My WAR is better than yours
Lots of trade talk right now. With three or four high end starters on the market, someone is going to make a move, and the Angels are as likely as anyone to be in the thick of things. No one has a grasp on what the rental pitchers are going to be worth due to lack of draft pick compensation, so there seems to be a lot of hesitancy to pull the trigger on one of these deals. No GM wants to be the nube who grossly overpays for just ten starts.
Still, something's going to happen. I decided to rank the Angels' top cost controlled talent to get an idea of what other organizations see when they're creating their "pref lists." I took a detour along the way -- excuse some meandering below -- but here's what I came up with:
1) Mike Trout
He's not going to be traded. Ever. However, the list has to start somewhere.
2) Mark Trumbo
Can I admit something? Until just two minutes ago, I had Flete Pete in the two-spot. I figured, what the hell, I've been undervaluing Trumbo for years now, and all the while touting Bourjos' virtues, so why stop today?
My predilection runs deeper than a penchant for highlight reel defense, going straight to the heart of our primary means of comparing players, WAR, and WAR's limitations. Baseball Reference has Peter Bourjos creating 7.2 WAR over 903 big league PA's. Trumbo has put up 5.7 WAR over 915 big league PA's. Ergo, the year-younger Flete Pete has created more value, and given the sample size, can reasonably be expected to continue creating more value... Right?
The trouble is, I don't think many of us would agree that Bourjos has more value, for two reasons. The first is simple: in the all-important-right-now, Trumbo is racking up WAR at a faster rate than Flete Pete. If you project their current numbers out over a full season worth of PA's, Trumbo winds up with 5.1 WAR, and Bourjos only 3.1 WAR. We can hem and haw a bit over how handicapped Pete is with his infrequent AB's, but the fact is that 2012-Trumbo is outperforming 2012-Bourjos.
Performance comes and goes though, and while I don't expect many to agree with me, I personally believe it's likely that Flete Pete creates more WAR over the next half-decade than Trumbo, assuming equal playing time. At the very least, it should be close. So now this gets interesting, because despite the premise that Bourjos will create more WAR, I'd still rank Trumbo as having more value. I know most Angels' fans would agree. After all, it's Trumbo's mug that adorns the stadium now, and not Bourjos'.
Which brings us to the second reason for why most folks, including those who write the checks in professional baseball, chuck WAR out the window when comparing Trumbo to Flete Pete: the offensive component of WAR, specifically power, is valued more than defensive WAR. 53% of Bourjos' WAR contributions come with the glove. 86% of Trumbo's contributions come off the bat (and mostly go into the seats. Cheap seats, way the hell out there). The "o" component of WAR, and especially the slugging component, wins our hearts - and the fat paycheck - every time.
But should it win our minds as well? Is this just a massive case of market inefficiency continuing to persist despite countless blogs, conferences, consultants, professional sabermetricians (yes, they do exist!), etc., devoted to identifying and remedying such things? Or do we all, deep down, know the importance of the longball, of slugging percentage, of RBI's, but continue to use WAR - of which, slugging is only a small component - anyway without thinking too much about it? After all, it's such a useful, useful tool.
We are living in a state of contradiction. Some folks say that WAR breaks down when it comes to valuing power because of scarcity, since guys who hit bombs with regularity are few and far between. I don't buy it, because the means by which we measure defense are relative: Bourjos gets to far more balls in the gaps than the overwhelming majority of athletic CF's, ever, so we know how rare his skill set is.
I think it comes down to the way the "runs created" component of WAR, which measures a player's offensive contributions, is calculated. All algorithms that measure "runs created" derive from a basic correlation Bill James discovered decades ago. James created a formula through trial and error, basically experimenting with whole-team stats, using them as inputs while trying to get an output that matched the team's runs scored in a year. He found, ultimately, that OBP and slugging were the key inputs. Of those two, OBP was by far the more important number. From that discovery derive the ever-more complicated equations we use to value each offensive contribution.
However, that breakthrough formula, and all formulas since, were designed around teams' aggregate numbers, and not a player's individual numbers. It had to be that way, since the only way you could tell if you were modeling reality is if your math produced totals that aligned with teams' total runs scored in a season.
What if guys who create slugging "bubbles" in a lineup have disproportional value, regardless of their OBP? What if the slugging percentage of a few guys remains central to run creation, even if the most important number team-wide is OBP? The impact of those slugging bubbles would be empirically difficult to value, because their slugging output gets averaged out across the rest of a teams' numbers in all of the formulas. Slugging percentage concentration acts as a sort of laxative to run-creation constipation, if you will, even if those players create more outs than others.
Think about Kendry Morales in 2009 and the impact he had on the Angels' club. Yet, according to WAR, he was only the third most valuable offensive contributor on that team, at 4 WAR. Think about every championship team in recent memory, and they all have players who provide those slugging bubbles, even if their OBP isn't stellar.
If this is true, we should adjust WAR to value sluggers to the degree that the market - all of those GM's with their checkbooks - values sluggers.
So Trumbo probably belongs in front of Bourjos, even if the latter creates more WAR.
3) Pete Bourjos
See above. I still think he has tremendous trade value. He's developing into a clone of Howie Kendrick at the plate, and he's at the top of scale in fielding his position. He may not have made "the catch," but he's run down more would-be gappers in a shorter amount of time than most any other centerfielder in the game. His arm's pretty good too. Someone's going to value him properly.
The Angels won't trade Richards for a rental. They couldn't be that stupid. With Santana unlikely to return, they have at least two openings at the back of their rotation in 2012, and Richards is their only real internal option if they're going to avoid paying a guy like Jeremy Guthrie.
And he's good too! Still averaging 96 mph in the seventh inning? Whoa! I fear Angels' fans aren't as excited about him as they should be, regardless of a few growing pains.
5) Kaleb Cowart
Still a high risk prospect, but his ceiling is looking higher and higher. While he's not yet one of the top fifty prospects in the game -- he'll need to carry over his new approach in the upper minors first -- I'd want him in my system.
He's not getting traded. With the Angels desperate for a 2012 playoff birth, there's no way they'd put their key bullpen piece up for trade.
7) Hank Conger
Along with Bourjos, he's the most likely to get dealt. There just doesn't seem to be a future for him here, despite his many talents. Just watch him end up in Texas.
8) Nick Maronde
Maronde's looking better and better with each start.
9) Jean Segura
With Aybar's possible injury, Segura may be our starting shortstop in the near future. As I recall, Aybar arrived in big leagues under very similar circumstances during his age-22 season.
10) Jordan Walden
His value's tumbled this year, but his slider's improved somewhat, and with a little better FB command and luck he could still be a bullpen bulwark somewhere.
11) C.J. Cron
Cron is another example of a slugger who might be getting short-changed by WAR. Fangraphs' runs created metric tagged him as an average hitter for the Cal League at the season's midway point. Not want you want to see from a first round bopper. And yet, he leads the league in RBI's on the league's worst scoring team. He hits balls hard, frequently, even if he doesn't walk and the HR total isn't up there yet.
I've watched him on MILBtv this weekend, and was impressed. He got around on some good fastballs in on his hands, and he went the other way effectively. Basically, he took pitchers' pitches, and hammered them in crucial situations all weekend. The HR drought might just be a blip.
12) John Hellweg
He's got helium right now as, just like last July. His FB and improving control are making folks excited in the industry.