This is WAR!!! Looking at the 2019 Astros

There have been tons of baseball numbers featured since Bill James created the new industry of sabermetrics in the 1970s. One of the harder to understand but heavily used numbers thrown around has been WAR (Wins Above Replacement). In general terms, this is how much value (how many wins) a major league player is worth to their teams as compared to a minor league call-up. Of course, when the MLB player is Tyler White (-1.3 WAR) and his replacement is Yordan Alvarez (3.7 WAR)….well that is surely a good example of why a player needs replacement.

Note – for simplicity WAR is taken from baseball reference.com. With other sources, your mileage may vary…

There are a lot of arguments about whether WAR is a good representation of players true value, but the nice thing about it is that it allows comparisons between all players and pitchers in one number.

Last season was a particularly top-notch season for the Astros for WAR, especially on the offensive side. Their batters totalled 44.0 WAR over the season. By comparison, the Dodgers were second in the majors at 38.6 and the Yankees were a distant second in the AL at 35.2.

From the upper portion of the list the AL, the Astro hitters are returning #1 Alex Bregman (9.1 WAR), #6 George Springer (6.4), #15 Michael Brantley (4.8), #27 Yuli Gurriel (3.9), #31 Jose Altuve (3.8), #33 Yordan Alvarez (3.7) and #40 Carlos Correa (3.5) That is pretty impressive when you consider there are 135 guys (9 X 15 teams) in the normal AL lineups. When you include former Astros in the top 50, it includes (close your eyes Becky), #26 Jonathan Villar (3.9), #32 Robinson Chirinos (3.8), #37 Ramon Laureano (3.6 – traded to Oakland before making the majors) and #42 J.D. Martinez (3.4).

On the flip side, when we look at the pitching…..the Astros pitching (23.0 WAR) was just a smidgen behind the World Series champs Nats (23.2) for the major league lead and just ahead of the Rangers???? (21.9) for the AL lead.

Unlike the hitting side, the Astros pitching is only returning two pitchers from the top 50 in the AL, #3 Justin Verlander (7.4 WAR) and #47 Roberto Osuna (1.8). Due to his second-half injury, Ryan Pressly (1.7) fell just outside the top 50 at #52 and Lance McCullers Jr. was #44 at 1.7 when he last pitched in 2018. Now former Astros in the top 50 last season include #4 Gerrit Cole (6.6), #7 Charlie Morton (4.9), #14 Anti-Christ, oops Mike Fiers (3.0), #29 Ken Giles (2.5), and #41 Will Harris (1.9).

Note – if Zack Greinke had put up all of his 6.0 WAR in the AL, most of it was in the NL, he would have been #5.

So, the Astros have a lot of talent returning especially on the offensive side when compared to the rest of baseball. How will it show up in a shortened season (again if there is one)? We shall see.

22 comments on “This is WAR!!! Looking at the 2019 Astros

  1. Thanks, Dan. My biggest gripe with the sabremetric community is that too many get caught up in something more akin to fantasy baseball than real baseball. I think the common complaint about Andre Dawson (4.0) winning the NL MVP in 1987 when he led the league in HR and RBI but only walked 32 times in 662 plate appearances is what bothers me. Most of these folks probably didn’t watch any games that year, but I distinctly remember him hobbling out to RF while looking like he was in need of a double knee replacement. For my money, Jack Clark (5.4) was the guy who should have won, but this is a case where I don’t agree with the listed WAR. If we go by WAR then you should given it to Clark’s teammate Ozzie Smith (6.4), Daryl Strawberry (6.4), or maybe Tony Gwynn (8.6!!!). The problem with Gwynn is that, like Dale Murphy (7.7), and Dawson, he played on an awful, basement dweller. So the real question I often wonder is how close to reality some of these projections really are. If you took Gwynn and put him on the Cubs instead of Dawson would their win total actually have increased? How much of the Astros WAR in 2019 was a direct benefit of their teammates putting them into a position to succeed? WAR doesn’t factor in that if Alex Bregman faces a relief pitcher who has already thrown 20 pitches in an inning he is less likely to execute on his pitches as when he came straight into the game (speculation on my part). Anyhow, I didn’t really have anything to comment on your post other than agreeing that we really had an insane lineup that I looked forward to seeing again in 2020. Even losing Cole I expected our pitching to be worth the price of admission as well.

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    • A lot of good points Devin. There is a lot of synergy in a lineup like the Astros that has the hitters so often hitting with ducks on the pond and also with someone pretty darned good up after them. This has to help the WAR automatically.
      There is no perfect system, but at least there are a lot more tools these days that you can apply to the players when comparing them. Justin Verlander ended up with a better WAR than Cole last season (though a couple pitchers beat out JV) but an argument that Cole was better was at least a 50/50 proposition.

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  2. As a measurement, I am not at WAR with WAR. I read enough about its calculation for me to know that I will never understand it. I think it says that if Player A was not playing, and you brought in a AAA player, how many games would be lost. That begs the question of if you sat Player A and used Player 25, what happens. So if you add them all up, you will get a number (sum) but it might be as relevant as the temperature on the moon compared to the sun. Finally, YES, we had a good team last year, and if we play we should have a good team this year. (And my contempt for WAR is only for WAR. DanP is not at WAR with me.)

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  3. Sorry, I got a D in trigonometry @ 40 years ago and don’t really care to understand how those numbers are calculated.

    I think our offensive WAR may improve (on a prorated basis) due to (hopefully) full season contributions from Yordan, Correa and Aledmys, and with Straw and Tucker replacing Marisnick and Reddick.

    I’m sure most people expect our pitching WAR to decrease due to losing Cole, Miley and Harris, but hopeful to have increases from Greinke, LMJ, Urquidy, Abreu, James, Smith and maybe Peacock so I think we will be OK.

    I think the big unknown is how Click and Baker handle matchups, positioning, baserunning, pitch counts, etc compared to Luhnow and Hinch. Do GMs or Managers have a WAR rating?

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    • And remember that both Springer and Altuve missed almost 1/4 of the season…. Springer was 6th ranked in the AL in only 122 games that is impressive.

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  4. I don’t believe “WAR” is the problem with valuing a player’s worth to the team or to baseball itself. I think the problem is taking WAR and applying it as the determining factor in arriving at the term Most Valuable Player.
    Mike Trout won the MVP Award because he was the best player in the AL, not because he was the most valuable player in the league. He didn’t win the MVP by being “the guy” who led his team to finish 35 games behind the Astros in the standings. He won it by being the best player and the name of the award should be named Best Player. Alex Bregman should have been the MVP because he led his team to the best record in baseball during the regular season and did it with a WAR equal to that of Trout.

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    • That is true – though this shifts at times, OP. There are times when they give it to the guy who led his team to the best record or one of the best records and not to the guy like Trout who was great for a mediocre team.

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  5. DanP, I doubt this makes you feel any better, but I just looked at MLB Trade Rumors for the first time in weeks. They are writing spell binding articles such as The Top Draft pick each year of the 70’s and Guaranteed contracts for 2021/2022 and The 15 to hold on to for the Expansion Draft. So apparently the “Baseball Well” right now is rather dry. Thanks for the difficult work and making the best of the situation.

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    • AC – Some days I feel pretty dry about ideas and some days I feel up to the challenge. But like I said if there is no 2020 season, it is going to be really really tough to do. But you know how it goes, when the going gets tough the tough write about an imaginary expansion draft……

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry about that. You will have help coming up with subjects. I am researching constantly for you. All it would take for the entire 2020 season to crash is a couple of great baseball athletes testing positive and having to go into quarantine. You worry about you and your family and keep yourselves healthy.

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      • Dan, I turned on ESPN this weekend (Saturday?) and they were broadcasting a cornhole championship (from Galveston) on both ESPN and ESPN2. While the cancellation of the baseball season would certainly make it rough on us, imagine the toll a cancellation or delay of the NCAAF and NFL seasons would be on that industry.

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      • Are you trying to tell me that you don’t think there will be 100’s of millions watching the Super Bowl of Cornhole next February?

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      • Dan, I can only hope that’s the case. In the brief time I was watching I saw one of the athlete’s rocking chicken legs and a sizable beer belly nail a few shots. It would be fantastic to turn the TV on and hear Stephan A Smith and Max Kellerman argue why this guy can’t win it all because he obviously skips leg day.

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