WAR, the ASG, and predictability, Part 1

All-Star voting has been open since, well, January or something like that, and the MLB just released the results so far. Some of the voting is predictably kind of… off. Now, you can debate the ASG and its purpose for hours, but that’s been talked about in countless other ways and it’s not the point of this post.

With the ASG voting out, I figured I’d take a look at who really should be leading the votes right now, if you want to be a nerd like us and vote by WAR and stuff like that. More importantly, to keep in mind this site’s goal, I’ll be talking about whether the performances of these players could have been expected. Tonight, I’ll cover the AL stuff. The NL will come at a later time.

1B: Justin Morneau
By pretty much every stat, Justin Morneau is having the best season in baseball. His .372 BA, .493 OBP, 1.173 OPS, 216 OPS+, 3.9 BB-Ref WAR, 3.8 Fangraphs WAR, and 35.6 VORP all lead the majors. He’s been doing crazy well.

Predictable? It’s predictable that he’d be pretty good, but it’s not really predictable that he would have put up stats like this. Morneau’s been a good to very good player, no doubt, throughout his career, but I don’t see him as one of the elite-elite players of the game, especially considering some other first basemen. And here, I think of Teixeira, who I’d genuinely consider much better than Morneau, and who is mostly really, really struggling so far this year, and who yet leads voting. Go figure. You can’t predict All-Star Game voting.

2B: Robinson Cano
Cano leads all AL 2B in Fangraph WAR by a pretty comfortable margin at this point. He’s second in BB-Ref WAR and VORP overall, behind only Morneau.

Predictable? Kinda. I know a lot of Yankee fans expected a lot out of Cano. He did well from 2005 to 2007, only to have a terrible 2008, but rebounded for a very nice 2009, though he struggled with RISP. There was a lot of annoying babbling about his motivation and stuff, and people always used to talk about how Pedroia “tried harder” and “wanted it more” and the like, based on absolutely nothing. It was all very silly and not too racially enlightened. Ahem.

Anyway, Cano moved up to the five spot in the lineup this year, and he’s utterly thrived. You could say that it’s been fairly unpredictable, but all it shows is that hitting with RISP is sort of a cyclical thing. Just because you failed at it, relatively, one year, doesn’t mean you’re doomed to do so forever. “Clutch” might exist, but it changes from year to year and game to game. Even ignoring the RBI stats, per BB-Ref WAR, Cano was worth 5.1 WAR. That’s a great year. So far this year, Cano’s been worth 3 WAR. WOW.

SS: Alex Gonzalez/Elvis Andrus
You could make a pretty good argument for either of these guys, I think. Fangraphs’ WAR likes Andrus better. Both VORP and Baseball Ref’s WAR like Gonzalez more. It depends whether you want elite defense and a .400 OBP, but almost no power, like with Andrus, or ridiculous power with a sub-.300 OBP and non-elite defense, which is Gonzalez.

Predictable? Not at all and, at the same time, completely. Shortstop isn’t exactly a position of consistent strength from year to year, and the AL shortstops are particularly weak this year, especially with Derek Jeter slumping so hard in May, though he’s catching up to these guys as he appears to be breaking out of his slump a bit. I always liked Elvis Andrus, but I didn’t think he was a .400 OBP-type guy. That’s very valuable with his speed and defense. Never thought Alex Gonzalez could have that kind of power, either.

3B: Evan Longoria
Comfortably leads all AL 3B in both kinds of WAR and VORP.

C: Joe Mauer
Comfortably leads all AL C in both kinds of WAR and VORP. Even with him missing some games. This looks familiar…

If these two doing well surprise you, well you haven’t been watching baseball like at all since 2008. Zzzzz. Gimme something to write about here, people!

LF: Carl Crawford
Crawford consistently does extremely well by WAR standards almost every year. He’s currently in the top ten WAR overall by BB-Ref, top five by Fangraphs, and top fifteen by VORP, which doesn’t consider defense.

Predictable? Pretty much. He’s an elite defender who’s very good on the bases and is putting up good numbers this year. I guess something rather surprising and unpredictable is the weakness of left field overall, which I normally think of as a position of power. Crawford has 2.5 WAR by Fangraphs, and the left fielder with the second most WAR? Brett freaking Gardner, with 1.3. Now Gardner’s having a very good year, but remember around 2001 or so when left fielders ruled the freaking world? I’ll probably talk about this more in the NL post…

CF: Alex Rios
Yes! Something to talk about!!! Rios leads all AL CF in Fangraphs WAR. He’s actually got the second-highest amount of WAR in all of baseball, behind Morneau, who’s destroying everyone else. BB-Ref likes Franklin Gutierrez a bit more, and VORP Vernon Wells, but Rios isn’t far behind them there. Pluuuus, he gives me stuff to write about, so I’ll use averages and choose Rios. =P

Predictable? Not at all. Hooray, something to talk about!!!! Rios had good years in 2006 and 2007, then signed that crazy contract. He had a decent year in 2008, but it wasn’t like his 2006 and 2007. Then, he was pretty bad in the first half of 2009, and got placed on wavers. The White Sox claimed him, and all he did for the rest of the year was post a sweet-ass line of .199/.229/.301/.530, 36 OPS+, in 154 PA. Ouch. So far this year, though, he’s getting on base at a higher clip than he ever has in his career, and he’s hitting for quite a bit of power. Per Fangraphs UZR, he’s been a really good fielder, too. Rios hasn’t just been good, he’s been crazy great, and that’s something completely unexpected. Even when he was good, he wasn’t this good.

RF: Nelson Cruz
Even though he’s spent some time on the DL, his stats are pretty staggering, enough to push him quite high on the WAR and VORP leaderboards. He may only have about 125 PAs, compared to the ~200 most fully healthy players have had so far, but seriously. .327/.405/.729?!

Predictable? No, not really. When he played in 96 games in 2007, his numbers were extremely lackluster: .235/.287/.384/.671. Last year, in 128 games, he had pretty good numbers: .260/.332/.524/.856. Basically, the guy doesn’t get on base a ton, but he can pop one or two. It’s likely not sustainable, either, with much of his increased OBP due to an elevated BA, likely a result of his near .350 BABIP, and a ridiculous HR/FB% that’s over 30%. But it’s fun to watch, and the crap you never see coming is sometimes the best part of baseball.

Soon to come: the NL version! Eventually.

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