Musing On War Projections For 2013

Wins above replacement is often a love or hate statistic. Fans that love it often rely on it too much, while fans that hate it dismiss the math too easily. I find that it does a great job analyzing offense, but can often be off on defense, meanwhile starting pitchers usually receives a fair rating, while relievers can be easily undervalued with high volatility in short sample size. In 2012, a replacement level team was worth around 44 wins, and when you add up the fWAR of the Yankees, it puts the team at 95 wins on the season, exactly what they accomplished. That's not to say that fWAR was prefect last season, but it does show you how accurate it can be. Along with Bill James' Pythagorean expectation, today's statistics allow us to often predict seasonal records within just a few wins of the real results. Of course, when we take wins to the level of individual players, or break down seasons, we make the sample size smaller and smaller, and thus making WAR less dependable.

It's still fun to talk about the stat, especially at this time of season, when we're planning 2013's roster and possible trades or free agent signings. I decided to take a look at the projected 2013 roster, and make realistic educated guesses on how player's would perform.

Position Player 2012 (Actual) 2013 (Proj)
C Austin Romine 1.0
1B Mark Teixeira 2.9 3.5
2B Robinson Cano 7.8 6.5
3B Kevin Youkilis 1.3 2.0
SS Derek Jeter 3.2 2.5
LF Curtis Granderson 2.6 4.0
CF Brett Gardner 0.4 4.0
RF Ichiro Suzuki 2.6 2.5
DH Dan Johnson 0.6 0.5
SP1 CC Sabathia 4.8 5.0
SP2 Hiroki Kuroda 3.9 3.5
SP3 Andy Pettitte 1.7 2.5
SP4 Phil Hughes 1.9 2.5
SP5 David Phelps 0.8 1.0
CL Mariano Rivera 0.4 2.0
SU David Robertson 1.7 2.0
LHRP Boone Logan 0.6 0.5
LHRP Clay Rapada 0.5 0.5
RHRP Ivan Nova 1.6 0.5
RHRP Joba Chamberlain 0.1 1.5
RHRP David Aardsma -0.1 0.5
UTIL Eduardo Nunez 0.5 0.0
UTIL Jayson Nix 0.4 0.0
UTIL Matt Diaz -0.6 0.5
UTIL Russ Canzler -0.1 0.0
3B Alex Rodriguez 2.2 1.0
SP Michael Pineda 1.0
Actual 2012 fWAR
Total 51.1 51
Projected Wins 95.1 95

Some of these predictions will need explanations. Youkilis will see some additional production from last year, after he played most of the first half through injury, and dealt with BABIP issues as well. Gardner and Granderson will share some of each other's defensive value, assuming they switch places in the outfield, while both should see more offensive numbers as well. I like Hughes in 2013, for a number of reasons, and think he could very well outperform even Hiroki Kuroda this season, however I stuck with a conservative bump in value. I put Phelps in the rotation with Nova in the bullpen, but I think there's more of a chance that one gets traded or sent down to Triple-A before they end up wasting in the bullpen. And finally, I don't expect much out of Rodriguez or Pineda, but 1 win each isn't too ridiculous.

As you can see, the team currently projects to win around 51 games above replacement level, and assuming replacement level repeats itself from 2012, this team would likely win around 95 games. 95 wins is usually the magic number for teams to target in the offseason, and although our numbers add up, it's doubtful this Yankee team gets there.

We've added up all the numbers, and even accounted for some regression,  but we haven't taken into account injuries. Though the 2012 team matched up to their projected WAR by the end of the season, they would have added up to more than 100 wins without set backs. Those additional wins were a buffer in case the team got injured, which it inevitably will. Between losing Gardner, Pineda, Rodriguez, Sabathia, and a number of other players, the team probably fell short of their January 2012 projection by about 8 wins. Keep in mind, last year's injuries were an extreme, though it may continue with the age of the current staff. So assuming the same happens to the current Yankees team, the roster projects to put up 87 wins.

It's not a horrible position to be in, but Cashman could add a few more wins by signing some legitimate platoon DH's and bench players like Travis Hafner or Carlos Lee. If the Yankees don't trade for a big bat or catcher, the AL East will likely be a dogfight. Though they're not far away, it's pretty clear that the Yankees are no longer the favorites to win their division.