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Rockies WAR Lords of the Diamond Update

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Since my column on Saturday, not much has changed with the Rockies' 25 man roster plans beyond the addition of some pitching depth in the form of minor league deals for Tim Redding, Justin Speier, and Jimmy Gobble. The Rockies have been rumored to be after either Melvin Mora or Orlando Cabrera--both of whom are old and seemed to fall off a cliff last year. Mora is the more accomplished hitter while Cabrera has historically performed well with the leather. Either will do when it comes to a super-utility player, though I'd prefer to have Mora (or whichever player comes more cheaply). Meanwhile, earlier potential target Fernando Tatis has re-signed with the Mets.

As this situation sorts itself out, I'm going to take an opportunity to revisit my WAR Lords series, which examined the Wins Above Replacement stat and how the Rockies of yester-year measured up to the Rockies of today. Today, I've  added in the Rockies' 2009 WAR data added in, and it has changed a few positions on the list. Since arguably the 2009 Rockies were perhaps the best overall team in franchise history, it stands to reason that several of its players would make the list.

Once again, here was my methodology:

1. I only used stats accumulated when they played for the Rockies.

2. The categories used were: career with Rockies, best three consecutive years with Rockies (establishes average production), and best single year with the Rockies (establishes peak production).

3. If the players spent less than three years with the Rockies, their career total was used in the other metrics as well. If the player was at different positions for different years, the player would be considered for the position in which he had the most starts (or greatest impact, at my discretion) for the Rockies.

4. The players were ranked in each category. Those ranks were added and averaged out--the lowest average rank was the most valuable Rockie.

5. The data used was only for seasons that were completed.

6. Minimum qualifications for inclusion are 50 PAs in one season or 25 IP.

Remember, I'm using Sean Smith's historical Rally WAR database (not Fangraphs) to compile these numbers (with a big assist to the fantastic Baseball Reference). Smith also runs the CHONE projection system, which is featured in Fangraphs. Though Smith provides a glossary of the terms he uses, the method of his WAR calculation is opaque (I can't figure out exactly how he does it due to the variability of skill sets over different eras. In any case, here is an explanation of WAR's calculation for position players and pitchers (the way that Fangraphs does it, anyway) that I wrote in a previous session of Purple Row Academy.

Note: the calculation that Smith uses is different than the one used in my article, so the numbers at Fangraphs will be slightly different than the ones I present in these articles. The reason I do this is because Smith's WAR calculation allows me to compare players who played before the Fangraphs era (from 2002 on) like Dante Bichette and those who began during it like Troy Tulowitzki.

First of all, here's how the Rockies stacked up in WAR according to Smith's calculations...

Player Position Smith WAR Fangraphs WAR
Troy Tulowitzki SS 6.8 5.4
Todd Helton 1B 4.2 3.6
Seth Smith LF 2.3 2.7
Carlos Gonzalez LF 2.1 2.4
Clint Barmes 2B 1.9 1.9
Chris Iannetta C 1.5 2
Dexter Fowler CF 1.3 0.7
Brad Hawpe RF 0.7 1.3
Yorvit Torrealba C 0.4 0.8
Ian Stewart 3B 0.3 1.2
Paul Phillips C 0.1 0.4
Garrett Atkins 3B -0.2 -0.4
Omar Quintanilla 2B -0.2 0
Matt Murton LF -0.3 0
Eric Young Jr. 2B -0.4 -0.3
Ryan Spilborghs LF -0.7 0.3
Net 19.8 22

As you can see, some players were liked more by the Smith WAR than Fangraphs and vice versa. Of particular interest to me was that Troy Tulowitzki's defense last year was rated highly by Smith's Total Zone (16) while Fangraphs' UZR saw it as slightly below average, which was worth the 1.4 win difference in WAR calculation. On the flip side, Smith's engine really didn't like Ian Stewart, rating him nearly a full win below Fangraphs thanks largely to a poor defensive rating. It gave the same treatment to Ryan Spilborghs, rating him as the team's least productive player thanks to abysmal hitting and poor fielding marks.

On the whole it appears that Fangraphs' database is more generous with the distribution of WAR than Smith's database, rating the Rockies' position players nearly two wins better than Smith.

Smith's Rally database was more stingy for Rockies pitchers in 2009 as well, as the chart below shows. Note that for both sources I'm not factoring in the pitchers' negative contributions with the bat into either WAR figure.

Player Position Smith WAR Fangraphs WAR
Ubaldo Jimenez SP 5.1 5.7
Jason Marquis SP 3.1 3.8
Aaron Cook SP 2.6 1.9
Jorge de la Rosa SP 2.2 3.7
Jason Hammel SP 1.8 3.8
Huston Street RP 1.6 1.5
Rafael Betancourt RP 1.2 1
Matt Daley RP 0.4 0.7
Franklin Morales RP 0.1 0.5
Manuel Corpas RP -0.3 0.4
Matt Belisle RP -0.4 0
Alan Embree RP -0.4 -0.1
Juan Rincon RP -0.8 0.1
Net 16.2 23

While by Fangraphs' estimation the Rockies' pitching staff was the best in MLB by WAR in 2009 (and certainly the team's best ever staff), the Rally database was considerably harsher in its calculations.

With the exceptions of Cook (0.7 higher), Betancourt (0.2), and Street (0.1), every other Rockies pitcher's contributions were valued less by Smith that by Fangraphs--and since Leverage Index is already built into Smith's WAR calculation it may be argued that Cook is the only one that Smith likes better. In particular, there is a full two win disagreement between the two databases as to Jason Hammel's value and a 1.5 win disparity for Jorge de la Rosa.

In any case, according to Rally, the Rockies who qualified for my study produced 36 Marginal Wins last year (for a true talent level of a 85 win team) as opposed to the 45 MWs produced according to Fangraphs (94 wins). To me, the latter number makes much more sense than the former in terms of gauging the 2009 Rockies.

Effect of 2009 WAR Data on the WAR Lords Lists

Five players on the 2009 team would have a place on the All-Time Rockies WAR Lords team: Iannetta, Helton, Tulowitzki, and Atkins would be starters while Jimenez and Cook fill the 2 and 3 slots in the starting rotation. Iannetta played his way in over Jeff Reed at starting catcher while Helton and Tulowitzki expanded their huge lead over the field. Jimenez's 5.1 WAR season places him at second all-time to 1999 Pedro Astacio's 5.3 WAR for single season pitching WAR and pushes Armando Reynoso out of the rotation.

Meanwhile, a combination of Ryan Spilborghs' rough year and a position shift to left field dropped him from the 3rd rated center fielder to the 8th best left fielder (right behind CarGo). Dexter Fowler debuted as the sixth best CF, while Marquis (14), JDLR (16), and Hammel (19) all placed well on the SP list. For anyone who is interested, if you want the full spreadsheet I'd be happy to email it to you.