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  1. Would it be relevant to do this for pitchers as well?

    Comment by AK7007 — February 5, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

  2. This certainly passes the smell test with Russ Canzler as one of the most replacement levely.

    Comment by larry — February 5, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

  3. Yep, but pitchers are a little trickier, since so many minor league deals for starters include incentives that push them well over the league minimum. For instance, Freddy Garcia signed a minor league deal, but could make a few million if he makes the team and stays healthy. That’s not really the ideal replacement level player. Weeding through those guys is a little more work.

    Comment by Dave Cameron — February 5, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

  4. I count 4 one time Mariner properties. Expected more.

    Comment by Apple Wood Smoked Pepper Jack Cheese — February 5, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

  5. Next year this list will be entirely comprised of members of the 2013 Houston Astros.

    Comment by Guy Smiley — February 5, 2013 @ 2:32 pm

  6. One thing this list shows about replacement level/WAR, however, is that the offensive and defensive sides aren’t really in balance. Note that Scott Cousins is an extreme outlier here – the only player out of 24 who’s an extraordinarily bad hitter but fields well enough to hang on. It seems to me that if replacement level actually worked the way it was supposed to we’d see replacement-level players strung along an indifference curve.

    Comment by Mr Punch — February 5, 2013 @ 2:34 pm

  7. Would your face be relevant to my boot? Yes.

    Comment by OuchBabe — February 5, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

  8. Over a large enough sample size we probably would, but one year’s list of MiLB free agents isn’t very many…

    Comment by David — February 5, 2013 @ 2:37 pm

  9. I can’t imagine I’m the only one who sees Joe Mather’s name and thinks “A trip to the courthouse to change your name to Cotton would be glorious for all involved.”

    Comment by AJB — February 5, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

  10. …and you’d also have to examine the old saw about how MiLB is full of younger guys who can field well but can’t hit (moreso than the reverse) and how that affects what sort of player gets signed as a MiLB free agent. It may be correct to say that a theoretical distribution of ALL replacement level players would cover all skills in roughly equal doses, but the reality of the sorts of player who have been around long enough to escape team control and yet not be good enough to stick in the bigs (and still trying!) is entirely different

    Comment by David — February 5, 2013 @ 2:42 pm

  11. I didn’t think Yuniesky Betancourt was even replacement level-good, so congrats to him on achieving that.

    Comment by Klements Sausage — February 5, 2013 @ 2:50 pm

  12. I count 4 one time Ray properties. Expected more.

    Comment by diegosanchez — February 5, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

  13. I think understanding that replacement level player provides about 2 wins less
    than a league average player helps some.

    Guys like Sweeney, Duncan and Downs are more than replacement players. Not much more, but more.

    Comment by pft — February 5, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

  14. So I’m confused at the concept of replacement level vs. selection bias. The way major league rosters work is you can collect an unlimited number of minor league free agents and not promise them any roster spots. Let’s say you sign 5 MLFA pitchers to fill your last bullpen spot or 5th starter spot. Then, as spring training progresses and the season starts, you can pick and choose the best of the 5 to fill your actual 25-man roster.

    Let’s say the spread of performance for 5 replacement level players has a standard deviation of 0.7 WAR. There’s a very good chance that best of those 5 players is playing above replacement level. That’s the one you choose for your team. In essence, you’ve just picked up a 0.7 WAR player for a pittance. Sometimes you might get lucky and it might be a 1-2 WAR player. Looking at the list above, this seems to be the typical spread for freely available talent.

    Doesn’t this imply that the actual (as opposed to theoretical 0 WAR) replacement level for the last spots on a team’s roster should really be 0.5 WAR or higher? Brian Sabean is a great example of a guy who uses this strategy well. Year after year, he signs many MLFA’s, and each year one of them becomes a key contributer: Torres, Vogelsong, Blanco, Arias. You may think he’s good at cherry picking, but there’s also tons of MLFA’s that don’t ever see the big league club. For every Vogelsong there’s a Bonser or Petit. For every Arias there’s a Bill Hall or Todd Linden.

    Comment by Nivra — February 5, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  15. 6 one time and current Indian’s property…about right

    Comment by e — February 5, 2013 @ 4:23 pm

  16. No Giants? This is truly Sabean2.0. Where are Roos, Marv, Bill gone? I feel a bit disoriented.

    Comment by glib — February 5, 2013 @ 4:55 pm

  17. Of course you’ll pick the best of them (or what you think will be the best of them), but the best can be pretty bad. Joe Mather did play in the major leagues last year.

    Comment by nick — February 5, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

  18. This only works if you assume that you can determine a player’s true talent in spring training or a handful of regular-season appearances, and that whatever you learn that way trumps the projection you’d make based on their entire career before that. Neither of these assumptions is likely to be true.

    So yeah, you can sign five MiLFA’s and give the roster spot to whoever performs best, but the odds are that that guy is overperforming and will come back to Earth any day.

    Comment by John R. — February 5, 2013 @ 5:24 pm

  19. But isn’t that true for these players as well? Betancourt will make $1.4 million if he makes the major league team.

    Comment by Travis — February 5, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

  20. Thank you for this Dave, it helps to provide context.

    Comment by Hurtlockertwo — February 5, 2013 @ 6:01 pm

  21. This is a nice little shorthand analysis, but it misses what is to me the most important aspect of the “replacement level is entirely theoretical” objection to WAR. Namely, that replacement level is set at some theoretically determined level (.250 or .300 or .320 or whatever). People who take this stuff seriously aren’t oblivious to the fact that freely available talent tends to perform near “replacement level,” but those that object to the theoretically-derived aspect of it are uncomfortable with the arbitrariness of placing that level at one well-below-average point rather than another (as well as numerous similarly reasonable objections).

    (“Objection” may not be the right word here. I don’t think many people who take this stuff seriously really “object” to WAR. It’s more like there’s a reasonable debate to be had about just what WAR’s utility is and the extent to which it is or isn’t useful in those roles.)

    Comment by epoc — February 5, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

  22. I never thought that before, but I will never not think of that from now on.

    Comment by TFINY — February 5, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  23. I prefer WAA (Wins Above Average).

    If I’m not mistaken, the NBA (or at least NBA2K13) uses Wins Above Average as the metric.

    The “average” at a given position seems to be more easily determined than “replacement level”.

    Comment by CircleChange11 — February 5, 2013 @ 7:33 pm

  24. Four members from the 2012 Red Sox.

    Comment by brian — February 5, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

  25. Joe Mather… smh

    Comment by DQ — February 5, 2013 @ 8:44 pm

  26. The scary thing is how many of them are ex-stros. Recent ex-stros. I count Schafer, Hall, Downs, Bourgeois, Francisco and Snyder.

    Comment by Jimbo — February 5, 2013 @ 9:12 pm

  27. I would like to see a similar list for players signed to minor league contracts or through waivers in 2011 and how they perform in 2012.

    Comment by chinghu — February 5, 2013 @ 10:06 pm

  28. “League average” is easier to determine, but it doesn’t solve the problem because it leaves you with no way to assess how valuable an average (or slightly below) player is.

    We know those players are valuable, because GMs are willing to pay millions to secure their services. But if you used WAA, you would think a slightly below-average player was less valuable the more playing time he got.

    Comment by Sylvan — February 5, 2013 @ 10:38 pm

  29. …or what about Increase, the elder Mather…

    Comment by MRE — February 5, 2013 @ 11:03 pm

  30. So does this mean that this year we need to figure out Wins Below Replacement for the Astros?

    Comment by Masticating Monkey — February 6, 2013 @ 12:12 am

  31. Dave, if you concede that selection bias means that these players likely underachieved in 2012 as a group (which is probably true), then using 2011 and 2012 data still produces a result which is likely less than their actual talent level. Using only 2011 brings up age and injury issues, so using 2011 and 2012 is fine, as long as you qualify your results with the caveat that the -.04 WAR likely still understates their true talent.

    Comment by MGL — February 6, 2013 @ 12:15 am

  32. It was made up for by all the previous years of Eli Whiteside.

    Comment by Deelron — February 6, 2013 @ 4:50 am

  33. There is of course another kind of identifiable replacement-level player, the AAAA “prospects.” Daniel Nava (MLB ’10, minmors ’11, no MLB camp invite ’12) is an example.

    I’m pretty sure that a player who hit like Jose Iglesias fields and vice versa wouldn’t be in Pawtucket. Frank Thomas, for example, is headed to Cooperstown.

    Comment by Mr Punch — February 6, 2013 @ 8:58 am

  34. I think the value of an average player is quite easy to determine:
    A team full of average players would be expected to win half their games. A team without any players would win zero games. Just Divide the expected number of wins of a .500 team by the number of roster spots. In other words, a .500 MLB team wins 81 games. Divided by active roster spots (25) that’s 3.24 wins above zero per roster spot.

    Comment by vaujot — February 7, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

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