Last week we discussed how Advanced Analytics was likely to shape the post-season awards (Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, etc.) and we focused on the American League. Now as we enter the All-Star Break, let’s look at how things in the National League are shaping up.
The cornerstone of Advanced Analytics (or “Sabermetrics”, from the Society of American Baseball Research) is “WAR”, or Wins Above Replacement Player, i.e. how much better is the player in question than a generic “replacement”? Bill James, the Godfather of the movement, who today exerts tremendous influence in the game’s Front Offices, coined the original term as “VORP”, or Value Over Replacement Player, but today he would agree that “WAR” is the better acronym.
The best explanation of WAR you can find on-line is to no one’s surprise, on baseball-reference.com, the indispensible web-site for fans and students of the game. There is overall WAR, WAR for batters, WAR for pitchers, WAR for defenders. In general, a WAR of 8.0+ signifies a player worthy of the Most Valuable Player (or Cy Young) Award. Anything 5.0+ is All-Star quality, 2-5 is a starter, 0-2 a bench player, and 0 is the replacement level. Their system has been developed by Sean Smith of BaseballProjection.com
WAR can only be appreciated in the fullness of time, that is, it takes a season to fully calculate the value. Thus we see that as of the All-Star Break, the leaders in the National League are left-handed pitcher Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers and outfielder Carlos Gomez of the Milwaukee Brewers, both at 5.6, and both, of course, All-Stars.
Rounding out the top five pitchers are Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals, Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies, Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, and Jhoulys Chacin of the Colorado Rockies. That may in fact project as the top five in the Cy Young Award voting in the post-season, with Kershaw as the odds-on favorite at present.
For position players, it’s Gomez on top, with David Wright of the New York Mets, Lawrence McCutchen of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Carlos Gonzalez of the Colorado Rockies filling in the top five. Gomez is second in Defensive WAR and is not in the Top Ten for offense, and that may enter into the voters’ minds as power and run production still are highly valued in MVPs.