FanPost

WAR: What is it good for? or Predicting Wins: A Pedestrian Analysis

Greetings fellow armchair analysts! If you've been looking at the AL Central standings lately, they aint pretty. 40% of the way into the season, we are 26-39 and not showing too many signs of eclipsing .500 ball, even though that would make us veritable juggernauts in the division. Take our winning percentage (.400 before tonight's loss to the Pirates), multiply it by 162 and arrive at 65 wins for the year. Technically, that's better than last year, but not enough to convince me to keep my MLB.TV subscription for the rest of the year.

I don't know about you, but lately I've been watching the Twins and rather than slamming my laptop shut in disgust after another pitcher is knocked out early, I find myself enjoying their play as they play as they make legitimate bids to win games.

So how many games will we win? Let us take a moment to practice the Art of WAR (last terrible pun, I promise).

Round One: Multiply WAR by 162, divide by 65

What if the Twins finished the year exactly like they played up until now, ceteris paribus?

First, I went to Fangraphs, got our team's WAR and extended it to a full season and scratched my head (rump) a little. Here is what they have for our roster (including the Clete Thomases, Danny Vs and Jason Marquises of the world):

Batters’ WAR

Pitchers WAR

Team WAR

After 65 Games

8.9

0.9*

9.8

Full season (*162/65)

22.2

2.2

24.4

*Holy balls, I knew our pitching was terrible, but wow...

Now, before making projections, let us have a little vignette about the nature of WAR:

While many wish that WAR was the ultimate statistic that measured player worth, conventional wisdom shows that it is a flawed metric. But hey, it's the best we have. According to Baseball Prospectus, a replacement-level team should win a bit over 50 games per season. Is this reasonable? Consider the 2010 Twins, who won 94 games, yet amassed 50.0 team WAR. According to BP, this puts the Twins at 100 wins. I would have remembered that. Here's a neat little article that sums up that 45.5 wins was the replacement-level number for 2010. If applied, the Twins would have been at 95.5 wins, which is pretty darn close for someone who's sitting in a chair in a wifebeater while eating some stir-fried vegetables. So I leave it to you: BP says replacement's around 50 wins, but it's been known to vary by a handful of games from season to season. I have no idea/ambition to do that for 2012, so let's just spitball it here...

Projected Wins (assume +45)

Projected Wins

(assume +50)

Actual Wins

After 65 Games

(Replacement-level*65/162 + Team WAR)

27.9

29.9

26

Full season

(Projected WAR + Replacement level)

69.4

74.4

???

Hmmm, that looks like a fairly reasonable projection. Sure, it's a little high, but hey, I need some sort of hope to cling to, the Twins have been playing better recently, and for all we know this year's WAR adjustment is unknown to me. But like I said, the Twins have been playing better ball (and cut ties with some crummy players) -- can't we take that into account?

Round two: taking into account that the Twins have made roster changes

This is where things get a little tricky. Some changes are easy to make (Marquis has totaled -0.7 WAR and will suck it up no longer), but how do you handle Plouffe or Revere, who are bound to see more playing time? How do you account for the fact that nobody knows what Liriano will do, Parmalee is back up despite atrocious numbers before the demotion or the fact that not a single person on the planet predicted what would have happened to our rotation? No idea, man. I've finished the stir fry, so let's crack open a beer and see what we can see.

If it interests you, here's a poorly-labeled excel document that shows my calculations and justifications (for pWAR). For those of you who have no interest in opening this (I wouldn't if I were you), I basically tweaked things so Clete Thomas and Darin Mastroianni have lost playing time to Revere and Danny V. is replaced by Plouffe and so on. Also noteworthy is that if Hendricks is the 5th starter over Manship - at current production - it would cost our pitching around half a win. It's not the most methodical work I've ever done (and I know my formulas should be better), but I'm tired and need to go to bed soon.

TL;DR I did NOT anticipate better or worse play from ANYONE, just adjusted playing time according to our current roster

Let us revisit the spitball:

Batters’ WAR

Pitchers WAR

Team WAR

Full season

(*162/65)

22.2

2.2

24.4

Full season

(incl. substitutions)

26.2

3.6

29.8

Improvements

+4.0

+1.4

+5.4

and

Projected Wins (assume +45)

Projected Wins

(assume +50)

Actual Wins

Full season

(Projected WAR + Replacement level)

69.4

74.4

???

Full season

(incl. substitutions)

74.8

79.8

???

Round three: armchair analysis

So there you have it, folks: all those changes would amount to around a 5-win swing. Now, if we were on pace to win 85 games, another 5 would be gravy. But considering our trajectory, it's more akin to a dead cat bounce. BUT if we are to trust both BP and my number-fudging, however, THERE IS A CHANCE WE COULD HIT 80 (79.8) WINS! Huzzah! That may just be enough to win the division assuming everyone else continues to stink it up!

Anecdotally: Holy crap, our pitching SUCKS! I have yet to see a quantitative analysis of our pitching this year that hasn't been thoroughly embarassing and our AAA pitchers are doing little to remedy, despite admirable effort. Our hitters have actually put respectable numbers, according to WAR. It's not exactly World Series-worthy, but it's certainly adequate. But man, oh man, our pitching is just as terrible as you already knew it was!

Interesting Facts (Assuming that players keep up their current production):

* (Sans my tweaks), No pitcher on our lamentable pitching staff will ascend above 2 WAR (considered by many to be the benchmark for "average") -- Scott Diamond would reach 2.4 wins only if he continues his torrid pace (he didn't against Pittsburgh, that's for sure) and pitches out the rest of the year at that pace.

* Josh Willingham will lead the team with 5.5 WAR (at a bargain for only $1.3 MM/WAR), yet can't even crack the top 15 in current All-Star Balloting

* "Lazy" Joe Mauer will only rack up 5.0 WAR this year. That's $4.6 MM/WAR, which is somewhere near the going rate for free agents, not that anyone who calls him overpaid cares.

* Fangraphs loves Jamey Carroll's grit-filled defense and has him on pace for 3.7 WAR, which is quite the deal considering the 1.5 WAR he's already put up has effectively been worth his entire contract.

* Denard Span is on pace for 4.2 WAR (a steal at $0.71 MM/WAR, but this is why you buy up arbitration when you know a young player's going to dominate)

* Ben Revere is on pace for 3.2 WAR but if he gets more playing time it could go as high as 4.8 WAR. CRAZY! (And considering he's making $493 K, you get the idea how valuable young talent is to any organization (As low as $0.1 MM/WAR if he keeps this up and gets more playing time)).

*Trevor Plouffe is on his way to 3.5 WAR/4.0 assuming full-time duties (making about as much as Revere)

* According to projections, 6 of our position players will be well above the threshold for "average"

* Alexi Casilla is (was) on pace for 1.7 WAR before losing time to Plouffe and Carroll

* Doumit and Morneau are both hovering just above zero *sigh*

*In his first 31 games, Chris Parmalee racked up -1.1 WAR. If he could play 150 games of such terrible baseball this season he would be over 5 wins worse than the AAA equivalent of himself -- this must be some sort of paradox. Too bad, I like the guy.

Okay, time for bed. Feel free to rip apart my admittedly non-rigorous methodology in the comments.

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