The difference between winning (and losing) the WAR

We are one-sixth of the way into the season - SSS for sure - and there is already a healthy (unhealthy?) amount of discussion brewing about buyers and sellers, trade deadline, who's in it, and who is out of it already(!)

Witness the post by bucfaninwa below and the resulting commentary, and witness a spate of recent articles, already beginning to talk about teams who are likely "out of it" before we are out of April (re: the BJays, for instance). For some, the flag is already dropping for a race to the finish, and to some extent you have to constantly be in that frame of mind if you hope to actually get there.

Another interesting article went up as early as this morning, on Fangraphs (as referenced by another BD poster earlier today), that is comparing current W-L records against what WAR would indicate a team's record "should" be. As it stands today, the Pirates "lead" the MLB in the differential between its current wins (15), and what the underlying stats say is the number of games they should have won to date (less than 12). "Leading", in this case, isn't necessarily a good thing.

What that tries to define is the current fragility of the Pirates record, the fact that, to some extent, they've played over the heads of the individual performances (so far). What that also indicates is that the Pirates will likely need to stay laser-focused on every possible thing that can cost them WAR, and win them WAR.

Not to put all of our eggs in one basket and rely religiously on WAR, but for the purposes of this........I'm going to do just that :-)

Specifically, I wanted to look at the current roster and some of the ROS (Rest of Season) WAR stats for each to see if there were any practical alternatives to "buy" a few extra wins the rest of the way this season.

The good news? The Pirates look very good in almost every area, to the extent that there is likely no meaningful upgrade to be had in what will likely be the open market thru the rest of 2013.

And by 'practical' and 'meaningful', I there a player who is/will be considered to be "in play" in 2013 (by conventional wisdom) who would from today forward project at least a couple more (1.5 to 2 or more) "wins", based on some of the accepted projection systems, ROS. This does NOT take into consideration whether Buster Posey or Joe Mauer would be a meaningful WAR upgrade over Russell Martin - they clearly would, but they are not, and will not be, available, and the Pirates would not be in the market for a $20+ million catcher to begin with. Trying to be practical and realistic in this exercise.

Given those loose parameters, here's what some of those opportunities might look like at each position as the year progresses:

  • Catcher - no practical upgrade to Martin/McKenry available or (IMO) necessary. Hold.
  • Second base - Walker. Hold.
  • Left field - Marte. Hold.
  • Center field - Cutch. Hold.

From there, it's a slightly more open discussion.

  • At first base - I have been concerned about relying on Garrett Jones at 1B year-after-year, and there are definitely individual first basemen who would be better than him, individually. But the reality right now is that the Pirates have hit upon a platoon at 1B that is finally working, and being adhered to. That platoon now allows the Pirates to say that there is no meaningful improvement out in the open market that would buy them a better situation. Hold.
  • At third base - I have been extremely concerned (as many of you know :-) about the Pirates continuing to rely on Alvarez long-term, but, as many of you point out, he is what he is - a home run hitting strikeout machine, who, while a disappointment as measured against his prospect status and draft position, will (hopefully) continue to put up 2 or so WAR a year as a middle-of-league-pack 3B, whose defense will ultimately move him to 1B or DH somewhere. He is also dirt cheap for now, a big plus in the context of the Bucs, and maybe the deciding factor in this discussion.

The issue here is whether there's a meaningful, practical upgrade out there, and there is precisely one......Chase Headley. Headley, at a much higher price, would theoretically provide a 1.5 to 2 win uptick from this point forward. If you think he follows thru on those projections and buys you an extra win or two, and you foresee those wins as the potential difference between going home and a wild card, then July 31st will be judgment day on Pedro (like it almost was last year), but I don't foresee it being a conversation about anything other than Pedro vs. Chase. I do predict the Padres will be sellers, Headley will continue to perform to his recent production, and that Pedro will continue to underwhelm (IMO).

+1.5 to 2 wins, but the economics of the Headley upgrade are at full retail, always a tough sell on the Bucs' budget.

This one will be interesting, but at 3B likely a Hold. (Or Headley :-)

  • At right field - again, the Pirates have seemingly found a platoon (or maybe just a RF in Snider) that works sufficiently. And, while there are a number of RFs who might be an individual upgrade over what we have, I no longer think that those 'better' RFs - who would also be available - project to be a meaningful upgrade over what we have. Except for one.

THAT one RF, as we all know, will be Giancarlo Stanton, who will be on the market, and will be the subject of a mind-numbing, trade-rumor circus, cranking up again around June 1st (if it holds off even that long), diminished only by the possible injury he suffered last night, and/or the unpredictability of the Marlins ownership.

It would be +2 (or more) wins for the Bucs, but at what prospect/player cost? To be discussed - incessantly, no doubt.

As this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime deals that the Pirates can actually be a part of, they will indeed be a part of the rumors FWIW, and it will likely get too crazy at some point, so the Pirates at RF will likely Hold. (Or Stanton:-)

  • Which finally brings us to shortstop - no matter what rosy projection you go hunting for, the Pirates will project serious win damage at this position for the rest of 2013. The position now looks to deliver less than even 1 win to the team this year. That being said, there are probably still only 2 shortstops out there that meet the possible criteria of both being a candidate to be on the open market at the deadline, and someone who at least currently projects to add 1.5 to 2 more wins to the Pirates from today forward.
The first is Jhonny Peralta of the Tigers, who could be moved in the last year of his deal, pending other Tiger variables. Same price basically as Barmes, but this may be unlikely. Oddly enough - while he's clearly a better hitter than Barmes, his current defensive numbers are also better than Barmes' in 2013 - not sure if that will continue to hold thru the season. Ultimately, not sure the Tigers are sellers on this, and IMO, meh.
The second is Asdrubal Cabrera of the Indians. He has two years remaining on his deal, at $6.5 mil this year, jumping to $10 mil in 2014. Disclaimer - he is having a horrendous (for him) year so far, but the regression/progression assumptions in the projection systems having him returning to form and creating significant added value over a Clint Barmes.
Given that the Bucs need a SS for at least the next two years, Cabrera might be the fit. Conversely, the Indians (who I predict will at least be sellers at SS come the deadline), are circling the airport with top SS prospects waiting to take over, and also have Mike Aviles on hand. The Indians will be dealing from their strength at short, and the Bucs would likely be wise to jump into that conversation now.
So, at shortstop (coinciding with a replacement of McDonald with Mercer)....Trade for Asdrubal Cabrera.

Re: SPs and bullpen - the Pirates at least look set for both, for now. Not that a Roy Halladay (and hopefully a bag of money) won't materialize at the deadline, but with the Bucs as a buyer at the deadline (IMO), I'm also guessing that we can Hold on all pitching needs.
For what it's all worth, the Pirates look - for the first time in a long time - to be in relatively great shape!
But, from today forward, it will be essential that they avoid the small missteps, be relatively cold-and-heartless with the "drags" on their win potential, at least keep their antennae up on Headley and Stanton, and make a big change outright at shortstop.
I still think that's a mid-80s win team if handled well from here, and I'm starting to think that puts you in the wild-card discussion. This is where we'll see if the warm-and-fuzzy, try-hard, peacetime handlers can make the conversion to WAR-time leadership.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of the managing editor (Charlie) or SB Nation. FanPosts are written by Bucs Dugout readers.

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