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Using WAR Among Position Players to Predict the Yankees 2013 Playoff Chances

WAR, what is it good for? Well the Rush Hour cast would say nothing, but we think differently in the sabermetric community. It’s said that WAR isn’t the end all of all player vs. player arguments, and that’s absolutely correct. WAR is the best stat us saberheads have to determine a player’s value to his team. WAR encompasses much more than just what a position player does at the plate. It also consists of fielding, base running, positional value and replacement value before a number is computed. Although using just WAR to support your argument would ill-advised. You need to use other statistics to help strengthen your claim.

Though it is to be believed that a high team WAR among position players can correlate into regular season success, which could lead to a post-season berth. Of the top 10 teams in fWAR (FanGraphs WAR) for position players, seven of them made the playoffs. The two teams leading the league in position player WAR both failed to make the postseason. However, the Angels who led the MLB in WAR among position players missed the playoffs due to a poorly structured playoff format that had a team with a lesser record — the Detroit Tigers *cough*. As in any statistic, there are flaws and exceptions. I believe there is somewhat of a correlation to a high team WAR among hitters and successfully reaching the playoffs. The Yankees hitters finished with a 30.8 team WAR last season. This was good enough to fourth in team WAR in 2012.

If 2012 is considered a small sample size to you, like it is to me, check out 2008-2011 Yankees’ WAR finishes among MLB teams.

  • 2011 – Third
  • 2010 – Second
  • 2009 – First
  • 2008 – 15th

Notice how the Yankees made the playoffs every year since 2009 when they finished top-four in WAR. In 2008 they finished 15th and failed to make the playoffs. Last season the Yankees posted their lowest WAR total (30.8) since missing the playoffs in 2008. Let’s assume that 30.8 would again get the Yankees to the post-season. This is not an exact science and it’s really just a bunch of educated projections on players to see if the Yankees will once again reach that total.

So far the Yankees are going to be without Nick Swisher, Russell Martin, Eric Chavez, Raul Ibanez and now Alex Rodriguez to injury. The value lost there alone is 11.2 WAR. The five players mentioned were all apart of the Yankees top 10 leaders in batting WAR in 2012. The Yankees must find ways to regain that 11.2 WAR through free agency or trade. It doesn’t have to be gained through position players, although WAR among hitters holds more weight that pitching WAR. This is assuming none of these players re-sign and if they do they regress slightly. Rodriguez is supposed to be back from his surgery in July, so he may be able to accumulate a WAR in the 1.5-2.0 range. The player who is going to replace Rodriguez for the time being is going to have to play like Chavez. If it were to be Eduardo Nunez then his hitting could possibly make up for the lost production of Chavez.

It has been rumored the Yankees are in talks with A.J. Pierzynski, who posted a 3.4 WAR in 2012. This was in an above average year from Pierzynski at the plate. He’ll most likely regress a bit, but could definitely replace Martin’s bat. As for the outfield situation I have no clue who Cashman is seeking to sign after suggesting Swisher will not be back in 2013. Josh Hamilton is always an option if no teams are willing to sign him to a long deal. There has been talks of this only happening if they free up Curtis Granderson. If I’m Cashman I sign Pierzynski and re-sign Ichiro to play right field.

Player   2012 WAR   2013 Projected WAR
Alex Rodriguez 2.2 2
A.J. Pierzynski 3.4 2.3
Josh Hamilton 4.4 5
Eduardo Nunez 0.5 2.2
Kevin Youkilis 1.3 3.2

Above is a chart of players who the Yankees might have to rely on just to get close their 30.8 total of last season. Alex Rodriguez and Eduardo Nunez are in house options. I’m thinking positively for them both. Rodriguez might not be the same player again. He might put up less than I believe he’ll produce after recovering from injury. Nunez might be the cheapest option to replace Rodriguez at third. He has an excellent bat and while a poor fielder, I believe that in a little over three months Nunez can produce a 2+ WAR figure.

Pierzynski can replace Martin at the plate. We’re not going to get the 2012 Pierzynski. I expect his WAR to drop more than a full point. However, that still should be good enough to best Martin’s 2012 total. As for Hamilton that seems like a dream. It would be nice to add Hamilton to the Yankees outfield, but it’s unlikely. He’s been stuck in the 4+ WAR range for the past two years and I believe that hitting in Yankee Stadium would increase that to a 5.0 WAR. Youkilis was poorly treated in Boston which led to him being traded to the Chicago White Sox. I feel if Youkilis played in New York he would benefit from Yankee Stadium. He could replace Rodriguez nicely for the time being. When Rodriguez comes off the DL, Youkilis being known as a utility man could possibly play right field. I do remember him playing some outfield in Boston. He’s a flexible piece that could be very valuable to the Yankees next season.

With Rodriguez, Pierzynski, and either Nunez or Youkilis the Yankees would regain 6.5 or 7.5 WAR. This is not enough to get back to the 11.2 WAR figure we wanted to achieve earlier. If Hamilton was signed (wishful thinking) along with these players, then the Yankees could surpass that number.

It’s unlikely the Yankees sign all of these players with their payroll plan ready to be put in order soon. It’s going to be a challenge for the Yankees to add value to their lineup. Especially with the possible regression of elder players and the unknowns of a long MLB season. The 2013 season is as unsure a year of the Yankees making it to the playoffs as any.

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Tags: New York Yankees

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