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Oddities with WAR on the 2016 Twins

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How about that?

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Philadelphia Phillies Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Now this could certainly be a more in-depth piece but I just wanted to point out something to you. Regarding the position players and the pitchers, it was pretty easy to identify a team MVP and team Cy Young candidate from the Twins roster. On the batting side, 42 home runs, a batting line that was 32% above average, along with 18 stolen bases and solid defense at second base earned Brian Dozier 6.0 WAR for the season, more than three times as much as the team’s second place finisher. On the pitching side, a brief stay on the disabled list didn’t slow Ervin Santana as he had a 3.38 ERA and a team-high 149 strikeouts over 181 13 innings pitched, also a team high, which led to a 3.2 WAR according to FanGraphs.

But beyond those two, it’s interesting to note the players that actually finished in second place. The hitting side will seem reasonable. Your mind will be blown when I name the pitcher (apologies for the clickbait-y line).

It’s not Byron Buxton, though he valiantly tried in September to finally mesh his offensive promise with his defensive expertise as he finished third among position players (fourth overall) on the team with 1.6 WAR. No, the distinction of the second-best position player on the team actually goes to Eduardo Nunez, who just edged out Buxton with 1.7 WAR. With a batting average that stayed near or above .300 all season, a career-high in home runs before leaving the Twins, a career-high in stolen bases, along with some surprisingly adequate defense turned Nunez into the second-most valuable Twin on the field this year. Don’t forget, he only played four of the six months as a Twin, too.

Now things get wonky over on the pitching side. I should preface that FanGraphs calculates its pitcher WAR by using FIP, an ERA estimator that suggests how well a pitcher pitched without the influence of his defense. FIP is a simple formula that only uses home runs, walks, strikeouts, infield flies (since they are almost automatic outs like a strikeout) and innings pitched, along with a few coefficients and a constant to spit out a number that has been shown to be a better predictor of future ERA than the player’s current ERA. With this lede, perhaps you have deduced that I’m going to talk about a pitcher that had a decent FIP and thus was able to rack up a decent amount of WAR. If you were thinking this, you were absolutely correct. This guy also did not pitch well for the Twins and ultimately lost his roster spot before the end of the season.

According to WAR, the second-best pitcher on the Twins staff in 2016 was Ricky Nolasco.

That seems shocking, doesn’t it? After all, Nolasco had a 5.13 ERA, pitched just 124 23 innings as a Twin, and never seemed to live up to the (relative) promise we expected when he was signed several years ago. However, Nolasco also was the second of two pitchers (also Santana) that averaged at least 6 innings per start this season, plus his secondary numbers led to a better 4.30 FIP. Additionally, the Twins pitching was awful this year, so it’s not like he had a lot of competition. Essentially, FanGraphs says that Nolasco pitched much better than his ERA suggested. I know some of you will argue that fWAR must be unreliable because we saw how bad he was this year. If it makes you feel better, Baseball Reference has its own pitching WAR that uses ERA instead of FIP, and BR says he was worth only 0.4 bWAR.

I have to say, I also find it intriguing that the second-place position player and pitcher were both traded by the Twins this season. Nunez was sold high to the Giants, whereas the Twins were arguably dumping Nolasco on the Angels just because they figured he wasn’t going to work out here. It’s a shame that he pitched better upon arriving in Los Angeles, almost as if he was happier to be in the southern part of the country again.

I didn’t really have a point to all of this. Just an oddity I’ve been monitoring all season.