finish doesn’t bode well for the future even though Joey Votto may have been the best hitter in the game with a .320 BA, .454 OBP, 1.032 OPS, 36 HR’s, 100 RBI’s and a 7.5 WAR.
> Dodgers – The most victories in baseball led by 3B Justin Turner (5.7) and SS Corey Seager (5.6)…Clayton Kershaw’s 18-4 record added another 5.0 WAR.
> Diamondbacks – New leadership in the front office and in the dugout made a huge difference in this team’s ascension to the playoffs with 93 Wins…the difference makers on the field were Zack Grienke (6.4) & Paul Goldschmidt (5.8).
> Rockies – Another surprise team in the playoffs, they were led by Nolan Arenado (7.2) & Charlie Blackmon (6.0)
> Padres – Difficult to have hope when no player on the team even had a WAR rating of 3. The best upside for ’18 may belong to Manny Margot, who produced a 2.5 rating in his rookie year.
> Giants – Sometimes, it all goes wrong…Buster Posey’s 4.0 was the best they could muster and where are the young players? This storied franchise may be busy in the free agent market.
Overall, the five best position players were…
1) Jose Altuve 8.4
2) Aaron Judge 8.1
3) Giancarlo Stanton 7.6
4) Joey Votto 7.5
5) Nolan Arenado 7.2
And the top five Pitchers…
1) Corey Kluber 8.0
2) Max Scherzer 7.5
3) Gio Gonzalez 6.5
4) Stephen Strasburg 6.4
5) Justin Verlander 6.4
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 Altuve or Judge in the AL and Stanton or Arenado in the NL along with a Cy Young ballot listing Kluber in the AL and Scherzer in the NL certainly wouldn’t put your BWAA membership card in jeopardy.