What better to do in the middle of winter when there are still a couple weeks until pitchers and catchers report than to look at WAR. In particular, I was curious about WAR in 2014. What positions had the most WAR? What age group? How did younger pitchers compare to older pitchers? So many WAR questions…
I started with the breakdown of WAR by position.
Using FanGraphs’ terrific leaderboard tools, I found statistics for all players who played at each position in 2014. The following numbers apply only to the time spent at that position. Buster Posey, for example, accumulated 462 plate appearances at catcher, 128 at first base, and 9 at DH, so his plate appearances in those amounts are included for those positions in the table below.
For position players, I calculated WAR per 600 plate appearances. For starting pitchers, I used WAR per 150 innings pitched. For relievers, I used WAR per 50 innings pitched. Here is the table:
Some things that stand out for me are listed below. These aren’t earth-shattering insights, but interesting nonetheless:
- You can see the influence of the positional adjustment and defensive value by comparing some positions. For example, left fielders and center fielders had similar offensive numbers in 2014 (LF: .321 wOBA, 104 wRC+; CF: .319 wOBA, 103 wRC+), yet there was a 1.0 difference in WAR/600 PA.
- The three weakest-hitting spots—catcher, second base, and shortstop—make up for it with their defensive chops and the defensive adjustment.
- Players at first base had the best hitting numbers (.332 wOBA, 112 wRC+) but the lowest WAR total among all position players (DH not included).
- Players in the Designated Hitter spot accounted for just 8.4 WAR and three players accounted for 8.8 WAR (the rest accumulated negative WAR): Victor Martinez (3.9 WAR), David Ortiz (2.7 WAR), and Chris Carter (2.2 WAR).
- Starting pitchers had a better ERA than relievers (3.82 to 3.58), which isn’t surprising, but relievers had a higher WHIP (1.28 to 1.27), which did surprise me. Relievers struck out more batters (8.5 K/9 to 7.4 K/9) but also walked more (3.3 BB/9 to 2.7 BB/9).
NEVER TRUST ANYONE OVER 30
The following tables show the breakdown for all hitters, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers by age; specifically, the group of players aged 29 and younger compared to the “30 and over” group.
|30 & up||535||39.2%||72111||35.8%||-3.4%||204.2||1.7||.252||.319||.383||98|
|30 & up||82||34.7%||10056.3||27.8%||-6.8%||96.1||1.4||3.90||1.29||7.0||2.6|
|30 & up||152||34.7%||5079.7||24.8%||-10.0%||21.0||0.2||3.71||1.28||8.0||3.1|
Not surprisingly, players 29 and under were better than players 30 and over and this was true for hitters and pitchers. There was a big difference in the magnitude, though. For hitters, the difference was about 0.3 WAR/600 PA. This is true even though the older group of hitters had a better wRC+. Defense matters.
For starting pitchers, the difference was 0.6 WAR/150 IP, with starting pitchers 29 and under accumulating 65.3% of the innings pitched by starting pitchers and 72.2% of starting pitcher WAR. Starting pitchers 29 and younger had a K/9 of 7.5, while those 30 and older saw their K/9 drop to 7.0.
Relief pitchers showed the greatest difference between the two age groups in WAR% – IP%, with the younger group finishing at +10.0% (65.3% of the innings pitched, 75.2% of the WAR). There was a big difference in strikeout rate for the two groups, with the younger relief pitchers getting more strikeouts (8.7 K/9 to 8.0 K/9).
POSITION BREAKDOWN BY AGE (29 AND UNDER vs. 30 AND OVER).
|30 & up||43||42.2%||8191||38.9%||-3.3%||31.2||2.3||.243||.311||.360|
Young catchers had 0.3 more WAR/600 PA than older catchers. On the offensive side, young catchers outslugged older catchers (.394 to .360) but had a lower OBP (.308 to .311).
Best catcher 29 and under: Jonathan Lucroy, 28 (6.3 WAR)
Best catcher 30 and older: Russell Martin, 31 (5.4 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Jose Molina, 39 (-1.3 WAR)
|30 & up||68||50.6%||10407||42.1%||-8.6%||21.2||1.2||.256||.331||.417|
First base had a near 50-50 split in plate appearances for players 29 and under and 30 and over, but the younger players were 0.5 WAR/600 PA better.
Best first baseman 29 and under: Anthony Rizzo, 24 (5.6 WAR)
Best first baseman 30 and older: Miguel Cabrera, 31 (4.9 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Jon Singleton, 22 (-1.1 WAR)
|30 & up||48||38.3%||7847||42.4%||4.1%||28.2||2.2||.259||.315||.370|
Second base was one of four positions (DH included) at which players 30 and over had more WAR/600 PA than the younger group.
Best second baseman 29 and under: Jose Altuve, 24 (5.0 WAR)
Best second baseman 30 and older: Ian Kinsler, 32 (5.5 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Stephen Drew, 31 (-1.0 WAR)
|30 & up||44||26.5%||5377||36.5%||10.1%||27.5||3.1||.276||.335||.392|
Third base had the biggest discrepancy between players 29 and under and 30 and over when it comes to WAR/600 PA, with a difference of 1.2 WAR/600 PA in favor of the older group, even as the younger group had almost three times as many plate appearances.
Best third baseman 29 and under: Josh Donaldson, 28 (6.5 WAR)
Best third baseman 30 and older: Adrian Beltre, 35 (5.7 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Matt Dominguez, 24 (-1.7 WAR)
|30 & up||33||34.2%||6829||40.2%||6.1%||29.6||2.6||.261||.319||.377|
Shortstop was another position at which players 30 and over had more WAR/600 PA, thanks in part to a better hitting line across the board.
Best shortstop 29 and under: Troy Tulowitzki, 28 (5.2 WAR)
Best shortstop 30 and older: Jhonny Peralta, 32 (5.3 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Josh Rutledge, 25 (-0.8 WAR)
|30 & up||75||39.7%||8137||34.8-%||-4.9%||20.2||1.5||.253||.328||.390|
|30 & up||40||22.9%||4810||17.5%||-5.4%||17.3||2.1||.265||.329||.381|
|30 & up||77||48.2%||9956||39.0%||-9.2%||24.6||1.5||.264||.327||.409|
You can see how youth plays a role in the different outfield positions by observing the plate appearance percentage for each position. In left field, the split is roughly 60-40 in favor of players 29 and under. In centerfield, where speed is more important, 77% of the plate appearances were given to player 29 and under. In right field, it was much closer to 50-50. All three outfield positions saw more WAR/600 PA from the younger group of players in 2014.
Best left fielder 29 and under: Michael Brantley, 27 (4.5 WAR)
Best left fielder 30 and older: Alex Gordon, 30 (6.6 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Domonic Brown, 26 (-1.6 WAR)
Best center fielder 29 and under: Mike Trout, 22 (7.5 WAR)
Best center fielder 30 and older: Jacoby Ellsbury, 30 (3.9 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Junior Lake, 24 (-2.5 WAR)
Best right fielder 29 and under: Giancarlo Stanton, 24 (6.2 WAR)
Best right fielder 30 and older: Jose Bautista, 33 (6.1 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Oscar Taveras, 22 (-1.2 WAR)
|30 & up||107||62.9%||6369||89.3%||26.4%||7.5||0.7||.248||.323||.425|
The DH spot is an older player’s spot, with 63% of the plate appearances at DH given to players 30 and over. This group accounted for 89% of the DH WAR, with a higher batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage.
Best DH 29 and under: Chris Carter, 27 (2.2 WAR)
Best DH 30 and older: Victor Martinez, 35 (3.9 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Kendrys Morales, 31 (-1.5 WAR)
|30 & up||89||35.2%||1933||.118||.144||.140|
Pitchers are just terrible hitters, old and young, fat and skinny, tall and short. They stink at hitting. Older pitchers are a little more stinky at hitting than younger pitchers.
Best Pitcher (hitting) 29 and under: Travis Wood, 27 (1.0 WAR)
Best Pitcher (hitting) 30 and older: Madison Bumgarner, 30 (1.2 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Bartolo Colon, 41 (-0.7 WAR) Colon was 2 for 62 with 0 walks and 33 strikeouts. Somehow, he managed to score 3 runs. That’s kind of mind-boggling, really.
|30 & up||195||41.1%||2253||.204||.293||.308|
This might surprise some people. When I think of pinch-hitters, I picture the aging veteran who calmly comes off the bench to deliver a big hit, like Manny Mota in the 70s or Rusty Staub in the 80s or Matt Stairs in the 00s. Last year, though, pinch-hitting was a younger man’s game. Players 29 and under had 59% of the pinch-hitting plate appearances and a slightly better triple-slash batting line.
Best Pinch-Hitter 29 and under: Delmon Young 28 (0.6 WAR)
Best Pinch-Hitter 30 and older: John Mayberry, 30 (0.8 WAR)
Dishonorable Mention: Greg Dobbs, 35 (-0.5 WAR)
That’s probably enough for now. More likely, it’s way too much. Either way, if you notice anything interesting about these numbers, please make your observations known in the comments. Next up is a more involved breakdown of WAR by age group for hitters and pitchers.