Posted by Alex Bonilla on March 16, 2020
As we approach the beginning of the 2020 season, we have made some updates to our Wins Above Replacement calculations. You may notice some small changes to figures as you browse the site. As always, you can find full details on how we calculate WAR here.
Defensive Runs Saved Changes
Last week, we updated Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) totals across the site with new figures from Baseball Info Solutions. The new methodology involves breaking down infielder defense using the PART system - assigning run values to Positioning, Air Balls, Range, and Throwing. Under the new system, an infielder’s total DRS is the sum of his Air Balls, Range, and Throwing runs saved, while Positioning runs saved are credited to the team as a whole. You can read more about the updates in the Sports Info Solutions blog. The PART system applies to all infielders since 2013.
Folding these numbers into WAR, we see some significant changes for individual player seasons. The 2019 Oakland A’s get even more recognition for defense on the left side of their infield, with shortstop Marcus Semien gaining 0.7 WAR and third baseman Matt Chapman gaining 1.6 WAR from the new DRS numbers, lifting both players above Mike Trout and into second and third place respectively on the 2019 AL WAR leaderboard. Chapman’s 1.6 additional WAR represents the largest single-season change in this update.
On the other end of the spectrum, we see Adrian Beltre with the most significant drop in this update, losing 1.5 WAR in 2015.
Since we use DRS to measure the quality of a team’s defense, these new values also impact pitcher WAR values. Team total DRS changed by as much as 46 runs for a given team and season - the 2019 Dodgers defense improved from 75 DRS to 121 DRS by non-pitchers under the new system. Once applied to a specific pitcher, however, the changes to WAR are much smaller in magnitude than the changes to individual fielders. The most extreme example is Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched 182.2 innings in front of the 2019 Dodgers defense. Considering the Dodgers defense to be 46 runs better across the entire season, and considering that Ryu was the pitcher for 13.52% of the Dodgers’ balls in play in 2019, we adjust our expected runs allowed for Ryu by 6.2 runs for the season. After following the rest of the steps in our pitching WAR calculation, the end result is a drop of 0.3 WAR for the season. All other changes to pitching WAR from this change to team defense are smaller than Ryu’s 0.3 WAR drop in 2019.
Park factors for 2018 have been re-computed to include the 2019 season, since WAR uses a three-year average for park factors when computing pitching WAR. The most significant change here is the Miami Marlins, whose pitching park factor rose from 90 to 95 (where <100 represents a pitcher’s park and >100 represents a hitter’s park). José Ureña sees the biggest benefit from this, with his 2018 WAR rising by 0.7 wins. All other changes to pitching WAR from updated park factors are smaller than Ureña’s 0.7 WAR gain in 2018.
New Game Logs from Retrosheet (1904-1907)
Last month, we updated the site with new data from Retrosheet, including new game logs for players from 1904 to 1907. Having game-level data allows us to be more precise in our WAR calculations, since we can consider the specific ballparks a pitcher played in and the opponents he faced.
Take Christy Mathewson in 1907 as an example. Prior to this change, we used the league average (excluding his team) of 3.36 runs per nine innings as the expected quality of his opposition. However, with game-level data, we can see that Mathewson’s actual opponents averaged 3.55 runs per nine innings, showing that Mathewson was probably used strategically and started more games against better opponents. Indeed, Mathewson pitched in 10 of the Giants’ 22 games against the league’s best offense, the Pirates, as well as 7 of the Giants’ 22 games against the Cubs, the NL’s second-best offense. Against the Dodgers and Cardinals, who each struggled offensively and scored fewer than 3 runs per game, Mathewson pitched in just 8 games total.
Knowing this about his usage, we can set more accurate expectations for how many runs an average player would have allowed under Mathewson’s circumstances. By adjusting the quality of his opposition, we expect an average pitcher to have allowed about 7 more runs over the course of the season, resulting in a bump of 0.9 WAR in 1907. All other changes to pitching WAR from new game log data are smaller than Mathewson’s 0.9 WAR gain in 1907.
Baserunning and Double Plays from Play-by-Play Data (1931-1947)
When calculating runs from baserunning and double plays, we use play-by-play data from seasons where it is complete enough to credit players for things like scoring from first on a double, advancing from first to third on a single, and hitting into fewer double plays than expected.
In the past, we have taken play-by-play data into account back to 1948 for baserunning and double plays, because the data further back than that has been incomplete and could give players an advantage in their WAR simply by having more complete play-by-play records than their peers. As this data has become more complete over time, we have moved this cutoff back to 1931. The data is still somewhat sparse for games that took place during World War II (1943-45), but we felt it was worth including those years as well.
Pete Reiser of the Brooklyn Dodgers was skilled at taking extra bases, and it showed in the play-by-play accounts. In 1942, he took extra bases at a rate of 55%, compared to the league average of 45%. Additionally, the Dodgers were tied with the Cardinals as the league’s top scoring offense, so Reiser had many opportunities to put his speed to use. He scored from first on doubles a league-leading ten times in just 15 opportunities, and also scored from second on a single 24 times, good for 5th in the NL that year, in just 29 opportunities. Using this play-by-play data while computing WAR gives Reiser an additional 1.2 WAR in 1942. All other changes to batting WAR from this change are smaller than Reiser’s 1.2 WAR gain in 1942.
Caught Stealing Totals from Game Logs (1926-1940)
When crediting runners for how many runs they contributed with their baserunning, we take into account their stolen base and caught stealing totals. Caught stealing totals are missing for many players between 1926 and 1940, but we have complete game logs for players in that span.
In the past, when we didn’t have a caught stealing total for a player, we would estimate how many times they were likely to have been caught stealing based on the league’s stolen base success rate and the ways the player reached base during the season.
We are now using actual caught stealing totals from the players’ game logs, so there are some changes for players who did considerably better or worse than we had been estimating.
Take, for example, Freddie Lindstrom. In 1928, the Giants third baseman stole 15 bases, but his official season stat line does not have caught stealing available. Previously, we had estimated that he was caught stealing 11.57 times, based on everything else we knew about his performance and the league he played in. However, game logs indicate that Lindstrom was caught 21 times, nearly twice as often as we had estimated. This difference gets folded into our baserunning runs calculation and results in a drop of 0.4 WAR. All other changes to batting WAR from this change are smaller than Lindstrom’s 0.4 WAR drop in 1928.
Biggest Career Movers
Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi sees the biggest change to his career WAR with this update, sinking from 46.8 WAR to 39.5 WAR, a drop of 7.3 wins. The largest gain goes to infielder Lonny Frey, who picks up 5.2 wins. Both these players played in the 1930s and 1940s and saw big changes because of their baserunning. Lombardi is known for being one of the slowest runners in baseball history, and this update shows that the numbers back that reputation. Frey was a fast runner in an era where stolen bases were rare, so he has been underrated to this point when it comes to his baserunning contributions.
On the mound, previously cited Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson is the big winner. As discussed above, his WAR now recognizes how his manager would use him against tougher opponents, and he sees his career WAR jump by 2.2 wins. Barney Pelty experiences the biggest drop of 1.9 wins.
We’ve highlighted some of the more extreme changes here, but to see full lists of the largest changes to season and career WAR totals, please see the spreadsheet here.
We're very excited about these new additions and hope you enjoy them as well. Thanks to Baseball Info Solutions for their contributions. Please let us know if you have any comments, questions or concerns.