The WAR Room: Introduction
Throughout the year, we here at IBI bring you first-hand coverage of Cleveland's minor league system like nobody else. From beat writers covering each minor league affiliate to weekly notebooks to extended interviews with coaches and front office personnel, IBI has in-depth scouting information you cannot find anywhere else.
What we do not have as much of on the minor league side is statistical analysis. Many of our writers implement stats and sabermetrics into their writing and analysis, but when it comes to minor league players, that is harder to do. So much of minor league performance is context-based; comparing a 21-year-old and a 27-year-old both succeeding in Triple-A, for example. That, plus a relative lack of available information, makes just using raw stats impossible. Want to know how well defensive metrics rated Mike Trout in 2013? Just head to Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference, etc. But what about Francisco Lindor in High-A? That is not publically available.
But how far can we go with what is publically available? Well, that is the point of this article.
WAR is a stat that has its flaws, but it also has some pretty important uses, and what I will be doing with The WAR Room, starting next week, is revealing my computations of WAR for minor leaguers in the Cleveland system. The WAR Room will be a bi-weekly subscription feature.
The formula to create WAR is not a secret (in fact it is right here on Fangraphs for hitters and pitchers), but putting it together with minor league statistics is not necessarily readily available. Plus it has some problems, which I am going to outline below.
But more importantly, it is another tool we can use to evaluate the minor leaguers moving up through the system. I will not just be throwing raw WAR totals at you; each set of stats will have an accompanying write-up putting it all into the proper context.
There are some inherent issues with these WAR totals, which are listed below:
- The biggest issue, which I hinted at above, is the lack of good defensive metrics for the minor leagues. To account for this, I will give you each player's WAR with a range: from a poor defender (-10 runs below-average per 162 games) to an average defender (0 runs per 162 games) to a great defender (10 runs above-average per 162 games). So if it's Lindor, err toward the great defense WAR figure. If it's Jake Lowery, err toward the poor defense WAR figure. And so on.
- Though each WAR result is adjusted for the league (i.e., International League, Eastern League, etc.), they are not adjusted per park. This is something that probably could be done with enough time, but the payoff is pretty marginal. We all know the general park effects, so taking some results with an extra grain of salt is a decent shortcut to make the numbers easier to compute. For the record, here are the assumptions (compiled using Minor League Central's park factors):
- Columbus' Huntington Park: Very offense-friendly. Think U.S. Cellular Field.
- Akron's Canal Park: Very tough on home runs, but overall only slightly suppressing of offense. Think Kaufmann Stadium.
- Carolina's Five County Stadium: A little nicer than Canal Park to offense, but not a hitter's paradise. Think Busch Stadium.
- Lake County's Classic Park: Very home run friendly, though not necessarily boosting to offense overall. Think the Great American Ball Park.
- There is a slight issue with the number of games position players spent at designated hitter. The easiest way for me to load the data is from Baseball-Reference's pages, which includes each position except designated hitter. I subtracted each player's games played at each position by their total games to find their designated hitter mark. The flaw here is a player who switches position mid-game will get credit at both positions (i.e. center field and left field). So if a player switched mid-game in one game and was the designated hitter in the next game, I would not catch it. But since this happens fairly rarely, it should not be enough to meaningfully skew the results.
- Fangraphs does not have a measure of non-stolen base baserunning runs available (i.e., going first to third on a single instead of stopping at second), but this again is a small component of a player's value. If someone is a good runner, feel free to add 0.1 WAR or so (and the opposite for a bad runner). Again, not all that much in the big picture.
Despite these flaws, we can still use the numbers to better our understanding of minor leaguers in the Cleveland system. We know who is a good defender and who is not; thus putting the ranges in the final output. Plus, we can acknowledge that Canal Park plays like Petco Park in suppressing offense and Huntington Park gives Coors Field a run for its money. We have always had to adjust our expectations in our head based on these facts; it will not be any different with these WAR totals. Plus, as I said earlier, I will be explaining the marks and why they are significant (or why it is lying, in some cases), not just throwing number after number at you.
We already bring you the best scouting-based coverage of the organization around; now we are working to extend that coverage in the stat-based world.
If you want to follow Jim on Twitter, he’s @JimPiascik. If you want to e-mail him, you can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to read his Master's thesis on college athletes and Twitter, you can do so here.
I believe I requested something like this from Tony in the offseason.
I'm looking forward to it.