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Looking Back: 2010 WAR Projections Compared to Reality

Last year at around this time, I posted the first of a number of 2010 projections using "Wins Above Replacement", or "WAR" to project the Twins expected win totals after a series of off-season trades and free agent signings. This allowed me to calculate the incremental improvements the front office made when trading for J.J. Hardy, signing Orlando Hudson or Jim Thome. Since there are still a few question marks regarding arbitration, with both free agents and team controlled players, I'm a few days from posting a "baseline" projection for 2011. But I have plugged in the Twins actual 2010 numbers into the WAR spreadsheet, which has been posted to Google Docs here. And what do you know, I come up with a total of 94 projected wins, which is right on the mark, indicating that the Twins were probably pretty much neutral when it came to luck last year (at least as far as WAR is concerned).

I've never claimed to be particularly good at projecting individual player performance, usually I rely on the more established CHONE, Bill James, ZiPS, etc when projecting wOBA or FIP for a given player. Before the season started, I pegged the Twins as a 90 win team (after a slight upward adjustment in the WAR spreadsheet after discussions in the comment threads a year ago). So, compared to my projections, I have the Twins outperforming by about four wins. Here's how it breaks down position by position. For comparison, I have included the 2009 and 2010 actual data.

Date C 1B 2B 3B SS LF CF RF DH SP RP Hit Pitch WAR Wins
2010 Actual 4.4 4.6 3.3 2.5 2.4 1.0 1.7 0.4 3.0 17.8 5.8 23.3 23.6 47.0 94.0
2010 Projected 6.1 3.5 2.7 0.8 3.1 0.4 3.1 1.8 2.7 13.5 5.4 24.2 18.9 43.1 90.1
2009 Actual 7.2 3.2 (1.3) 1.4 0.8 0.9 1.9 2.2 3.1 12.6 5.1 19.4 17.6 37.1 84.1(*)

(*) My original post calculated the actual 2009 wins based on a 45 win replacement level. The WAR spreadsheet has since been updated to a 47 win replacement level, which increases the 2009 "projection" to 84 wins, compared to 86 (87 if you include the one game playoff) in reality.

I'll go into much more detail after the jump, but what strikes me above is the vast improvement in the Twins starting pitching in 2010, accounting for pretty much the entire four wins the team outperformed my WAR projections. Considering the seasons Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano and Brian Duensing had, this doesn't surprise me.

Thoughts and other notes regarding the projections compared to reality:

  • I used wOBA directly from Fan Graphs, but the spreadsheet uses a league average wOBA of .335. I believe this is a bit below the actual 2010 league average, but in order to remain consistent with the replacement level win totals I left the sheet alone.
  • I used UZR/150 for all fielding totals. The spreadsheet calculates the team's fielding as +3.7 wins, which is pretty much in line with the overall team UZR of +38.4 runs.
  • I used my own base running metric for all running totals. Overall, I had the Twins at 5 runs below league average (-5 RAA) as a team. I'll devote an article later this offseason to Twins base running, but Orlando Hudson (+5.0 RAA) and Jason Kubel (-8.8 RAA) were best and worst on the team.
  • I used tERA (now available on Fan Graphs) for the pitching staff, as it incorporates batted ball data (based on expected hits and outs), as well as ballpark factors. When I plug in FIP, I get +20.0 WAR for the starting rotation. The difference is likely due to the fact that FIP doesn't take into consideration Target Field being an unfriendly park to home run hitters., as using xFIP gives me +18.4 WAR for starters (a little higher, but not by much) and +2.4 WAR for relievers (over three wins fewer than using FIP or tERA).
  • Even with the roster turnover, it was surprising to see how some positions improved while others remained pretty much the same. Here's a table showing the 2009 versus 2010 actuals, sorted from largest improvement to largest decline:
Position 2009 2010 Diff Note
2B (1.3) 3.3 +4.6 Hudson compared to 2009 Casilla
SS 0.8 2.4 +1.6 Hardy versus Harris / Punto / Cabrera
1B 3.2 4.6 +1.4 Morneau was on his way to an MVP season
3B 1.4 2.5 +1.1 Valencia solidified third base
LF 0.9 1.0 +0.1 Surprisingly little improvement here
DH 3.1 3.0 (0.1) Addition of Thome canceled Kubel's collapse
CF 1.9 1.7 (0.2) Would be higher but for Span's hitting
RF 2.2 0.4 (0.8) Cuddyer / Kubel near replacement level
C 7.2 4.4 (2.8) Drop-off for Mauer was larger than expected
  • For the starting pitchers, it was night and day when you look at the #1-5 spots (sorted by WAR) and everyone else:
Position 2009 2010 Diff Note
#1 3.4 6.4 +3.0 Baker - Liriano
#2 2.8 3.5 +0.7 Blackburn - Pavano
#3 1.9 2.6 +0.7 Pavano - Baker
#4 1.4 2.5 +1.1 Slowey - Slowey
#5 1.1 1.7 +0.6 Liriano - Duensing
#6+ 2.0 1.2 -0.8 Everyone else

  • In a nutshell, Liriano's reemergence added 6+ WAR to the top spot in the rotation and moved everyone else down a notch. If you look at the #1 in 2009 versus the #2 in 2010, then #2 vs #3, etc, you see that 2009 Baker - 2010 Pavano, 2009 Blackburn - 2010 Baker, on down are pretty darn similar. That's the real value of an ace, at least as far as the regular season is concerned.