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Big Surprise - At WAR with SABR

Right now the leading candidates for MVP in both the American League and National League make less than one million dollars… combined. Mike Trout is leading all of baseball with a WAR of +9.3 and Andrew McCutchen third at +6. What the fuck is WAR? It...
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Κείμενο Anthony Pappalardo
8.9.12

Trouble With the Curve won’t be in theatres until September 21st, but it’s already being called the “anti-Moneyball.” The movie stars Clint Eastwood as an aging baseball scout who is losing his sight, and whose relevance is being questioned. He also has an estranged daughter. They hit the road together, probably working out their issues along the way until Clint finds some potential superstar, proving those stat-crunching eggheads don’t have shit on this good ol’ boy!

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But, really, who gives a shit about that? It’s a safe assumption that all the old people who were too lazy to actually read Moneyball and don’t know how to communicate with their children will love this movie, along with those who were dazzled by Clint’s GOP speech during which he conversed with an empty chair. Meanwhile, back in reality every Major League Baseball team has embraced and studied the principals of Moneyball to such a degree that the league caught up to the advantages championed by Billy Beane. Still, Clint would be correct to say that sabermetrics and some aspects of Moneyball are flawed. The biggest holes are player durability, player psyche, and allocating money. Whether a team is locking up the arbitration years of a young, controlled player, or investing in an all-star free agent, there’s risk involved. But just how much risk?

Right now the leading candidates for MVP in both the American and National Leagues make less than one million dollars… combined. Twenty-one-year-old Los Angeles Angel Mike Trout is leading all of baseball with a WAR of +9.3 and Pittsburgh Pirate Andrew McCutchen third at +6. What the fuck is WAR? It stands for Wins Above Replacement, a statistic that explains how many wins a player is worth above a shitty, freely-available schmeg player at their position. Your average MLB player is worth roughly a +2 WAR and a superstar falls around +5-6 WAR, so while what Mike is doing is fucking ridiculous, Andrew isn’t fucking around either.

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Mike is a rookie—one who’s surpassed his great expectations—and Andrew has established himself as an all-star caliber player who signed a $51.5 million six-year extension in March. That’s a steal for a player with his talent, especially one who’s only 25-years-old.

Even the shrewdest baseball front-office guys blow it when trying to follow the principals of Moneyball. Mark Shapiro, president of the Cleveland Indians, locked up both Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore in team-friendly deals early in their careers. Since hitting 41 and 42 home runs in 2004 and 2005 respectively, Travis, also known as “Pronk” (worst nickname ever) hasn’t hit more than 24 in a season, or played a full season, either. Grady is injured so often that the headline “Sizemore Hopes to Return to Full Strength Next Season” might as well be an Onion headline. While locking up young players before they hit free agency seems like a safer bet, it appears to be just as risky as going for the big-ticket players entering their 30s. So why the fuck do general managers in the “post-PED” era (wink-wink) insist on overpaying for superstars? They’re smart guys and savvy businessmen who should know better, right?

Let’s figure some more shit out by plugging the 25 biggest contracts in the history of the MLB accoridng to dollar value into an Excel sheet. Sabermetricians famously think closers and first basemen are overvalued, but the guys who sign the checks disagree. Even ones like Theo Epstein—once a statistical boy wonder—who signed Adrian Gonzales with a $154 million deal to play first base. Theo also signed Carl Crawford (who also makes the biggest-contract list) to a $142 million deal for a non-premium outfield position. Carl never hit 20 homeruns and one of his biggest assets is speed, which diminishes with age. Also, stat dudes think base-stealing is dumb too. But still, Carl got paid.

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So with an average contract value of $196,288,462 for a 28-year-old free-agent star, what do you get in return? After looking at the chart, you’re sure to get a guy who is going to spend time on the disabled list—especially if he’s a pitcher—and an average of a +2.98 WAR season. If you round up to a +3 WAR, that’s still just what you expect from a good player, but these guys are supposed to be super-duper stars. What the fuck?

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: Big market teams can overpay for superstars because they make the money back in player jerseys, hats, and other crap bearing the name of said player. Nope. Revenue sharing pretty much put that shit to bed. Every team pays 31 percent of their net to the league before it’s divvied up. Yes, you can spend more to make more, but you have to give some of that money away to a shitty team like the Astros.

Here’s some more cool shit I saw in looking at a few charts I put together

  • Chase Utley, of the Phillies, is the only player in the past four seasons who played for a World Series-winning team and also ranked in the WAR top ten.

  • Surveying the big-contract list of the last five MLB seasons, Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzales, Joe Mauer, Joey Votto, Mark Teixeira, Matt Kemp, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Troy Tulowitzki are the only players in the top 25 in WAR.

  • Only one of the 25 players on the big-dog list is in the top 20 in WAR this season: catcher Joe Mauer.

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  • Since 2009, only two players from the list per year have made the top ten in WAR .

  • Alex Rodriguez signed the two most lucrative MLB contracts ever, and he’s averaging a 3.9 WAR since his second blockbuster deal… that’s not good.

  • It’s no surprise that the Yankees signed the most players on the list (five), but what is shocking is that the average WAR yielded from signing the prime years of Tex, CC, and Jeter, along with what still should have been A-Roid’s prime, only amounted to a 3.6 WAR average.

  • Carl Crawford, Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Alfonso Soriano, and Barry Zito hold the five shittiest values on this list; none of them are even breaking +1 WAR. The Phillies have two of the shittiest contracts value-wise on the list.

  • Albert Pujols is the oldest player to sign at 32-years-old and put up a WAR higher than the +3.9 average at +4.4. He’s probably not doing to do that when he’s 153-years-old when his contract expires.

  • While A-Rod’s 2001-10 $252,000,000 contract yielded a godlike +7.8 WAR, it was also tainted by a positive test for performance-enhancers. Manny Ramirez and his +4.3 WAR is the only other known juicer on the list.

  • Second on the list in WAR is Miguel Cabrera at +5.24. He’s only the second person to crack the top 25 in WAR for 2012 from the list, just missing the top 20 at 21.

  • Miguel Cabrera is the best value on this list. At a little over 152 million dollars, he’s put up the second highest WAR at +5.24. He’s proved himself to be durable, and he’s also an alcoholic and fat. Sounds a lot like another pretty good player—Babe Ruth. It also sounds like Kenny Powers.

Fuck PEDs. The most important piece of data is always the one you overlook. Maybe GMs should rethink this when Josh Hamilton hits free agency.

@AnthonyPops