WAR Cry Part II - Seattle Mariners

Welcome back to the idiotic world of taking a subjective, artful game and reducing it to cold, lifeless statistics!

This time around, we're going to see what WAR has to say about the Seattle Mariners, and who gave them the best years at each position on the field. Having grown up on Whidbey Island, I supported the Giants but was always subjected to SODO MOJO. Their consistently goofy commercials are matched only by their consistently goofy front office decisions, robbing their fan-base of future Hall-Of-Famers Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Alex Rodriguez - all of whom were in or near their primes - in consecutive years. Then, in typically goofy Mariners fashion, they wandered into Ichiro Suzuki and seven other all-stars in 2001, en route to a record 116 wins...and an early post-season exit at the hands of the Yankees. I've been close enough to it all to know that being a Mariners fan is an emotionally trying experience - but not in the perpetually-pathetic-Kansas-City-Royals kind of way - it's more frantic than that. Expectations are constantly skyrocketing or plummeting, and the team's performance from year-to-year rarely syncs with those expectations, whatever they may be. Through it all, they've seen a caliber of individual play and star power usually reserved for teams with longer histories and a busier October schedule. I present to you the best of the best, beginning with the hitters:

C: Dan Wilson, 1996 (27)
WAR: 3.9 // .285 - 18 HR - 83 RBI // .774 OPS // 1 SB // 14 FLD

1B: Alvin Davis, 1984 (23)
WAR: 5.8 // .284 - 27 HR - 116 RBI // .888 OPS // 5 SB // 8 FLD

2B: Bret Boone, 2001 (32)
WAR: 7.8 // .331 - 37 HR - 141 RBI // .950 OPS // 5 SB // 12 FLD

SS: Alex Rodriguez, 1996 (20)
WAR: 9.8 // .358 - 36 HR - 123 RBI // 1.045 OPS // 15 SB // 8 FLD

3B: Edgar Martinez, 1992 (29)
WAR: 6.7 // .343 - 18 HR - 73 RBI // .948 // 14 SB // -6 FLD

LF: Phil Bradley, 1985 (26)
WAR: 5.3 // .300 - 26 HR - 88 RBI // .862 OPS // 22 SB // -1 FLD

CF: Ken Griffey, Jr., 1996 (26)
WAR: 10.2 // .303 - 49 HR - 140 RBI // 1.020 OPS // 16 SB // 32 FLD

RF: Ichiro Suzuki, 2004 (30)
WAR: 7.2 // .372 - 8 HR - 60 RBI // .869 OPS // 36 SB // 20.5 FLD

DH: Edgar Martinez, 1995 (32)
WAR: 7.5 // .356 - 29 HR - 113 RBI // 1.107 OPS // 4 SB // -2 FLD

-A-Rod played 5 seasons for the M's; they are the Top-5 seasons by any M's shortstop. From there, your leader is a young Omar Vizquel. As for the greatest Mariners season in center by anyone not named Griffey, that distinction goes to the '09 incarnation of Franklin Gutierrez.
-Pretty funny that in his 1995 season, Edgar Martinez managed to cost the M's an estimated 2 runs just by playing defense in 7 games. Nothing funny about that 1.107 OPS, though, the highest ever by a Mariner.
-Griffey's 10.2 WAR in '96 is the high point for a Mariner at any position. Junior received high marks for his baserunning, managing to swipe those 16 bases while only being caught once. Furthermore, 32 FLD ranks Griffey's '96 as the fourth-best defensive season by a center-fielder for any team in the 34 years since the M's inception.
-It's one of baseball's great mysteries: What could Ichiro Suzuki have done with a full career in the MLB? His most productive season came at age 30, and while he remained a strong force at the plate, on the bags and on D through 2010, one can't help but imagine the kind of career numbers he'd be putting up had he joined the Mariners prior to age 27, when many players on this roster had already peaked. Nonetheless, he owns all of the Top-8 seasons by an M's right-fielder (with Leon Roberts & Jay "Bone" Buhner following).

And now, the pitchers...

1. Randy Johnson, 1995 (31)
WAR: 9.5 // 18-2 2.48 ERA // 2.08 FIP // 12.35 K/9

2. Randy Johnson, 1993 (29)
WAR: 7.1 // 19-8 3.24 ERA // 3.05 FIP // 10.86 K/9

3. Randy Johnson, 1997 (33)
WAR: 7.0 // 20-4 2.28 ERA // 2.82 FIP // 12.3 K/9

4. Erik Hanson, 1990 (25)
WAR: 6.9 // 18-9 3.24 ERA // 2.74 FIP // 8.05 K/9

5. Felix Hernandez, 2009 (23)
WAR: 6.8 // 19-5 2.49 ERA // 3.09 FIP // 8.18 K/9

-I love that despite a dominant run by The Big Unit, Felix is represented in the M's rotation. Interestingly, though, it's for his 2009 season, which ranked a bit higher than his 2010 Cy Young campaign.
-I had anticipated an appearance from Jamie Moyer, but he really wasn't close. The fan favorite makes just 2 appearances in Top-35 - '98 & '99.
-Other starters who made Top-20 appearances include Mark Langston, Freddy Garcia, Floyd Bannister & Aaron Sele.
-Meanwhile, in a dimly-lit room somwhere in the Pacific Northwest, Chris Bosio grooms his mustache with a bowie knife, plotting his revenge on the sabermetric community.

1. JJ Putz, 2006 (29)
WAR: 3.6 // 36/43 SV 2.30 ERA // 1.73 FIP // 11.95 K/9

2. Bill Caudill, 1982 (25)
WAR: 3.1 // 26/30 SV 2.30 ERA // 2.75 FIP // 10.44 K/9

3. Arthur Rhodes, 2002 (32)
WAR: 2.9 // 27 HLDS 2.33 ERA // 1.94 FIP // 10.46 K/9

4. Mike Schooler, 1989 (26)
WAR: 2.8 // 33/40 SV 2.81 ERA // 2.13 FIP // 8.06 K/9

5. Arthur Rhodes, 2001 (31)
WAR: 2.5 // 31 HLDS 1.72 ERA // 2.14 FIP // 10.99 K/9

-If, like me, you're wondering where Kazuhiro Sasaki is, he just barely cracked the Top-20.
-Also conspicuously absent is Jeff Nelson, but he just missed out - his '95 season ranks 8th. Remember this is despite his situational use as a reliever, which knocks his WAR lower than some less-effective closers. This, however, doesn't prevent Arthur Rhodes from making the team twice, back in the days when even right-handed hitters couldn't touch him

That brings us to the Mariners' All-Time WAR Team Total WAR: 116.4. For comparison's sake, we'll break that down per player, as AL teams have an extra player in the DH spot. So that 116.4 total WAR becomes: 6.13 WAR per player. So in the Iowa conrnfield of our well-informed imaginations, smart money is on the Giants WAR squad and their 6.63 WAR per player. Still, Mariners fans can hold their heads high with a very respectable team, despite a history that only goes back as far as 1977, 19 years fewer than the San Francisco Giants.

That is, 19 years and one world championship fewer. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Up next, Red Sox Nation gets an audit...

San Francisco's WAR Cry: Barry Bonds & Other High Points In Giants History

Excuse me if it sounds a bit sanctimonious, but my friends and I played fantasy football before it was cool. It stings a bit to see it reach its current level of ubiquity. But I can't be too bitter; good news travels fast. And it's only a matter of time before my new esoteric sports pet blows up, only to be forced into in-game commentaries and water-cooler banter country-wide. In fact, I'm late to the party myself. So I don't mind expediting it's inevitable pop crossover. I'm talking, of course, about sabermetrics.

You won't hear the word "sabermetrics" in the film Money Ball. But you will see the story of Billy Beane, a GM whose sabermetric approach to finding the most valuable players transcended the constraints of a small-market club. But these advanced statistics do more than inform MLB front offices - they tell the story of what happens on the field. Accurately. They warn of regressions to the mean, and of misleading tropes like RBI and pitcher Wins. Due to their relative complexity and consequent lack of mainstream acceptance, however, their application in the rich world of theoretical sports debate has so far gone largely unexplored. I've been studying these statistics to enhance my enjoyment and understanding of the game all season long. But with the postseason nearly over and my Giants long since eliminated, its time to take the next step.

If you're new to stats like UZR, SIERA, and WPA, the whole thing can be a little overwhelming. It's nice to start with WAR; a personal favorite, it's certainly the most practical because it condenses a player's overall value - hitting, fielding, throwing, running, even the difficulty of the position they play - into a single number. This number, the player's WAR or Wins Above Replacement, represents how valuable the player was to his team based on how many additional games the team could be expected to win with this player as opposed to a "replacement-level" player at that position - someone they could pull off the bench or waiver wire. (A team with a "replacement-level" player in each roster spot will yield a record of approximately 49-113. Astros fans, you can chalk up those extra 7 wins to the nausea opposing players feel when they touch down in Houston.)

It's not without its flaws, but the math is solid and the practical applications of having a single number to evaluate any player are a lot of fun. It may be hard to take WAR at face value, but take a look at this years' leaders in WAR and you'll see it does a fantastic job of confirming what we already know about who the most valuable players are right now. (If something doesn't seem right, like Ryan Howard being ranked as the 107th-best position player in the league, take a close look at the other metrics and should be able to tell exactly why WAR says what it does about that player. In Howard's case, his high RBI total masks a secretly poor (for him) season where his Slugging dipped, he played piss-terrible defense, and only Paul Konerko cost his team more runs on the basepaths.)

So what do we do with this new information? What's that, you say? Someone should use this incredible WAR stat to make rosters featuring the greatest seasons at each position for every team? And they should start with the reigning champs, my Giants? Well, I'm way ahead of you...

We'll start with hitters, for reasons explained later.

C: Dick Dietz, 1970
WAR: 5.8 // .300 - 22 HR - 107 RBI // .941 OPS // 0 SB // -20 FLD
1B: Willie McCovey, 1969
WAR: 8.4 // .320 - 45 HR - 126 RBI // 1.108 OPS // 0 SB // -8 FLD
2B: Jeff Kent, 2000
WAR: 7.6 // .334 - 33 HR - 125 RBI // 1.021 OPS // 12 SB // 1 FLD
SS: Rich Aurilia, 2001
WAR: 7.6 // .324 - 37 HR - 97 RBI // .941 OPS // 1 SB // 5 FLD
3B: Jim Ray Hart, 1966
WAR: 6.9 // .285 - 33 HR - 93 RBI // .853 OPS // 2 SB // 8 FLD
LF: Barry Bonds, 2001
WAR: 12.9 // .328 - 73 HR - 137 RBI // 1.379 // 13 SB // -5 FLD
CF: Willie Mays, 1965
WAR: 11.5 // .317 - 52 HR - 112 RBI // 1.043 // 9 SB // 15 FLD
RF: Bobby Bonds, 1973
WAR: 8.0 // .283 - 39 HR - 96 RBI // .900 OPS // 43 SB // 14 FLD

According to WAR, those are the players & vintages with whom the Giants would win the most games, given their choice of any player they've fielded since coming to San Francisco in 1958. If that just looks like a bunch of random, confusing numbers to you, this is not for you. If, on the other hand, you have an erection, you are probably on my level of baseball geek-dom, and have found your new favorite hobby. Next season will be your greatest as a fan. You're welcome.

-Players' ages listed in parenthesis.
-Barry Bonds & Willie Mays together own slots 1-16 on the top seasons by any position player in a Giants uniform.
-Dick Dietz? Really? Yes, in fact he owns the second-greatest season by a Giants catcher as well, for his follow-up campaign in '71. If you're wondering where Buster Posey's rookie year ranks, it puts him 6th. Remember that he didn't see much action until late June - given a full season, he'd likely have fallen between the two years in which Dick Dietz channelled the spirit of Roy Campanella.
-Will Clark's NL Championship season in '89 ranks second. Other than that, the Top-5 is all McCovey. Hence the cove.
-Aurilia's 2001 season was largely a product of hitting in front of Barry Bonds, but still the greatest season by a Giants SS by a fairly wide margin. More on #25 in a bit...
-If you're surprised to see someone other than Matt Williams at 3rd, know that his '93 season ranks third, and WAR really hates the way he refused to take walks. He nonetheless owns 5 of the Top-12 seasons by a Giants 3B. Pablo Sandoval just finished #6, despite missing time with injuries.
-Did you catch that Field Of Dreams connection in the outfield? Gotta love baseball.

Now, on to the pitchers...

Here's where the project loses a little steam, for the simple fact that WAR numbers for pitchers only go back as far as 1974. This means the list ignores some pretty spectacular years from Juan Marichal ('63-'69, '71), Gaylord Perry ('64, '66-'71), Ray Sadecki ('67 & '68) and too many others to name. Rather than infusing my own subjectivity into the rotation, we'll take a grain of salt and move forward with only seasons from the 37 glorious years for which pitcher WAR is available.

1. Tim Lincecum, 2009
WAR: 8.0 // 15-7 2.48 ERA // 2.34 FIP // 10.42 K/9
2. Tim Lincecum, 2008
WAR: 7.5 // 18-5 2.62 ERA // 2.62 FIP // 10.51 K/9
3. John Montefusco, 1975
WAR: 7.0 // 15-9 2.88 ERA // 2.57 FIP // 7.94 K/9
4. Jason Schmidt, 2003
WAR: 6.7 // 17-5 2.34 ERA // 2.64 FIP // 9.01 K/9
5. Jason Schmidt, 2004
WAR: 6.6 // 18-7 3.20 ERA // 2.92 FIP // 10.04 K/9

-It's a little comforting to note that Marichal's FIP never dropped lower than Lincecum's 2.34 in 2009. Translation: Even in a perfect world, The Freak reigns supreme. You wonder, though, if the Giants All-Time WAR squad would run into chemistry problems when '08 Lincecum starts smoking all of '09 Lincecum's pot.
-15-Win seasons didn't receive a ton of praise in 1975, even if you were a rookie like Montefusco, so it's not surprising that his legend doesn't cast much of a shadow. This also may or may not have something to do with the fact that rather than retiring to the commentary booth, he did time for attacking his ex with a steak knife.
-Both Madison Bumgarner & Matt Cain submitted Top-10 seasons in 2011.

1. Robb Nen, 1998
WAR 8.0 // 40/44 SV 1.52 ERA // 2.12 FIP // 11.17 K/9
2. Gary Lavelle, 1977
WAR 3.3 // 20/27 SV 2.05 ERA // 2.54 FIP // 7.07 K/9
3. Robb Nen, 2002
WAR 3.0 // 43/51 SV 2.20 ERA // 1.97 FIP // 9.90 K/9
4. Rod Beck, 1992
WAR 2.6 // 17/23 SV 1.76 ERA // 2.01 FIP // 8.51 K/9
5. Brian Wilson, 2010
WAR 2.6 // 48/53 SV 1.81 ERA // 2.19 FIP // 11.21 K/9

-A big problem with the WAR team bullpen is that middle-relievers and set-up men are essentially a non-entity. ML Managers - the atavistic, stubborn bunch that they are - tend to pick a closer with experience and stick with him, even when younger, hungrier pitchers in the bullpen put up far superior numbers in the middle-innings. There's certainly something to be said for a closer's ability to handle 9th inning pressure, but sabermetrics strongly suggest that the whole idea of "clutch" is more of a constructed narrative than it is a reality based on players' ability in certain situations. If I'm handpicking Giants for this team, there's no way my bullpen goes without '11 Sergio Romo or '01 Felix Rodriguez, both of whom were underutilized on Giants teams that missed the playoffs.

One thing that really sticks out to me is that the SF Giants' one & only championship year, 2010, is represented only once, amidst the labyrinthian beard of #38. NL Championship teams in '62 and '89 are without representation and the '02 NL Champs are represented only once, again in the bullpen, driving home the point that on an MLB team, no one player guarantees success - unlike the NHL or NBA where individuals carry more weight and the fluidity of play brings a star players' intangibles and influence on their teammates into the W-L column.

Now let's take a closer look at that left-fielder because: wow. Everyone knew we were watching history as it happened, but Bonds' 2001 season has only had its place in history solidified by sabermetrics. BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), for example, measure a player not by their success, but by how that success relates to what we would expect of a hitter making that kind of contact, at that rate. It's a very helpful stat for examining which players are hitting .300 because they're seeing the ball well and which players are hitting .300 because they've caught some fortunate hops and drilled the ball at a lot of inept fielders. Without further ado, my favorite baseball stat ever:

Barry Bonds, 2001 BABIP:

If your jaw is not on the floor, you haven't yet understood sabermetrics fully. At least, not BABIP.

Compare that .266 to the league average, which is around .300. What this means is that during his 2001 season - one of the most successful not only by SF Giants, or baseball players, but by professional athletes in general - Barry Bonds was actually a victim of fate, not a beneficiary. It is important to note that WAR does not take this into account.

The closest anyone other than Bonds himself has come to that 12.9 WAR in the last 43 years was when Joe Morgan reached 11.4 in 1975, a full 1.5 wins lower (Morgan's BABIP that year: .336). Had Bonds gotten the same number of kind bounces most hitters did in '01, it'd have been substantially higher. In the history of the game, only Ruth & Gherig have eclipsed 12.9 WAR. You might imagine they had great fortune during the years they did, and you'd be right. Their composite BABIP: an indulged .375.

What a performance. Enhanced by drugs? Most assuredly. But so were many of the other hitters of that era, all of whom failed to hold his jock. Stepping outside that 2001 season for a moment, Bonds' dominance continued through 2004. During that four-year run, his closest competitor was A-Rod (admitted PED user), who trailed him by 14.9 WAR. To put that into perspective, 14.9 WAR represents greater output than all-stars like Derek Lee, Johnny Damon and Alfonso Soriano over the same span.

It's also helpful in evaluating Bonds to remember that many of the pitchers he faced were juicing. And that his most productive years came in a pitcher-friendly stadium notorious for it's sobering effect on left-handed power hitters. I can only imagine the havoc he'd wreak hitting in front of a raging Dick Dietz.

But the fun doesn't end there. The Giants' All-Time WAR Team has a total WAR of 119.4. How does that fair against, say, the Mariners' All-Time WAR Team? Or the Yankees and Sox? Stay tuned...