The WAR between Studs and Bums | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

On Wednesday night, Carlos Gomez went 4-5 with two triples, three runs scored, and three RBIs — a mighty successful day at the office for the Brewers’ center fielder. Gomez continues to build on a strong finish to the 2012 season and appears to be worth every cent paid to him by the Brewers. In 2013, Gomez will make $4.3 M, which breaks down to $11,780 a day. Not a bad daily haul for legging out two triples, on Wednesday, and an even better daily haul for enjoying a Thursday off in Cincinnati.

In the baseball world, Gomez’s salary isn’t considered exorbitant. With the average MLB salary at $3,305,393, Gomez’s $4.3 M makes him the 238th highest paid player in the league – sandwiched between Atlanta relief pitcher Eric O’Flaherty, who’s making $4.32 M, and Diamondbacks starter Ian Kennedy, who’s making $4.26 M. When read in the context of the baseball world, those numbers makes sense. But what if I re-frame Gomez’s salary in this way? It took Gomez 3.68 days (or the length of the Brewers’ series in Miami plus part of Thursday) to make the average yearly salary of a high school teacher.

The reason I bring this up isn’t to weigh the morality of the cultural and economic system that has created this divide. If you’re looking for that, Edward McClelland wrote such a piece for Slate earlier this year and it’s well worth a read. Baseball is big business, as Forbes’ list of MLB Team Values reminded us earlier this year. With so much money being earned by each MLB team, it’s only fair that they compensate the players accordingly.

Of course, predicting the correct market value for a player is a delicate dance only done between general managers and agents. Even with big binders full of statistics and advanced metrics, at the best of times, it’s an educated guess. At its worst, it’s nothing more than gambling on a huge scale. Luckily, for all the non-GMs and non-agents, it’s much easier to analyze the stats and metrics after they occur and then assign a value to a player. Which is exactly what does.

When I stumbled upon the BPS, I disappeared down the rabbit hole for a few hours. Not only does it list a player’s salary, but also his contract’s length and other players with similar paychecks. The site updates daily and dissects a player’s salary in many simple and entertaining ways. For example, by dividing Gomez’s $4.3M salary by his current number of games played, hits, runs, etc. In case you want to know, each of Gomez’s home runs, so far this season, has been worth $390,909. Obviously, that number will drop the next time he sends one to the seats and does his patented bat flip. Isolated, it’s kind of a silly stat but BPS’s homepage also has a list of “Cheapest Home Runs”. Leading that list is Domonic Brown, whose cost per home run is a paltry $26,315. He’s followed by Paul Goldschmidt, who’s currently getting $33,333 for each of his 15 long balls.

Yet, what grabbed me most about BPS appears near the top of every player’s page. Under “2013 Performance”, the player’s “Percent of Team Payroll” is listed next to “Percent of Team’s On-Field Performance”, which is a calculation involving the player’s percentage of team WAR. Beneath both numbers is a simple proclamation on whether the player is a “Stud”, “Bum”, “Very Valuable”, “Overpaid”, etc. According to the site, here’s how Carlos Gomez’s season, as of Wednesday game, is shaking out —

  • Percent of Team’s Payroll – 4.98%
  • Percent of Team’s On-Field Performance – 56.25%
  • “Carlos Gomez is a total stud”

BPS breaks down and accesses a player’s performance solely through a monetary lens. Some of it is entertaining and frivolous but there are greater truths here. The only other monetary metric I’ve come across is Fangraphs’ “Dollar” valuation, which the site describes as “WAR converted to a dollar scale based on what a player would make in free agency”. As Dave Cameron wrote for Fangraphs, after the metric was added to the site in 2009, the dollar valuation stat is not intended as a predictor of a player’s value. Simply, it crunches the numbers that a player has produced and assigns a value to the player’s level of production. Basically, if a team expected to get this type of production from a player through free agency, it would cost the “Dollar Valuation”. How does Fangraphs’ “Dollar Valuation” assess Gomez’s 2013 performance? So far, the site lists Gomez’s season as being worth $21.2 M, which is the best in all of baseball. Miguel Cabrera comes in second at $19.9 M.

After digging into Gomez’s season, I had to see how these metrics evaluated the rest of the Brewers team. Here’s how it shakes out for the position players —

Payroll% Team’s On-Field Performance% BPS Verdict $ Valuation fWAR
Carlos Gomez 4.98 56.25 Total Stud 21.2 4.2
Jean Segura 0.57 41.25 Total Stud 15.3 3.1
Ryan Braun 9.85 23.75 Very Valuable 9.0 1.8
Norichika Aoki 1.45 32.50 Total Stud 5.1 1.0
Jonathan Lucroy 0.87 7.5 Very Valuable 4.2 0.8
Logan Schafer 0.57 5.0 Very Valuable 0.9 0.2
Aramis Ramirez 11.59 -2.50 Bum -0.5 -0.1
Scooter Gennett* NA NA NA -0.7 -0.1
Jeff Bianchi 0.57 -3.75 Bum -0.9 -0.2
Rickie Weeks 11.59 -10.00 Bum -1.0 -0.2
Yuniesky Betancourt 1.04 -13.75 Bum -2.3 -0.5
Martin Maldonado 0.57 -6.25 Bum -2.5 -0.5
Juan Francisco** 0.11 -3.75 Bum -2.6 -0.5

*No BPS evaluation

**BPS’ numbers from his time with the Brewers.

Here’s how the Brewers’ pitchers fair —

Payroll% Team’s On-Field Performance% BPS Verdict $ Valuation fWAR
Yovani Gallardo 8.98 1.25 Overpaid 3.5 0.7
Jim Henderson 0.57 10.00 Total Stud 3.2 0.6
Brandon Kintzler 0.57 0.00 Bum 1.8 0.4
Kyle Lohse 12.75 11.25 Worth It 1.4 0.3
Wily Peralta 0.57 -22.50 Bum 1.3 0.3
Mike Gonzalez 2.61 7.50 Very Valuable 1.1 0.2
Donovan Hand* NA NA NA 0.7 0.1
Burke Badenhop 1.80 -1.25 Bum 0.6 0.1
Francisco Rodriguez* NA NA NA 0.5 0.1
Marco Estrada 2.27 -3.75 Bum 0.3 0.1
Alfredo Figaro* NA NA NA -0.8 -0.2
Tom Gorzelanny 3.19 10.00 Total Stud -1.8 -0.4
John Axford 5.79 -3.75 Bum -2.0 -0.4

*No BPS evaluation

While the position players’ BPS numbers and Fangraphs’ “Dollar Valuation” break down according to their fWAR, things get much more convoluted and interesting once the pitchers are assessed. Clearly, BPS grades players based by their on-field performance compared to their percentage of payroll. Yet, the stark contrast between BPS’ and Fangraphs’ opinions on Wily Peralta and Tom Gorzelanny are striking.

While I might not consider Gorzelanny’s 2013 performance to be in the ranks of “Total Stud”, I do agree with BPS’ evaluation of his performance more than Fangraphs’. Also, Wily Peralta may not be having the start to the season we hoped, but my eyes believe his season isn’t as dire as BPS’ -22.50% of “Team’s On-Field Performance” says it is. Looking to explain the difference, I checked Baseball-Reference’s bWAR calculations against Fangraphs’ fWAR on the two players –

Wily Peralta +0.3 -1.8
Tom Gorzelanny -0.4 +0.8

Now the discrepancy made sense. BPS uses Baseball-Reference’s WAR calculation, not Fangraphs’, in their formula. This made me think back to the delicate dance between GMs and agents. In this case, the fine line between bWAR and fWAR made all the difference on who BPS considered a “Stud” and who they considered a “Bum”.

BPS’ ranking system may be too blunt to accurately assess all the nuances of the game but that’s not what it’s striving to do. It’s meant to be informative and entertaining. Yet, it still disproved what I originally thought. Maybe, even after the fact, assigning value to player’s performance is still nothing more than an educated guess.

To me, this is yet another example of how value is relative. Whether it’s money or WAR calculations. My eyes have seen Gorzelanny’s effectiveness in stranding 98.4% of base runners. A number that certainly will decrease during the season but one that shouldn’t make him any less valuable, right now. When stats correct for league average, or ballpark factors, they can lead to conclusions that betray the eye and draw the ire of sabermetric critics. Yet, by making people look at baseball for different angles, hopefully all these advanced metrics have made the baseball fan appreciate the game in bold and strange new ways.

Like how Carlos Gomez, with his 2013 salary of $4.3 M, would have to work 5,178,268 days to equal Bill Gates’ net worth.

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