From A WAR Perspective, Yankees Are In Surprsingly Good Shape For 2013

A little over a decade ago, the offseason was more subjective than objective. During these days, the Yankees would likely look at the departure of Nick Swisher, Hiroki Kuroda, and Russell Martin, and figure that they’d need to replace the position with equally competent players. That’s one way to handle the situation, but back then, competence was largely your batting average, RBI’s, win records, and everything else that we scoff at today. Wins above replacement (WAR) isn’t a perfect answer when evaluating a player, but it’s generally the best objective single number we have. It’s quick, clean, and accurate, and now it’ll give us an idea of what the Yankees really lose in 2013.

First off, let’s put fWAR in some sort of context. If you’re completely new to the stat, imagine that your team is compose of replacement level players, or players you’d easily find on a Triple-A team. If a player produces above what’s considered replacement level they earn positive WAR, and if they don’t it goes negative. A player like Robinson Cano, who posted 7.8 fWAR in 2012, helped the team win 7.8 extra games.

Since 2430 games were played in the 2012 regular season, 2430 total wins were earned. Throughout those games, FanGraphs issued 1129.7 fWAR throughout all of baseball. Subtracting these additional wins from the 2430 games, you’ll find that if all the teams had been replacement level, they’d produce a combined 1300.3 wins. Divide that by the 30 teams in baseball, and your replacement level team was worth 43.3 wins in 2012.

The Yankees hitting and pitching combined for  51.1 fWAR, and when you add that to the 43.3 win replacement level baseline, the Yankees should have won 94.4 games. In comparison, Bill James‘ Pythagorean expectation, or the formula that calculates wins based on total runs scored and allowed, had the Yankees winning 95 games. Both of these numbers are pretty much identical to the actual outcome, which was a 95-67 record.

For now, let’s assume that the player’s remaining on the team after this offseason will go on to repeat their performance in 2013. This means we can subtract the total fWAR accumulated by the players leaving, and thus figure out where the Yankees would stand next season with replacement level players filling these spots.

Players Lost In 2012
Position Player 2012 fWAR
RF Nick Swisher 3.9
SP Hiroki Kuroda 3.9
C Russell Martin 2.2
3B Eric Chavez 1.8
SP Andy Pettitte 1.7
CL Rafael Soriano 1.2
LF Raul Ibanez 1.1
LF Ichiro Suzuki 0.8
LF Dewayne Wise 0.8
CL Mariano Rivera 0.4
LF Andruw Jones 0.4
RP Derek Lowe 0.2
RP Chad Qualls 0.1
SP Freddy Garcia 0.0
RP Cory Wade 0.0
RP Ryota Igarashi 0.0
RP Justin Thomas 0.0
RP D.J. Mitchell -0.1
1B Steve Pearce -0.1
OF Darnell McDonald -0.2
IF Casey McGehee -0.6

All together, that adds up to 17.5 fWAR leaving the team. Subtract that from the 94.4 wins they were expected in 2012, and the team is good for just 76.9 wins if they filled these sports with replacement level players in 2013, a 77-85 record. Before we get started talking about who they need to start targeting in 2013, there are some additional conditions to look at next year.

With the age of the team, there are some players we can expect deterioration, but there are also players we can expect additional WAR. Probably the biggest addition will be a healthy Brett Gardner, who produced an average of 5.7 fWAR in his first two full seasons. I’d also suggest that Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira, who have respectively averaged 4.6 fWAR and 4.3 fWAR over their careers, will see more production. If these three players have average years, they’ll provide an additional 10.6 fWAR, a huge boost that would give the team 87.5 wins without replacing any of the players leaving.

But we’re not done yet. You could make a case that Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova, David Phelps, and Joba Chamberlain should also see a slight increase in fWAR next season, though less likely than the three mentioned above. Michael Pineda and David Aardsma are also interesting pieces that should provide something above replacement too, assuming injury recovery.

That said, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez are still aging, so that will likely take away some of the value we’ve already calculated into the 87.5 wins. I also wouldn’t count on Robinson Cano having another year like he just did. As good as he is, a 7.8 fWAR season is his highest ever, and it’s not something to count on for 2013.

There’s no way to accurately calculate what they’ll gain from the young players, and the same goes for what they’ll lose with the older players. Between this and a slight Cano decline, it’ll probably account for a couple lost wins, right around the mid 80’s.

Baseball Think Factory and ESPN’s Dan Syzmborski has already released preliminary 2013 Yankee forecasting based on the ZiPS projection system. Much like our fWAR shows, Syzmborski has the Yankees going 85-77.

As nice as it would be to enter this offseason with 85 wins, both of these projections assume that the starters will be fully healthy through 2013, and that’s something that absolutely won’t happen. The ultimate goal is to finish right around where they did in 2012, since around 95 games should win them a playoff spot in a weak 2013 AL East. Preparing for injuries, the team will likely seek out around 15 additional wins on top of the 85 win calculation, sitting comfortably at a 100 win projection.

Resigning Mariano Rivera will probably happen very soon, and he has averaged 2.3 fWAR per full season. If the Yankees could further resign Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda, that’ll add about 6 more wins to the projection. Russell Martin, who’s averaged 3.3 fWAR per season, would move the total wins from 85 to 96.6.

The big question is what happens in right field, and with around 97 wins accounted for, the Yankees could add Ichiro Suzuki, Eric Chavez, and further fill out the bench and bullpen with lottery ticket pieces to achieve that 100 win goal.

As weak as it sounds to virtually have the same team as last season, the 2012 team had the best record in the American League with the most injury time in the league. Without Brett Gardner producing, and a huge Granderson slump, the team vastly under produced. For that reason, fWAR and ZiPS shows that the organization is surprisingly well set for 2013, despite a close season in 2012.

Personally, my only concern is right field. With a budget in 2014/2015, finding cheap one year stop gaps like Kuroda, Pettitte, and Suzuki leaves them ill prepared for the future. As players like Teixeira, Jeter, Rodriguez, and Sabathia age on the wrong side of 30, more and more WAR must be added to these positions over the next few years. The team has quite a few young starting pitchers that could add develop into high fWAR players, but the front office would do the team well to trade for a young, cheap, and high WAR right fielder to supplement for shortstop, third base, and first base. No matter what they decide to do, at least fWAR and ZiPS have shown there is little concern for 2013 from a statistical standpoint.

Mike is the co-Editor-in-Chief of It's About The Money. Outside of blogging baseball, Mike is also a musician, a runner, and a beer lover.

10 thoughts on “From A WAR Perspective, Yankees Are In Surprsingly Good Shape For 2013

  1. Duh, Innings!

    I got news for you:

    BA was the downfall of the 2012 Yankees.

    Third-lowest BA and second-lowest OBP since 1992.

    And how’d they hit in the postseason again?

    Only one of the last seven Yankees World Series winning teams has hit lower than .277 (what the 2000 Yanks hit): the 1978 Yanks who barely made the postseason. The last five have hit .277 or better.

    This team can’t hit.

    • roadrider

      This team can’t hit.

      Oh, was that why they were second in runs scored (by four) and led the league in OBP?

    • “Third-lowest BA and second-lowest OBP since 1992.”

      Hi, I’m context; have we met? Despite those numbers, they were still fourth in the league in BA and first in OBP. They may’ve been ‘low’ by Yankee standards, but they were still great compared to the rest of the league.

  2. roadrider

    My only quibble is the continual overestimation of Gardner’s value. You really have to buy into not only UZR but FanGraphs translation of that into WAR to think that Gardner is worth 5-6 wins. To me Gardner is more like a 2-3 win player. Sorry, but LF defense is just not that valuable and Gardner is no more than a roughly league-average offensive producer.

    • Chris

      I don’t fully buy into Gardner’s WAR values either, UZR is just too unreliable in one season form and he’s playing the second fiddle in the outfield defense. That said I do think he’s an important part of the team defensively and having his speed at the bottom of the lineup adds an extra demension to order.

      I really hope they move Gardner to CF for coming season, it’s time to stop wasting Gardner’s best skill set in LF and admit Granderson is becoming a corner outfielder. You should get more value from Gardner in CF and hopefully Granderson’s decline in fielding will be diminished in LF.

      • roadrider

        100%. Don’t get me wrong – I like Gardner and what he brings to the team. I just don’t buy into the FanGraphs numbers and hate seeing them repeated like they were a law of physics.

        Agree completely that the Yankees would be maximizing value by having Gardner and Granderson swap positions.

        • Chris

          I’ve moved away from WAR a lot in general, I just can’t trust the defensive metrics enough to boil everything down to one number. I love numbers, especially advanced metrics, but WAR isn’t my favorite.

  3. hawaii dave

    This sentence from the above article interests me, “Without Brett Gardner producing, and a huge Granderson slump, the team vastly under produced”.

    What does it say about a team that “vastly overproduces” yet has the best record in the league, and the 2nd highest runs scored. Either the whole league is full of teams that vastly under produced, (making my beloved Yankees the Kings of the under producers)….or it says that the 2012 Yankees were probably the best team ever assembled on a baseball field as evidenced by winning 95 whole games, while “vastly underachieving” and having so many players injured. By Golly if they had Mo and Gardner, and Grandy didn’t have that slump, why, them Yankees woulda won 137 games, by jimminy.

    My guess is that the league has too many teams which dilutes talent. The best hope the Yankees have is that Boston can’t rebuild. Will the Yankees win 13 games against the Sox in 2013? Probably not. Will Toronto lose their best player again? Probably not. Will Baltimore improve or regress?

  4. California Pete

    Holy shit Dave don’t hold back on making a dramatic exaggeration.

    A healthy Gardner instead of the mix of players that played the part and Granderson more along the lines of his 2011 season puts them more along the lines of 102-103 wins, but don’t let a realistic projection ruin your dooshbaggery.

    • hawaii dave

      Is Petesy Weetsy, madsy wadsy? I love guys like you that call guys dootzbags through the protection of 3000 miles of ocean and an internet connection. Lol…Petey, do you think your buddies on here think you’re a bad ass mutha-fuckuh cause you’re brave enough to talk bold from a computer? They know who you are. Relax, ask your mom for some pimple cream medication, and dream about getting laid….and stop calling strangers names.

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