2012 Offseason: In Search of 15 Wins
By Eric Reining
This article will cumulatively look at how much WAR the Rangers produced in 2012, how that figure relates to their final win output, and how many wins the team has lost and will be looking to make up as this offseason progresses. If you have an intrinsic disinclination, or vendetta against WAR, now would be a good time to move on to another page. This is an advanced warning.
According to SABR (Society for American Baseball Research), a theoretical replacement-level baseball team would win approximately 47 games in a season, giving them a winning percentage of about .290. The basis for this is that replacement-level players are essentially anyone you could scoop off the scrap heap to fill a void, whether it’s due to injury, poor performance, or just lack of any better options. The hypothetical team would be filled with 25 players who each produced exactly 0.0 Wins Above Replacement.
Now, before I get into this, I will throw out the disclaimer that — even though WAR is constantly evolving and improving — it still is an inexact science. With that said, it’s the best, most refined and objective data we have at this point.
The story of the 2012 Texas Rangers shows they actually underachieved in reality what they produced in the data. Adrian Beltre (6.5 fWAR), Josh Hamilton (4.4 fWAR) and Elvis Andrus (4.2 fWAR) spearheaded an offensive attack that led the Majors in runs scored, and overall generated 26.4 Wins Above Replacement according to Fangraphs.
On the pitching end, Yu Darvish was ace-like (5.1 fWAR), and Matt Harrison (3.7 fWAR) tossed up a solid campaign for the second year in a row. Scott Feldman (2.3 fWAR) and an abbreviated season for Colby Lewis (2.1 fWAR) followed them, respectively. Aside from Darvish, the true dominance of the pitching staff was seen in the bullpen, as Joe Nathan (1.8 fWAR), Robbie Ross (1.0 fWAR), and the troika of Alexi Ogando, Mike Adams and Koji Uehara (0.9 fWAR apiece) flourished with positive seasons on the bump. All told, the pitching accounted for another 23.3 fWAR, which was actually the highest total in the Major Leagues.
If you add the pitching WAR to the hitting WAR (which also reflects defense and base running), as a team the Rangers generated 49.7 Wins Above Replacement.
If you then add 49.7 to the hypothetical 47-win replacement-level team, that would mean, in theory, the Rangers should have won about 96 games in 2012 — which explains how technically the team underachieved in 2012, because in reality they only won 93 games.
So what does this all mean?
Well, it would be a mistake to project what will happen in 2013 based off what has already happened in 2012. That’s not the way baseball works. Baseball is a game of a bunch of small samples, whether it’s month-to-month, week-to-week, game-to-game, at-bat-to-at-bat, or even pitch-to-pitch. The key is to look at each player over the large sample, which is made up of all the above-mentioned smaller samples. You can carry the large sample a step further by comparing players from season-to-season. In WAR, there are always outliers, always aberrations.
For instance, I don’t think anyone should expect Adrian Beltre to produce another MVP-caliber 6.5 fWAR season in 2013 as he did in 2012. The same can be said for the 4.0 fWAR David Murphy threw up in what was a career year. At the same token, I also don’t think you should expect Ian Kinsler to underperform like he did in 2012 (even though a 3.2 fWAR season is nothing to sneeze at).
* * * * * *
The problem is, roster makeup changes every year. If you take out the contributions of Mike Napoli (2.0 fWAR), Scott Feldman (2.3 fWAR), and Koji Uehara (0.9 fWAR), who have each signed with other teams, that’s 5.2 wins we’ll be without.
If you add that to Josh Hamilton (4.4 fWAR), Ryan Dempster (1.2 fWAR while he was here), and Mike Adams (0.9 fWAR), who are all free agents without teams at the moment, that’s another 6.5 wins we’re losing. (For the sake of considering Michael Young‘s -1.4 fWAR in 2012 an aberration, I will not count that for or against the win total.)
If you combine the players who are already signed elsewhere with those that are without a job at current press time, that’s 11.7 wins we’re down off of a 93-win season. Subtract 11.7 from 93, and that puts us smack-dab on the median line of 81 wins, 81 losses — a .500 team.
Of course, as I’ve already mentioned, that 81-win figure is strictly a benchmark total of what could be expected from a WAR standpoint. In the end, the games are played on the field, and an 81-win team on paper could wind up winning 90 games, or could end up losing 90 games. But it would be wrong to expect that many wins, or losses, with the roster as it’s currently constructed.
* * * * * *
Ideally, whether through trades or free agency, or the likely combination of both, the Rangers should be able to make up for about 15 wins — which would increase the projected total to 96, making us a more favorable bet to reach the postseason — with the $30 million or so we have to work with within the budget. A scenario where we land any two of Josh Hamilton (4-5 wins), Justin Upton (4-5 wins) and Nick Swisher (3-4 wins), would bolster that 81-win total up closer to 90 wins. Adding R.A. Dickey, Anibal Sanchez, or some other 3-win pitcher, would jack the number up closer to 95, and then finding a 2nd catcher and another bullpen arm would round out the roster.
As we saw in 2012, winning 96 games through WAR wasn’t the same as the 93 wins the Rangers posted in the standings — good for 2nd place in its own division. They underachieved. But then you have a team like Oakland, who won 94 games and didn’t produce nearly that much from a WAR perspective, so they clearly overachieved.
Like I said, the science is inexact, but it paints a pretty accurate picture.
We can look forward all we want, though we really don’t know how each player is going to perform until the pitches get thrown and the bats get to swinging. But the math is right here, and the goal for the Rangers as they stand right now, without any additions, is to add about 15 wins to what will otherwise be a right around .500 ball club. $30 million isn’t a lot of money to accomplish that, but with the Minor League assets and creative smarts of Jon Daniels and the front office, it’s an attainable goal to reach.