The Other Fifteen

Eighty-five percent of the f---in' world is working. The other fifteen come out here.


2008 Cubs Preview, featuring WAR!

WAR - what is it good for?

Well, in this case WAR references Wins Above Replacement. Fans, readers and detractors will note the similarity with Wins Above Replacement Player, or WARP. The concept is the same, the internals are different. The full techincal explanation is available at the link; I'll skim over the relevant highlights below.

The short version: you calculate WAR by summing up a player's contributions on the field - pitching for pitchers, offense and defense for position players - converting that to wins, and then comparing those contributions to hypothetical "replacement players," generally defined as the sort of freely-available talent one can acquire for close to the league minimum salary.

[Note: I owe a debt of gratitude to Tangotiger, whose WAR methodology I'm using and who gave some excellent - and necessary - early feedback, and David Cameron, whose post at USS Mariner inspired this.]

First, let's take a look at the hitters:

NamePAwOBADefenseWAR$WARActual$Diff.
Alfonso Soriano6210.3710.573.5315.9513.002.95
Ryan Theriot5420.312-0.100.693.460.403.06
Derrek Lee5280.3960.503.6716.5413.003.54
Aramis Ramirez5820.385-0.193.7716.9914.002.99
Kosuke Fukudome5300.3810.953.7416.8712.004.87
Mark DeRosa5560.342-0.571.326.205.500.70
Geovanny Soto5120.3550.503.2814.840.4014.44
Felix Pie5360.3281.432.5611.680.4011.28
Daryle Ward2500.354-1.430.181.181.20-0.02
Matt Murton2750.3570.291.135.390.404.99
Ronny Cedeno2750.331-0.100.793.860.403.46
Mike Fontenot2750.317-0.290.201.260.400.86
Henry Blanco1880.3010.500.362.002.75-0.75
Sam Fuld2500.307-0.100.221.350.400.95
Eric Patterson2250.322-1.000.020.500.400.10
Total61450.3460.9825.47118.0864.6553.43

Plate appearances shouldn't require much explanation. In this case, I apportioned out most of the playing time for the Cubs on offense; playing time not accounted for here is assumed to be replacement level.

wOBA is Weighted On-Base Average, essentially a rate stat version of Linear Weights. Functionally it works just like Equivalent Average, except on the OBP scale instead of the batting average scale; .340 is (generally) league average. These wOBA figures are based on the CHONE projections, available from Sean Smith's website. wOBA, being a linear weights equation, can be easily converted to runs, and thus wins, above average.

Also available there are defensive projections, which form the basis for my defensive figures. (I made manual adjustments for Lee, Blanco, Fukudome, Pie and Soto.) Smith (and any plus/minus system) rates defenders in terms of plays or runs (in this case, runs) saved compared to average at the position. To convert runs to wins, simply divide by 10.5.

Okay, now here's the secret sauce that lets us compare these players across positions. In the National League, the average player is two wins above replacement, so everyone above gets credit for those two wins.

Players also get credited (or debited) wins for what position they field:

+1.0 C
+0.5 SS/CF
+0.0 2B/3B
-0.5 LF/RF/PH
-1.0 1B
-1.5 DH

This is because a league-average hitter who plays catcher is more valuable than a league average hitter who can only play first base or designated hitter.

Combine those elements, and you get a player's WAR. $WAR is simply the cost value of those wins on the free agent market (the formula assumes that a team pays $4.4 million per win on the free agent market, which has held up pretty well for the 2008 offseason). Actual$ is, well, the player's 2008 contract. Difference is how much surplus value that player is providing; if you've ever sat there and wondered how much Henry Blanco is overpaid, well, now you know.

One thing that pops out at me is how the severe backloading of the contracts means that the salary for players like Ramirez and Soriano are actually very reasonable right now. There's a whole lot of risk wrapped up into the back ends of those contracts, though.

Now, for the pitchers:

NameIP_StartIP_ReliefERAWAR$WARActualDiff.
Carlos Zambrano21203.844.06$18.28$15.00$3.28
Ted Lilly18804.242.66$12.10$7.00$5.10
Rich Hill18603.913.40$15.35$0.40$14.95
John Lieber13404.611.31$6.16$3.50$2.66
Jason Marquis89255.080.27$1.61$6.40-$4.79
Sean Gallagher8304.960.49$2.55$0.40$2.15
Sean Marshall60204.620.57$2.92$0.40$2.52
Kevin Hart0285.26-0.20-$0.49$0.40-$0.89
Neal Cotts0203.940.16$1.09$0.80$0.29
Kerry Wood0654.250.26$1.55$4.20-$2.65
Carlos Marmol0723.850.65$3.26$0.40$2.86
Ryan Dempster0724.180.35$1.95$5.50-$3.55
Michael Wuertz0723.550.94$4.52$0.86$3.66
Bob Howry0743.461.05$5.02$4.00$1.02
Scott Eyre0574.110.33$1.84$3.80-$1.96
Total9525054.2616.30$77.72$53.06$24.66

Let's start off discussing the innings pitched. It's easier to pitch as a reliever than it is as a starter; usually a pitcher who does both will have a lower ERA as a reliever. So we need to use different replacement baselines for starting and relieving; I've designated two pitchers as "swingmen," Jason Marquis and Sean Marshall. I'm sure some of you are chuckling at that - I happen to be pessimistic about what Marquis can achieve this season and think Lou will pull him from the rotation when things get too bad.

Innings pitched adds up to 1457; there's roughly 1458 innings in a season, which changes because of extra-inning games and home halves of the ninth inning skipped when the home team leads.

ERA is based off several projections, with CHONE getting more weight than the others, mostly because it was handier; beyond that some of it was simply my personal preference. These figures have been revised upwards to make them "defense neutral," since we already gave the position players credit for defense above. (Technical explanation: I calculated FIP ERA for the CHONE projections and used that as a baseline.)

WAR is a function of runs allowed compared to replacement, converted to wins using the Pythagenpat method, a refinement of the Pythagorean theorum.

Just take a gander at the difference between what the Cubs are paying Hill and what he would be worth on the free agent market. (And that's ignoring the fact that teams generally will overpay for pitching wins.) That's why, in case you were wondering, the people advocating for a Hill-for-Bedard trade were being, at best, shortsighted. Bedard may well be a better pitcher, but because of his many remaining cheap years, Hill is insanely more valuable.

And just look at how overpaid our bullpen is; Howry is our only free agent reliever expected to provide value up to his contract.

Now, what I have failed to do is assign a "premium" to the closer for leverage; this is because nobody knows who the hell our closer is. I did play around with it for a bit, and: hey, we lose a whole win by making Dempster the closer as opposed to a middle reliever. That's a pretty drastic difference for a relief pitcher.

Add up our position player WAR and our pitching WAR, and we get 42 wins above replacement; a team composed of entirely replacement level players would be expected to win about 50 ballgames. So, given the assumptions I used, you could say the Cubs look like about a 92 win team. That's based on some optimistic assumptions involving the starting rotation (namely that Marquis gets dumped from it before too long, and Dempster is never used in it). I plan on redoing this little exercise again several times during spring training, as the final roster spots shore up and we get a better idea of how the rotation and bullpen shake up.

The full spreadsheet used, in all its glory, is available for your perusal on EditGrid. You can also download it to your computer as an Excel file and play around with it. Don't like my assumptions? Change them! Have fun with it. Let me know what results you get.

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4 Responses to “2008 Cubs Preview, featuring WAR!”

  1. # Blogger Harry Pavlidis

    Very cool
    Another display of the insane value that is Rich Hill  

  2. # Blogger Samael2681

    Thanks for posting this. Your projections seem to be a pretty fair assessment of what this team could be capable of this year. Your explanation is very good.  

  3. # Blogger Ty

    Very cool. Very cool.  

  4. # Anonymous Xeifrank

    Nice work. A couple of questions.

    1) Did you adjust for park factors? If so, how?

    2) How do you calculate FIP ERA?

    Thanks.

    vr, Xeifrank  

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