April 23, 2014

Using WAR: Why the Phillies will win 97 again – and the Braves will finish 6 back…again

They are coming out of the woodwork now – writers making the “bold” prediction that the Braves, not the Phillies, will be advancing further into October. Buster Olney, Jayson Stark, Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman to name a few.

The reasoning? The losses of Chase Utley, Brad Lidge and Jayson Werth will be too much for Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt to overcome. In addition, the Braves added Dan Uggla, have a year-older Jason Heyward and a solid bullpen again.

The reason? Because writers know that things don’t always go as planned, so they make “different” predictions to look like they know something others don’t. If they are right, they can pretend they did know something. If they are wrong, well, no one really keeps track.

The proof? Ahhhhh…here’s where this whole Braves over Phillies thing hits a snag.

It seems as though right now, the most respected stat in the game is WAR (wins above replacement). It seems to measure most everything that can happen on the diamond, and spits out a nice single number to represent what that might mean in terms of wins and losses.

Therefore, looking at the WAR lost/added from 2010 to 2011 should give an indication of what to expect from the Phillies and Braves this year, no? For instance, if Jayson Werth had a 5.0 WAR, and Cliff Lee had a 5.0 WAR, you could make the case that they would cancel each other out.

What I’ve done is collected the WAR for the Phillies and Braves for 2010, and then their predicted WAR in 2011 to see what the difference was. Let’s start with the Phillies.

Let’s quickly go through some assumptions I’ve made (bare with us on the formatting of bullet points. We are working on it) …

  • Chase Utley and Brad Lidge will be out the entire season (this is worst case scenario, both are expected back at some point)
  • Rollins and Howard will play the entire season, so their WAR increased accordingly from their injury plagued 2010′s
  • Luis Castillo will not improve over last season
  • Carlos Ruiz’ WAR will drop from what I believe was a career year
  • Ben Francisco will perform at the same rate he did as a reserve for the Phillies in 09-10
  • Joe Blanton will slightly improve
  • Dannys Baez won’t be allowed to suck as bad with the bevy of minor league relief prospects we have
  • Everyone’s elses WAR will be the same as last year’s (obviously this isn’t likely, but it’s the best way to do this when you are examining the changes from last year)

Now let’s see what this tells us (I think I can do this in one sentence)…

  • The net result of losing Werth/Utley/Lidge  is negated by the full season of Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins. In fact, even assuming a fairly large decline from Ruiz, we are still slightly above last year, but not above enough to round up to a full win above last year.

On to the Braves…

Let’s look at these assumptions…

  • That Nate McLouth will not be allowed to be as bad as last year
  • That Chipper Jones will be just as injured and just as effective when healthy
  • Jason Heyward will improve in his 2nd year
  • Freddie Freeman will be good, not great, as a rookie
  • The the “other hitters” will be as good as they were last year (2.3 for Braves, -2.5 for Phillies)
  • That Tim Hudson will still be good, but not as good
  • Tommy Hanson will improve
  • Craig Kimbrel will be a good closer in his first year (splitting with Venters)
  • The Prado’s WAR won’t go down despite switching positions (it probably should)

And the results, again in one sentence…

  • The addition of Dan Uggla and the assumed improvement of McLouth, Heyward and Hanson will be negated by a not-as-good Tim Hudson, and a weaker (but still very good) bullpen.

So what can you take from this exercise?

  • The Braves and Phillies are likely closer than the 6 games that separated them in 2010 (since their team WARs were only 1 win apart for 2010 and 2011), but both theoretically improved by 0.3 wins from last year and therefore the most logical guess would be that they would both finish with the same amount of wins in 2011.
  • A million different things could happen this season. Jason Heyward could take a huge step forward and become the left-handed Albert Pujols. Tim Hudson could be out for the year in May. Ben Francisco could turn out to be a great regular. Jimmy Rollins could have a great year in a contract year. Anything can happen. But in the bazillion different scenarios that could play out, the Phillies will have the advantage in most of them.
  • When it really comes down to it – it doesn’t matter if we win the division, as long as we make the playoffs with our pitchers healthy.
  • It’s about time to stop with the predicting and start settling this on the field.

 

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Comments

  1. Let me comment on the Uggla for Infante replacement that is helping to sponsor the groundswell of Brave support.

    People act like Uggla is replacing a void in the Braves lineup.  And Uggla is a net good player, streaky though he may be like any and all hitters with power.  Offensively, he’s good on the whole.  But one of the reasons the Braves had so many comeback wins last year was because they were largely contact hitters.  Put the ball in play, you advance runnes, make things happen, get momentum going, etc.

    And that’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with a 3 run homer to reverse a deficit which Uggla has a better shot at doing than Infante.  But Uggla, to this point in his career, strikes out an awful lot, and those are no asset to rallies.

    I don’t think the increased power is necessarily a plus in that regard, and I know Uggla is not a good fielder. 

    On the whole, the Braves defense figures to keep things close more often than not, so their ability to compete in close games, which I feel is lessened as a result of this highly thought of change is important.  Uggla may grab a headline by smacking a 3 run game winner, but will lose about the same amount of games with his aforementioned weaknesses.

    I don’t see him as a near plus 1 WAR improvement.

    • Pete says:

      the breakdown for Infante and Uggla in 2010:

      Infante: 2.1 oWAR + 0.8 dWAR = 2.9 WAR

      Uggla: 4.7 oWAR + -1.0 dWAR = 3.7 WAR

      The are losing 2 wins just for the defensive switch there.

      Uggla gets it all back, plus some, in offense, but it’s not a HUGE upgrade. Less than 1 win.

      • Dude says:

        I do have to educate myself more on how they put the WAR numbers together, but my first impression was also that infante probably gave ATL more than uggla will. I’ll have to look into the numbers more this weekend when u have some time

        • Dude says:

          So I’ve had a chance to read up on WAR some… Clearly this is going to be a work in progress, but I’m forming a general impression that it is best thought of as a useful shorthand and a good place to start a discussion, but not as authoritative statement on a player’s true value to a team.

          I think I’m also a good bit more comfortable with offensive WAR than overall WAR. As I understand it so far, overall relies on UZR for the defensive component, and the fangraphs primer on that metric contains a ton of caveats – if I read correctly, it is not even intended to measure a player’s specific performance in a given year so much as to get a read on his “true talent”. In fact they caution againt using data from just one year. It also seems to rely a good bit on subjecticve interpretations of which balls are harder to field than others, without taking into account things like how well a fielders plays each batter. One example is that they try to make their measurements “game situation neutral”. Well, what if game situation dictates that a player position himself differently, so that a ball that would be rated “difficult” in a game situation neutral situation is actually quite easy? Like if Howard hits a short fly into the shift that would drop for most hitters?

          This post is starting to run on so i’l stop here… Really just wanted to start organizing my thoughts… Possible I’ve misunderstood some things. Also curious if anyone else is wonky enough to care enough to try picking this apart to this extent.

  2. I’m happy for Ben Fransisco, having been announced as the RF.  Ben’s had some enthusiastic suppiort and confidence from several on the board, and I’ve heard Jayson Werth speak very highly of his ability after leaving.

    Time to seize the moment, and take advantage of the finally realized opportunity to play everyday.  Ben has a chance to make the Cliff Lee One Acquisition a total blowout now, maybe even more than it’s been as Carlos Carrasco gave up 7 homers in 18 spring innings.

  3. Tonight’s attendance at our game versus the Bucs, and in Atlanta, versus the Twins

    > 42,000 at one game        <12,000 at the other

    No need to get more specific than that.

    And the Braves played well, won in extra innings.  And we play there next weekend. Should be fun. 

  4. Ryan says:

    Stutes with the save last night – should we read into that or just resting Contreras for Opening Day?

    • That seems a very fair question in that it was a chance to renew acquaintace for Contreras with the environment and role at the same time he’d be filling for a while last night, and still have ample rest before Friday.  But I think the only safe guess is it says Stutes still has a chance to make the Opening Day roster.  He did walk one, but he struck out the side.

      How many days ibn a row can a closer go?  Madson could have gone maybe 4, but not often.  3 would seem pushing it with Contreras.  And since we don’t figure to have many blowouts, we may need a closer a fair amount.
      Could Stutes be that backup guy? 

    • Pete says:

      I think all you can read into that is that he’s likely making the opening day roster with Lidge out. Which is good. Would love to get an extended look at him.

  5. Looks like we might miss J Happ against Roy O on Sunday.  Oblique muscle problem.  We’d get Bud Norris.

    Media predictions revealed this morning,,

    Chad Finn, Boston Globe – 2nd behind Braves, has the Nationals 3rd.  Picks against us because of the offense.

    Kevin Kernan, NY Post – 1st “Manuel is the biscuits-and-gravy version of Joe Torre; he knows how to win. His $170 million club will roll to the postseason”.

    George King, NY Post – Phils over Rox, NLCS, and over Yanks in WS

    Joel Sherman, NY Post – 2nd behind Braves, missing wild card.  Tulo MVP, Kershaw CY, Freeman ROY

    Mike Vicarro, NY Post – Phils 3rd in NL East, behind Braves, Mets

    Dave Sheinin, Washington Post – Braves, Phils 2nd

  6. Pete says:

    Phillies 28
    Braves 17

    # of ESPN folks division winners

    http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/preview/2011/news/story?page=11expertpicks

  7. Pete says:

    Phils release Castillo. 

    Wonder what that means…

    Trade coming?

    Keeping an extra reliever on the team?

    Keeping Delwyn Young?

  8. Brandon says:

    firstly, i do not like the idea of cutting castillo, what wasn’t to like about the guy? sure he had no power but his OBP made up for it in my eyes. and secondly, according to fangraphs, blanton was a 1.9 WAR last year, and I think he could improve that to possibly 2.5, coming off of a season where he was injured.

    • Pete says:

      Thanks for reminding me to clarify. I use BBRef WAR (because their database is easier to sort and they have more historical data). It can be different than FanGraphs WAR.

      Would be curious if this exercise would have ended differently using FG.

      • Okay, this is a guess on my part, so apply creedence judiciously.  Look at Brandon’s post.  It’s all about offense.

        Let me break this down 2 ways.  We all know that our pitching is good, and it’s made good by max defense.  How’s Castillo done defensively?  Will he play better defense than Valdez?So I’m guessing they placed a premiu on that in the decision.  If true, I still don’t know that it’s the right fous since we’re not a great offensive club, but I’m on board with such criteria.  Especially since Castillo has questions offensively.

        Secondly, what’s up with all the negativity about when Chase comes back?  It doesn’t seem to be registering with many people thaqt Ruben said words to tghe effect of he’s not going on the 60 day DL because we don’t think he’ll be out that long.  Course they could be wrong, but I’m assuming he’s making progress, and whatever decision was made on Luis maybe had something to do with the length of time Chase figures to be gone.  Luis showed some positive stuff, but his weaknesses and point of career are well documented.

        Glanced through the ESPN predictions.  Sorry to see Aaron Boone pick the Braves.  He was ahead of the field on the Reds last year.  KLaw pickied us, but the wild card Braves to go to the series.  A little surprised Kruk picked us based on comments, same for Kurkjian. 

        • Dude says:

          I think a lot of things play into cutting Castillo.  Defense is certainly one – both in terms of quality & versatility.  For whatever reason, i think they want to hold onto Martinez.  Valdez wouldn’t start moaning if/when Utley comes back.  Probably they want to make room for Stutes (and possibly young or one or more of those guys).  They’ve definitely talked about needing to get younger, and I think Charlie said something about being concerned that Castillo will wear down.  The offensive difference is not huge anyway looking at recent numbers.
          Are there arguments for keeping him?  yeah, but on balance i agree with the decision.

          • Dude says:

            Valdez also is a better emergency pinch running option than Castillo at this point in their careers.  Stuff like that matters to Charlie.

  9. Well, according to Uncle Selig’s Hallmark calendar, I’m supposed to wish you a Happy Opening Day today.

    I’ll pass.

    I mean, Giants-Dodgers tonight is exciting.  Once upon a time, Koufax-Marichal was pre legend stuff because they were still playing.  Lincecum and Kershaw are still playng but it’s extremely likely they are remembered as legends someday, if not to the same extent.

    And there’s always at least a hint of special when there’s a game at Yankee Stadium.  Particularly the home opener, although it seems better placed following the Yanks opening on the road.

    You’re on the right track if like me, you’re Opening Day emotional high is scheduled for tomorrow.  But I must say, there’s still something wrong, even with that.

    Before the World Wide Destroyer came along, baseball, traditional beast that it was, always opened on a Monday.  In Cincinatti.   The Apple pie and Chevrolet part of the as American as slogan could easily have added Opening Day in the Natti to its jargon, and held credibility.  It was daytime baseball, it was stand alone.  It was recognition of The Great Game’s first professional franchise.

    Then the fine folks at ESPN came along.  Paid big bucks for cable broadcasting rights.  And with the increased revs, MLB, disguised as a partner, played the role of good slave, and gave into the 4 letter network’s interest to open a night earlier with a national Subnday telecast.  Yeah, that was fine when it was Phillies-Braves in 2009, but even that prostituted spirit was crushed with a loss.  The fact, or truth, if you subscribe to there’s only one way to look at this subject is baseball shouldn’t open until after it gets going in the Natti.

    Opening Sunday night around the Leagues was un-American enough.  Japan openings were cool, but kinda ridiculous.  And ESPN was right there to televise them.  And now, the fine peeps at ESPN have a tripleheader going
    to redirect the Opening Day spirit in another cultural misstep.

    Tomorrow, for provincial, stubborn, selfish reasons, I won’t think like this.  Doc Halladay, and meaningful Phillies baseball are enough to narrow your focus, and forget the tragedy of what ESPN has done to baseball (it’s not all negative, but this part is).  But I’ll pass on wishing anyone a Happy Opening Day since there’s no game in Cincy today.  That, objectively speaking, is what rightfully and properly should take the Happy Opening Day message to an even higher level of enthusiasm.

    Well, in my correct opinion anyway.

  10. It’s kinda weird, the art of writing.  As in what makes a good writer.  Everyone starts out with the basic who, what, when, where, why, and branches out from there.  James Michner took it to Pulitzer Prize levels.  Grantland Rice took it to developing a mid summer classic known as the HFA determining All-Star game.  Horace Greeley took it west. Bill Conlin took it to the Hall of Fame.  Pete Vescey took it to levels of unparalleled sarcasm.

    And then, there’s Gary Smith.  Not to be confused with Gary B. Smith, of Fox Bulls and Bears fame, who, like his namesake, wrote for Sports Illustrated.  This is the Gary Smith from the unique and distinguihed Philadelphia Daily News Alumni.  Gathering readership with his magical beat reporting of the Philadelphia Eagles under the tutelage of Dick Vermeil back in the day, Smith, maybe in the right place at the right time to a degree made following Iggles football as fun as the 6ers were when George Kiseda was the beat guy at the Bulletin, or Conlin when he had the Phils beat at the Daily News.

    As time has elapsed, and new memories and experiences have developed, I’m forgetful of the many fine instances
    of Gary’s tremendous work in those days.  Coining the popular Vermeil “The Little Dictator” you could watch the Birds play, and be amazed by the language Smith translated it to, seemingly as easily as Willie Mays losing his cap making a hard catch look easy.  Exactly what was lurking within that mind of word power that led him to more prolific pastures, as in Sports Illustrated, I am clueless.  But it wasn’t a surprise.

    And I know he belongs there.  He’s the elite of the elite.

    This week, as of yesterday, the latest SI has the infamous Phils pitching staff on it’s cover.  The reaction will be to the cover, the time honored cover jinx, and renew debate on the yet to pitch together Philly’s New Big Five’s place in history.

    So be it.

    But the real story is the purely magnificent piece that Gary Smith profiles inside the covers of SI.  It, like Bill Conlin’s work, demands your attention to fully grasp it’s flow.  You may need only a 3rd grade reading level to read a daily newspaper, but with Smith and Conlin types, you damned sure better have your junior high diploma close by to get to the last paragraph.   It’s gripping, motivating, insightful, and premiere material to get you pumped beyond pumped for Opening Day, and Saturday’s oh so near Cliff II presentation.  First of 2 parts is found at…

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1183858/index.htm
     

  11. I’m finished being amazed.

    Well, that’s impossible, unfortunately.

    Unless your name is Maddux, and even furthermore, Greg, don’t nobody win the CY award forever.

    And that’s fine, and understandable reason for picking against Doc to do it again this year. 

    Guessers started betting against Maddux by year 2 of his reign, so it’s nothing new.

    But I’m amazed at the guesses many people are submitting in lieu of the defending champ.

    First of all, I’ve not seen one guess of Tim Lincecum, who not only has been there, done that, but regrouped off a lousy H1 last year to renew acquaintance with greatness by year end.

    Ubaldo Jimenez pitches like Walter Johnson a good portion of last year, and might as well have retired.

    I haven’t seen one prediction of Cliff Lee.  He’s been there and done that.  He’s headed to a “softer” League, but is lost in the shuffle.

    But I keep reading Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw, and now Josh Johnson is gaining momentum.

    Now of course these are 3 really good pitchers.

    But what I wanna know is what is it exactly that takes any of these names specifically that leapfrogs them beyond potent.  Beyond CY competitive, to the king of the hill.

    It’s called a crapshoot, I guess.  Or predictions for the sake of guesswork.  In which case you won’t mind my saying that Carlos Zambrano is going to have a very good year.  Maybe border on CY worthy in the same geagraphy that a guy like Latos did last year.  Iffy, but discussable.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] here! If only that damn rain would stop. Since the Phils don’t play until tomorrow, for now, take a look at this article from Recliner GM that analyzes the Phillies and Braves through WAR–wins above replacement–which measures [...]

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