Can the Pirates Win the WAR?

WAR (wins above replacement) is a commonly used stat is baseball, but what does it mean and what does it say for the Pirates 2020 chances?

The Pittsburgh Pirates finished the 2019 season with a record of 69-93. It was disaster on all fronts. From injuries to suspensions, from fighting other teams on the field to fighting each other in the club house. From being 2 games out of the playoffs at the All-Star Break to ending up in the cellar of the NL Central after another epic second-half collapse. Most Pirates fans would agree that this is a season that in some ways, they would like to forget. 

But then things started to go in a new direction. Long-tenured Manager Clint Hurdle was given his walking papers, President Frank Coonelly and the team parted ways, and GM Neal Huntington was shown the door. Now I would hope that there is at least some optimism surrounding the club, with a New President (Travis Williams), a new GM (Ben Cherington). and a new manager (Derek Shelton) in place. However, some of the residual disappointment, anger and pessimism still remain. A lot of this is surrounding the direction that the Pirates organization should take moving forward. Many fans are on the blow it up and completely rebuild the whole darn thing train. Others are leaning more toward trading off some assets, possibly Marte, Kela and/or Bell and trying to build around the young core (Reynolds, Newman, Tucker, Keller, etc). Then there are the fans that are on the complete other end of the spectrum. They believe that if Pirates just add some pieces, and of course make Bob Nutting break out the wallet a little, we can be competitive moving forward. A lot of people have already been talking about the first two options, so I would like to take a look at this last argument to see if it can truly hold water. Not to make anyone mad or to make people look stupid, but to see if it is actually possible. 

In order to do this in a fair and hopefully meaningful way, I will be basing all of my projections for the upcoming season on what could end up being the eventual 26 man roster (current players and possible free agent additions)utility/bench players and call ups/promotion players; along with projections from Fangraphs as it pertains to projected WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for these players. 

Before we get down to the nitty gritty I wanted to take a moment to explain WAR to everyone that may not be as familiar with the term. I know that for some of you this may be a refresher, so please bear with me. WAR is a simple depiction of a sequence of highly complex equations. The concept was conceived by baseball statistician Sean Smith. Its goal is to measure the value of a player to his team, represented in wins. For non-pitchers it takes into account a players OPS+ (On Base Plus Slugging Percentage Plus), fielding and speed. It also takes into account adjustments for ballparks, ERA of opposing pitchers and positional adjustments because, as we all know, some positions are more difficult than others. For pitchers their ERA (Earned Run Average), FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) and the quality of the defensive players behind them are considered and calculated. Now that we are on the same page we can get this experiment started, going position by position/player by player.

The 32 players (and their projected WARs) that should play for the Pirates next year if no one is traded and all of the arbitrations are settled are included below. It's a rather lengthy list. So, feel free to scan and use it as a reference.

  • 1st Base-Josh Bell: 2.1
  • 2nd Base-Adam Frazier: 1.8
  • SS-Kevin Newman: 1.3
  • 3rd Base-Colin Moran: .7
  • C-Jacob Stallings: 1.4
  • C-Elias Diaz: -.1
  • RF-Gregory Polanco: 1.2
  • CF-Starling Marte: 2.7
  • LF-Bryan Reynolds: 2.2
  • SP-Joe Musgrove: 2.8
  • SP-Trevor Williams: 1.6
  • SP-Chris Archer: 3.0
  • SP-Mitch Keller: 2.5
  • SP-Steven Brault: 1.4
  • SP-Chad Kuhl: .8
  • RP-Keone Kela: 1.2
  • RP-Richard Rodriguez: .4
  • RP-Michael Feliz: .4
  • RP-Kyle Crick: .3
  • RP-Edgar Santana: 0.0
  • RP-Sam Howard: 0.0
  • RP-Nick Burdi: .1
  • RP/SP-Chris Stratton: .2
  • RP/SP-Cody Ponce: 0.0
  • UT/Bench-Jose’ Osuna: .6
  • UT/Bench-Pablo Reyes: .2
  • UT/Bench-Erik Gonzalez: -.4
  • UT/Bench-Cole Tucker:.1
  • UT/Bench-Jason Martin: .1
  • UT/Bench-Kevin Kramer: 0.0
  • UT/Bench-Ke’Bryan Hayes: 0.0
  • UT/Bench-Will Craig: 0.0 

 I know that there are some other potential players like Dovydas Neverauskas, Geoff Hartleib and Clay Holmes among others that could play into this as well, but I feel like things will even themselves out once we talk about the potential free agent additions and the WAR they would bring to the team. Before I give you the total WAR for the team I also need to explain that it has been calculated that the number of games that a team would win in a 162 game season if they had replacement level players (0.0) is between 49 and 52, so we need to add our total to the 52 Games. If you add the 32 players that I have listed the total is 28.6 So 49+28.6=77.6 and 52 +28.6 =80.6. If we take the low end projection the Pirates should have 77 wins (rounding down) and if we take the high end projection the Pirates should have 81 wins (rounding up). For arguments sake it makes sense to split the difference, which would be 79 wins. This is 10 more wins than they had this past year. 

The next natural step is to add some potential free agents into the mix to see how far the Pirate’s WAR can go up. When doing this I don’t want to get carried away and say that we are going to add free agents like Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zach Wheeler, Josh Donaldson, Anthony Rendon and the like. Also we can’t just add the free agent total to the current calculation of 79 wins because if these free agents are playing, it means that one of the guys of the 32 we calculated will not be playing a full season/up to their full season projection. I am going to stick to the free agents that the Pirates have been linked to so far this off season. They are Kole Calhoun-OF, Wade Miley-SP, Michael Wacha-SP, Rick Porcello-SP and Drew Smyly-SP. Now obviously we are not going to sign 4 new starting pitchers or at least that would be highly unexpected, so we can probably choose Cole Calhoun and a combination of two pitchers (maybe the highest in a best case scenario). However, before we do that let’s see the projected WAR for each of these players. 

  • Kole Calhoun: 1.3
  • Wade Miley: 1.5
  • Michael Wacha: 1.0
  • Rick Porcello: 2.0
  • Drew Smyly: .6 

So let’s say the Pirates get the top 3 WAR players in Cahoun, Miley and Porcello, that would be a total of 4.8 (5 if we round up). However, remember we have to take into account the players on our original 32 that would not get full time WAR. Porcello (2.0) and Miley (1.5) would likely win spots in the starting rotation or at least be fighting for a spot. That means they would take the place of Brault (1.4) and Kuhl (.8). The difference would be 3.5 – 2.2= 1.3 or 1 to 2 extra wins. Calhoun (1.3) would most likely be used if Polanco (1.2) is unable to give it a go in RF. As you can already see the difference is pretty much nonexistent (+.1). That means no more wins would be added in this move. So in adding our free agents we have added an extra 2 wins to our original total, which would bring us to 79 on the low end and 83 on the high. Split the difference and we are at 81 wins, another .500 season. Is that what the Pirates are aiming for? Is that what the fans of the Pirates are aiming for? I would hope not. 

I am sure I didn’t change anyone’s mind as to what camp they are in, what train they are on or what horse they have hitched their wagon to. My only hope is that I have given everyone something to think about as far as the direction that the Pirates should go as an organization moving forward. 

Follow Craig on Twitter: @BucsBasement

Comments (4)
No. 1-2

I enjoyed reading the article. It makes sense to portray an alternative argument with a few additions, they could play .500 ball.

I just feel like continuing to flounder in mediocrity with no direction is worrisome. Adding some aging pitchers won’t change the direction of the franchise.

I feel like Williams/Cherington must acknowledge the state of the franchise. The farm system is depleted of talent, lacking difference makers, especially SP. Building around Reynolds, Newman, Keller is a must. Moving Marte is inevitable. The real conversation to have is centered around Josh Bell. Sell high on someone who has 3 years of control and will demand top dollar as a Boras client? If they cold flip him for two top pitching prospects that could be in the rotation by 2021, I think you have to do it.


Any player below a 2.o WAR should be shopped