“War, huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
Edwin Starr pushed “War” to number one in 1970 and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band covered it and brought it to number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1986.
Edwin Starr actually covered the Vietnam War protest song which originally belonged to The Temptations, but enough about the song, let’s talk about WAR…Wins Above Replacement.
There’s no simple way to explain WAR and each baseball statistical website has their own variation on the formula. This is the simple definition Baseball Reference gives: a single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player would add.
So for example: Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels is worth 10.7 more wins for his team than the average baseball player. Baseball Reference says a WAR of 8 is the number of an MVP (Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers had a WAR of 6.9 in 2012).
Baseball Reference has their WAR numbers reflected on what level that player should be: 8+ MVP, 5+ All-Star, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Substitute and less than 0 is replacement level.
Keep in mind two things before we move on: WAR factors in defensive skills (this is a major reason why Trout has almost a 4 point better WAR than Cabrera) and there is a different WAR formula for pitchers.
For analyzing the Twins, I used Baseball Reference. You can check out their new formula compared to other sites here.
Last Year’s WAR Leaders
2012 resulted in a record of 66-96 which wasn’t that much different from 2011. So logic tells us that there shouldn’t be many players with a positive rating, but the Twins ended up with 15 position players having a WAR better than 0.
On the other hand, the Twins only had seven players with a WAR over 1. The order of the list I found a little surprising:
- Denard Span – 4.8
- Joe Mauer – 4.1
- Jamey Carroll – 3.2
- Josh Willingham – 2.9
- Ben Revere – 2.4
- Alexi Casilla – 2.0
- Ryan Doumit – 1.0
The most surprising thing I found was that Alexi Casilla had a WAR of 2. For years good contingents of Twins fans have bashed Alexi, but last season he turned in a season right on the line between a WAR based starter and reserve. With his move to the Baltimore Orioles, Ron Gardenhire won’t have to worry about walking that line.
I’d also like to point out that Jamey Carroll had a WAR of 3.2 which is the best of his career. Carroll’s WAR of 3.2 just proves that he is a very valuable player. Carroll may end up being the utility man for the Twins this season as a WAR rated starter.
WAR does prove defense matters. The Twins MVP last year had to be Josh Willingham yet he ended up being fourth on the team in WAR while the defensively gifted Denard Span took the top spot and Ben Revere snuck into the fifth spot.
Spots 8-12 do belong to players who look to be in the starting lineup on Opening Day, April 1 against Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers at Target Field.
- Justin Morneau – 0.9
- Trevor Plouffe – 0.9
- Pedro Florimon – 0.8
- Darin Mastroianni – 0.8
- Brian Dozier – 0.5
Last Year’s WAR Basement Dwellers
As nice as it is to see how well your top guys are doing on the WAR scale, it’s even more fun to see who your favorite team ran onto the field that was worse than the average Joe Baseball.
The Twins ended 2012 with six players being worse than replacement:
- Sean Burroughs - -0.2
- Chris Hermann - -0.3
- Erik Komatsu - -0.3
- Tsuyoshi Nishioka - -0.5
- Chris Parmelee - -0.6
- Danny Valencia - -0.9
Burroughs, Komatsu, Nishioka, and Valencia are all gone. Hermann will be back in the Twins minor league system since they have Joe Mauer, Ryan Doumit, and Drew Butera.
That only leaves Chris Parmelee. Parmelee is projected to be the Twins starting right fielder which is a little concerning when looking at least season’s WAR, that being said many are projecting a big year for Parmelee.
2013 will be Chris Parmelee’s first full season at the MLB level, he was the Twins Opening Day first baseman in 2012 but was soon replaced by Justin Morneau who was ready to take the field after opening as the DH.
Numbers are nice, but they do need to have some context behind them.
On Baseball Reference they add up the team’s batting WAR. This is not exactly perfect since it does add in pitchers who had plate appearances. Most of the times pitchers have a batting WAR of 0, but for example the Twins have an extra 0.1 because of two good plate appearances by Liam Hendricks.
First, here are the team WARs for the American League’s playoff teams in 2012.
- New York Yankees – 27.2
- Oakland A’s – 19.4
- Texas Rangers – 18.6
- Detroit Tigers – 13.7
- Baltimore Orioles – 11.4
- Minnesota Twins – 22.1
What does it all mean?
It means statistically that the Twins position players are pretty good. According to Baseball Reference’s formula the Twins were third best in the American League behind the Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels who had a combined WAR of 37.9.
Although improvements can always be made, it means the Twins are pretty much set on position players. It’s a good squad whose numbers should go up with a fully healthy Justin Morneau and a seemingly truly ready Chris Parmalee.
It means that the Twins would probably be a playoff team or at least in the hunt if they had a good pitching staff. The offense is there, it’s all a matter if the pitching is.
Sure, the Twins traded away two of the team’s top WAR guys, but they don’t have anyone that should hurt them in the WAR department either.
So what is WAR good for?
At least for the Twins it illustrates how bad their pitching was and how desperately they need a good staff to have any hope of success.