WAR! What is it Good For?

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Wins Above Replacement level only begins to tell the story, but one thing is for sure: the Kansas City Royals need more of it.

Wins Above Replacement is no the be all and end all of analyzing a player or a team. Heck, there are two kinds to begin with, which leaves plenty of room for discussion. Despite our best statistical efforts otherwise, there are still variables on and off the field that do matter. There is enough good fortune and plain old dumb luck in the game of baseball that we will never quite statistically quantify everything.

Case in point, the Baltimore Orioles. Below is a chart of the team fWAR for all eight American League clubs that posted winning records in 2012, along with our beloved Royals' numbers as well.

Team Pos fWAR Pit fWAR Total fWAR
NYY 30.8 20.3 51.1
TEX 26.5 23.9 50.4
LAA 37.4 10.0 47.4
DET 21.1 24.8 45.9
TB 22.3 23.2 45.5
OAK 23.7 18.1 41.8
CWS 18.9 18.2 37.1
BAL 15.3 16.6 31.9
KC 17.3 15.0 32.3

Not only did the Royals accumulate more fWAR than the Orioles (who won 21 more games), but so did the Boston Red Sox (34.5 total fWAR). Go figure.

A lot of WAR does not guarantee a playoff berth (hello, Angels), but it is really tough to get north of 40 wins above replacement level and NOT have a winning record. As Royals' fans, who among us would not take 89-73 right now for 2013?

It should be noted, that the top seven fWAR pitching staffs in the American League all were for teams with winning records. The Angels' staff was just 10th in the league, with Kansas City, Boston and Seattle in between the Orioles and them. The Royals, as you might imagine, finished 8th in AL fWAR courtesy of a league leading 7.3 WAR out of their bullpen.

While some of that bullpen WAR can be attributed to the immense workload the team placed on that unit in 2012, it's worthy of mention that the next four highest ranked bullpens belonged to Tampa, Baltimore, Texas and New York: all 90+ win teams.

Moving forward into the off-season, there will be a number of projections both nationally and right here on this site. Those will take into account all sorts of variables and, quite frankly, be a far more valuable statistical analysis tool than anything I intend to write here. Still, if 40 fWAR more often than not gets you to 90 wins, it would seem that the Royals need to find about eight more wins above replacement than they garnered in 2012.

Of course, finding eight more wins assumes the team does not give any of the 2012 WAR back. When it comes to the position players that seems doable.

Yuniesky Betancourt (-0.8) and Jason Bourgeois (-0.5) are both gone and surely Eric Hosmer is not going to post a -1.1 fWAR again in 2013, right? Truthfully, and this is no surprise to anyone, if Hosmer does not make the leap to at least a 2 WAR player and beyond, the Royals really don't have much of a shot anyway. Just making Hosmer replacement level along with David Lough as the fifth outfielder and a non-Yuni presence would give Kansas City a gain of 2.4 wins right there.

On the top end of the position players, Alex Gordon followed up his 6.9 fWAR 2011 with 5.9 last year. Yeah, I think this Gordon kid might be okay after all. Billy Butler has averaged 2.5 fWAR over the last four seasons and is coming off his best year (3.2) in 2012. Barring injury, It is hard to see regression in either of these two players in 2013 and it would seem that 9 wins between the two of them is a pretty decent lock.

Salvador Perez and Alcides Escobar both chipped in 2.6 fWAR last year, with Sal doing so in just 76 games. We will see if Escobar can again hit at the level he did in 2012, but my eyes tell me his fielding numbers should be better (UZR hated him last year). After a 2.2 fWAR in 2011, it would seem that 2.5 wins out of Alcides is not out of line.

There is a chance that Perez, not Hosmer or Moustakas, is the next Royals' superstar. Time will tell and Sal is a crazy free swinger who could conceivable be exploited, but we've seen little evidence of that as of yet. He could go backwards (see Hosmer, Eric), but it does not seem out of line to say a full season of Sal is worth at least 3.0 fWAR.

With 3.5 fWAR from Mike Moustakas and a combined 3.3 from Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson in center, the Royals amassed exactly 20 fWAR from seven positions (excluding right field and second). Assuming Hosmer can't be worse, it would reasonable (albeit hardly a sure thing) to assume those seven positions could provide at least 1 or 2 more wins above replacement in 2013.

There is not a whole lot to like about second base when the bright spot is that Chris Getz was half a win above replacement in 64 games and there is absolutely nothing to like about Jeff Francoeur in right. There is not enough smiles and grit and naked batting practice in the world that makes up for -1.2 fWAR. Unlike Hosmer, I can actually envision Frenchy being worse in 2013. Luckily, Wil Myers is waiting in AAA. Can the Royals at least get a cumulative replacement level contribution in right in 2013? If so, tack on another win in our quest for WAR.

The numbers don't really add up above (hey, Zimmerman posted yesterday, you want math wait for him to post again!) as they would give our boys close to 24 fWAR out of the position players: an improvement of almost seven wins. That would be nice and, I suppose, possible, but there are injuries and someone will regress. There is Ned Yost and Jeff Francoeur and no one has signed Yuni. Seven wins is a big improvement, three and one-half seems more reasonable.

That means the pitching staff needs to come up with a little more than four wins to get the Royals into the forties. I don't imagine there is much fWAR or bWAR or even War on Terrorism discussion around the Royals' front office, but they have focused their off-season energies on this area. I think there was a little bit of discussion around here about acquiring Ervin Santana....

In 2012, the Royals got a combined -0.9 fWAR out of starts made by Jonathan Sanchez, Everett Teaford, Nathan Adcock, Jake Odorizzi and Ryan Verdugo. Just to move along, let's just assign that same number to Santana. You can debate and lament that - wait, we already have - anyway, move along.

Moving up the ladder, the Royals basically got one full season of starts (35) out of the combination of Felipe Paulino, Danny Duffy, Vin Mazzaro and Will Smith. Those four combined for an fWAR of 2.5. Again, I am taking some statistical liberties here to just get us in the ballpark of what the Royals need. Still, if the Royals' number four and five starting rotation spots contributed a combined 1.6 fWAR in 2012, I would think they could do the same in 2013.

Shifting away from the rotation for just a sentence or two, let's assign some value to the bullpen. Last years' 7.3 fWAR is a big number. A big enough number that you almost have to factor in a little regression. Just for ease of addition, let's say the bullpen is a still very effective 6.4 fWAR in 2013.

With the bullpen and two starting rotation spots filled, the Royals have 8.0 fWAR. Boys and girls, that is not enough. To get to a combined pitching fWAR of 19.0, that means Kansas City would need an average of 3.7 fWAR out of their top three rotation positions.

Jeremy Guthrie gave the team 1.5 wins in 14 starts last year. Do you believe? Enough to gamble a three year deal that he is now a three plus fWAR pitcher? Hochevar is not getting there, nor is Chen and, while I like Luis Mendoza, I don't think he doubles his WAR, either. It is a long way from here to there, isn't it?

Anibal Sanchez gets you close to four wins and obviously so does Greinke, but are the Royals in those markets? Doubtful. Does the organization rely on offensive improvement the return of Duffy and Paulino and hope Ervin Santana's August and September of last year indicate a return to past form?

Or are the Royals really just playing for 2014?

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