Sabermetric Summer: WAR and the Pittsburgh Pirates

By Troy Pfaff

I want to put together a series of posts taking a look at some sabermetric statistics (click the link for a brief history and the Wiki page for sabermetrics) and how the Pittsburgh Pirates players are performing in those statistical categories through two months of the 2012 season.

To open the series, I’ll start with what is probably the most basic and widely-used sabermetric: Wins Above Replacement, or WAR.

Different places (Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference) calculate WAR in different ways, but I’m going to stick with Fangraphs’ definition for this series, which is calculated in this way:

● Offensive players – Take wRAAUBR, and UZR (which express offensive, base running, and defensive value in runs above average) and add them together. Add in a positional adjustment, since some positions are tougher to play than others, and then convert the numbers so that they’re not based on league average, but on replacement level (which is the value a team would lose if they had to replace that player with a “replacement” player – a minor leaguer or someone from the waiver wire). Convert the run value to wins (10 runs = 1 win) and voila, finished!

● Pitchers – Where offensive WAR used wRAA and UZR, pitching WAR uses FIP. Based on how many innings a pitcher threw, FIP is turned into runs form, converted to represent value above replacement level, and is then converted from runs to wins.

If that’s confusing, WAR basically takes a player’s offensive (weighted Runs Above Average), base running (Ultimate Base Running) and defensive (Ultimate Zone Rating) values and combines them into one super-omega advanced statistic to determine a player’s overall value.

To provide a quick context of the statistic, a hitter or starting pitcher with a WAR rating above 6 is generally considered MVP caliber while your average starting player is worth about 2 WAR. A great season from a reliever generally results in a WAR above 1. In 2010, only 6% of MLB players had a WAR above 4.

Also, while not a standardized statistic, WAR is a neutralized statistic, meaning you don’t have to adjust anything to compare a catcher from the Colorado Rockies and their extreme hitter’s park against a third baseman who hits in San Diego’s wide open Petco Park for his home games.

Now,  taking a look at how the Pittsburgh Pirates stack up with their ratings, there should be absolutely zero surprise as to who the team’s leader in WAR is this season.

Center fielder Andrew McCutchen is currently the team’s best hitter, fielder and base runner all rolled into one MVP-worthy player. McCutchen’s 2.2 WAR rating right now is tops on the team and ranks him 15th among all major league hitters and 11th in the National League. It also puts him on pace to top the 6.0 WAR mark by a sizable amount.

That 2.2 rating is nearly four times better than Pittsburgh’s next highest WAR batter. Both Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez are worth 0.6 WAR to this point, while Josh Harrison (0.5), Michael McKenry (0.4) and Rod Barajas (0.2) are the only other hitters above 0.0.

Both Nate McLouth and Clint Barmes have been worth -0.6 WAR this year, meaning they’ve actually performed considerably worse than a minor leaguer would be expected to perform at their position. That’s the worst number on the team.

As for the pitching staff, James McDonald’s stellar season hasn’t been lost among this advanced metric. His 2.1 WAR means he’s been almost as valuable to the Pirates as McCutchen, and ranks him fourth among all major league pitchers.

Next for pitching WAR come off-season acquisitions Erik Bedard (1.0) and A.J. Burnett (0.8). Reliever Jason Grilli ranks fourth among Pirates pitchers in WAR at 0.5, which is awesome for a reliever at this point in the season.

Tony Watson (-0.1), Kevin Correia (-0.1) and Chris Resop (-0.3) are the only pitchers under the 0.0 mark.

Here’s the complete list of Pirates hitters and pitchers and their advanced metrics, including WAR ratings.

The next edition of Sabermetric Summer will take a look at the team’s BABIP numbers and how much progression/regression we can expect from everybody.

Note: All statistics up to and including May 28

Follow Troy on Twitter @TroyPfaff for more Pittsburgh Pirates content

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