Replacement Level On Two Feet

If you’ve hung around here very long, you’ve heard the term replacement level. We often refer to a players performance in terms of his Wins Above Replacement, which is based on the replacement level baseline. Despite significant inroads in acceptance, replacement level can still be one of those murky things to try to explain to someone. Fans, and even some GMs, will often find it hard to believe that you can get decent performances from guys for the league minimum, and constantly want examples of guys who prove the replacement level baseline.

Well, today, we got yet another walking example. The Twins designated Luis Ayala for assignment, as Minnesota becomes the third team to get rid of him in the last 12 months. Here’s how he’s performed over the last three seasons.

BB/9: 2.55, 2.83, 2.23
K/9: 5.95, 5.95, 5.83
HR/9: 1.06, 1.07, 1.11

Or, if you want to see it expressed in terms of wins above replacement: 0.0, 0.0, 0.1.

Ayala’s settled in as an extremely consistent 4.4 FIP reliever. He throws strikes, givese up a few home runs, and gets some strikeouts, but he doesn’t do any of those things exceptionally well or poorly. He throws a 91 MPH fastball, an 83 MPH slider, and an 82 MPH change – about as average in terms of stuff as you could find.

There’s nothing that stands out about Ayala. He’s just a run of the mill strike throwing reliever with nondescript stuff. The Wins Above Replacement metric things he’s essentially the baseline against which all other relievers should be measured, and MLB teams agree. Ayala’s performance is good enough to keep landing him jobs and bad enough for those teams to decide they could do better.

Luis Ayala defines replacement level.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.