I now introduce you to the 2nd member of the new formed TRDM Sabermetrics team. You thought only the Mets could bring in high quality saber guys?— TRS
Don’t Forget The Leather and the Lumber: Mets Starters’ WAR after Looking at Fielding and Batting
Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a beautiful and simple statistic for measuring a player’s value to his team. The metric starts with the idea of a replacement player, the kind of guy that every team has in AAA waiting for a call-up in an injury or emergency. Think of Jesus Feliciano, Mike Hessman, or 2009’s Tim Redding. These are often career minor-leaguers who are good enough to hold down the fort in the majors, but who are not talented enough and are abundant enough that pretty much every team can call upon someone of their quality to fill a roster hole. Baseball is all about winning games, and a player’s Wins Above Replacement is simply how many more games a team would win with him on the field as opposed to the generic replacement player. It attempts to take everything he does, and puts it into the one, simple number of wins, the most important number in the game.
The 2010 Mets had four pitchers who were mainstays in their rotation and who threw a significant number of innings a starter: Mike Pelfery (203 IP), Johan Santana (199 IP), Jon Niese (173.2 IP), and The R.A. Dickey (173.1 IP). Pitcher WAR on fangraphs.com uses the Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) metric combined with innings pitched to come up with the number of wins added. FIP only takes into account plate appearances entirely decided by the pitcher and hitter: strikeouts, walks, homeruns, and hit-by-pitches. This discounts balls put in play, because then luck and defense start taking control. FIP, and by consequence WAR, only tries to measure the things directly under the pitcher’s control. The validity of this approach lends itself to a lively debate, but that’s a-whole-nother article.
Of the Mets starters, Santana led the way with 3.5 WAR, Pelfrey added 2.9, the Dickey also inserted 2.9 WAR into the Mets win total, and Niese contributed 1.9. All of these marks are average or better, since a full season of average starting pitching should lead to about 2 WAR.
While WAR provides good estimates of how valuable these Met pitchers were on the mound, there are two aspects of every pitcher’s game that are not covered in WAR: fielding and batting. Pitchers take the field just like every other position, and they can cost or save a team runs just like any other fielder. Watching Johan Santana pounce like a cat on a slow dribbler, you know that pitchers can help win games with their gloves as well as their arms. And one out of every nine spots in the lineup is reserved for the starting pitcher. They have to bat just like every one else in the starting lineup, and when they ground out weakly with two outs and runners on second and third, those two ducks left on the pond are just as stranded as if a three-hitter left them there. WAR just does not give pitchers enough credit or blame for their bats and their gloves.
So if we want to know how many wins a pitcher truly added to his team, we have to look at their batting and fielding. If we update the WAR statistic to incorporate these things, what happens to these players’ value? Well, the Mets starters as a whole are significantly more valuable once you include all aspects of their game.
To understand the results, a quick note on how WAR works. WAR comes up with its win value by taking the number of Runs Above Replacement (RAR) a player earned and converting that to wins, which makes sense because you win games by scoring runs. So a certain number of runs scored, usually around ten, will equal one win added. I took the pitching RAR, and I added to it the fielding and hitting runs above average. I took that number and then converted it to wins. First, I’ll give you the results; then I’ll give you the methodology.
Here are each player’s adjusted RAR:
|Orig. RAR||Fielding Runs||Batting Runs||New RAR|
And here are each player’s adjusted WAR, based on these New RAR:
|Orig. RAR||Orig. WAR||New RAR||New WAR||Change in WAR|
Look at the R.A. Dickey! He added 1.1 wins to the 2010 Mets just by being a great fielder and hitter. This new WAR total would make him the thirteenth most valuable pitcher in the National League in 2010. He’d catapult above guys like Matt Cain, Cole Hamels and Chris Carpenter. The legend continues to grow.
And Santana and Niese also help out their WAR causes when we consider all facets of their games. And this was a below-average hitting and fielding season for Johan, so in general he’d add even more value with the bat and glove. Big Pelf was the only Met starter to lose ground, but he was still an above-average big-league pitcher. Overall, the Mets starters were worth 1.8 more WAR after taking all their contributions into account.
One thing you might notice is that the conversion factor between RAR and WAR is not exactly the same for each pitcher. That’s because each pitcher pitches in a different run environment, so runs are more valuable for some than for others. The ballparks a pitcher throws in could affect his run environment, as a run in Petco is more valuable than in Citizens Bank. And the pitchers themselves affect their run environment. With an ace pitcher on the mound, runs are harder to come by and at a premium, so each run becomes more important.
You might be wondering how in the hell I came up with these batting and fielding runs above replacement numbers. I’ll tackle fielding first because my technique was a good deal simpler, and then I’ll get into batting.
Since I was using numbers from fangraphs.com for the original WAR totals, it made sense to me to use the site for the additional statistics as well. The only fielding metric that gives a number of runs above or below average for pitchers on fangraphs is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) from the Plus-Minus system. For more information on how this works, check out this link:
This goes pretty in depth so read at your leisure, but it explains the system much better than I ever could. But what matters for us it the end result. We get a number of runs above or below average for a fielder, and once we know how many runs he was worth in the field, we can add that to our WAR calculation. The number you see as Fielding runs is simply that pitcher’s DRS. It should be noted that defensive metrics are notoriously fallible in small sample sizes. Ideally we would be able to average a few different stats to come up with something more precise, but we had to work with what we have, and it’s certainly better than nothing.
When it came to batting, I based my numbers on the wOBA statistic. wOBA is based on linear weights, which is much simpler than it might sound. Every time you get a hit, it adds to the expected number of runs scored in that inning. If you hit a single you increase the number runs you can expect to score, and if you hit a home run you increase it by a lot more. A linear weight is just the average change in run expectancy for each way to reach base and for stolen bases and caught stealing. To find a batter’s wOBA, you multiply his number of singles by the average change in run expectancy for a single, and then you do that for doubles, triples, etc.. Then you divide that number by the batter’s number of plate appearances. To make wOBA look like something we are more familiar with, it is scaled to OBP, so there is a small adjustment, about a 15% increase, to put it on the same scale as OBP. So around .330 is average, .400 is elite, and .300 approaches (but does not quite reach) Gary Matthews Jr. territory. To find out how a wOBA converts to runs, you subtract the league average wOBA from the player’s wOBA. Then you readjust for the OBP scaling factor. This number will be how many runs above the league average a player provides per plate appearance. If you multiply that number by the batter’s total PAs, you have his batting runs above or below average. It might sound a little bit complicated, but it’s probably the most telling single batting statistic we have right now.
For pitchers though, using traditional batting runs creates a problem. Fangraphs actually does calculate runs above or below average for pitcher batting, but it mistakenly compares them to league average and wisely does not incorporate this number into their WAR. The fact is that batting for position players and pitchers are judged on fundamentally different levels. While pitchers do take up a lineup spot, they take the very specific one reserved for the pitcher, almost always the last in the order. We do not compare Santana’s bat to Jose Reyes’, we compare it to other pitchers’. There is no positional adjustment for pitchers that accounts for the fact that they are such poor hitters, but if we compare a certain pitcher’s wOBA to the average pitcher’s wOBA, then we can really see how many runs above or below average he was with the bat.
So I calculated the average pitcher’s wOBA from the major league’s last season, and it came out to .160. This is close to a whopping .170 points less than the average hitter (if the average wOBA includes pitchers, this difference would likely be even bigger if we just compared it to average position-player wOBA). I then did the same process as usual for converting wOBA to runs above average. Only this time, I compared it to the average pitcher’s wOBA as opposed to league average wOBA. The Dickey led the way with a .268 wOBA in 61 PA, Niese had a .250 wOBA in 66 PA, Santana had a .195 wOBA in 67 PA, and Pelfrey had a .119 wOBA in 70 PA. The difference between these numbers and .160, then readjusted from the OBP scale, multiplied by the pitchers’ PA, gave the batting runs above average total in the charts above.
So there you have it. We now have a new, more encapsulating version of WAR that shows our Mets starters are better than the traditional WAR stat would have us believe. And I’m convinced that anytime we improve upon our statistics, it will only further reveal the greatness that is The R.A. Dickey.