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Finding WAR without power

There aren't many position players who are able to post high WAR totals without hitting a lot of home runs. This special group is the exception to the rule.


As baseball statisticians continue to quantify the seemingly unquantifiable—base running abilities, defense beyond just assists, putouts, errors, and opportunities, defining the value of individual pitches, and, above all, portraying a player's total value in one number—new light has been brought to players whose best talents never show up on the back of their baseball cards. It's the reason why, according to the ever popular fWAR, Mike Trout was a more valuable player than Miguel Cabrera for the last two seasons, even without bringing home the Triple Crown and smashing 44 home runs each year.

Still, there is something to be said for having such power. Trout was no stranger to home runs—he hit 30 and 27, respectively, in the last two years—which is why his overall value was off the charts when considering all of the other aspects of the game in which he excelled.

In fact, out of the top 100 best fWAR totals for hitters in the last 10 seasons, only 10 players hit fewer than 20 home runs, and only two players hit fewer than 10 home runs. While that probably shouldn't be too shocking—after all, a home run is the best single result that a hitter can achieve when he steps up to the plate—it's still interesting to see what made these players so valuable without having such power.

First, let's identify these players and how they compare with the rest of the data set:

Rank Year Player Team HR fWAR
43 2010 Carl Crawford Tampa Bay Rays 19 7.4
58 2013 Matt Carpenter St. Louis Cardinals 11 7.0
61 2004 Ichiro Suzuki Seattle Mariners 8 6.9
70 2009 Derek Jeter New York Yankees 18 6.8
77 2005 Brian Roberts Baltimore Orioles 18 6.6
78 2009 Chone Figgins Los Angeles Angels 5 6.6
81 2008 Dustin Pedroia Boston Red Sox 17 6.5
82 2010 Andres Torres San Francisco Giants 16 6.5
99 2013 Manny Machado Baltimore Orioles 14 6.2
100 2006 Joe Mauer Minnesota Twins 13 6.2

Not many surprises here: one of the best contact hitters in the past decade, one of the best shortstops in the history of the game, the best defensive third baseman we've seen in a long time, and an MVP-winning second baseman all make the list. Andres Torres, who, other than his 6.5 fWAR in 2010, never posted an fWAR above 2.2, is probably the most unexpected name, but Giants fans likely remember how important he was to their 2010 World Series title.

With that said, what makes these players so valuable in other areas of the game that they are able to overcome a lack of above-average power? Rather than looking at every one of these players, let's put three players under the microscope to see what makes them special.

2010 - Carl Crawford

Prior to Crawford's departure from Tampa Bay—which, as we all know, hasn't gone according to plan—he was known primarily as a speed demon. In 2010, Crawford's astounding 7.4 fWAR season, he stole 47 bases. Although that wasn't even his highest single season total—he did that the year before, when he stole 60 bases—it still ranked fourth in the league, behind only Juan Pierre (68), Michael Bourn (52), and Rajai Davis (50).

And, while Crawford's UBR of 6.1 and wSB of 4.9 were both incredibly high, when combined with how often he was able to use his elite baserunning skills—his wOBA was .369—Crawford made for a dangerous offensive player.

What made him special, though, was that his speed wasn't just valuable on the basepaths. Crawford's speed translated to defensive success in the outfield, as he was able to post a 17.9 UZR (fourth best in the league) and a 20.3 UZR/150 (third best in the league).

2013 - Matt Carpenter

In 2013, Matt Carpenter hit 11 home runs. How, then, was he able to produce a wRC+ of 147? Well, the answer is easy: extra base hits.

Carpenter led all of baseball in 2013 with 55 doubles, and his seven triples were good for 10th most in the league. Including home runs, just under 37 percent of his hits went for extra bases. With that type of production over a full season, especially one in which he smacked 199 hits, you can see why Carpenter was able to provide such a boost to the Cardinals' offense.

But, it wasn't just Carpenter's knack for extra base hits that made him supremely valuable in 2013. His baserunning, similar to the way in which Crawford created value for Tampa Bay, was fantastic. His UBR of 5.3 ranked him third last season, just behind Eric Young Jr.'s 5.5 and Austin Jackson's 6.0, and tied with Elvis Andrus.

Unsurprisingly, Carpenter's extra base hits and base running skills directly impacted his run totals, as his 126 runs were far and away the highest total in the majors last season (Mike Trout was second with 109).

2013 - Manny Machado

Manny Machado is a defensive machine. This shouldn't be the first time you're hearing this, but just in case it is, here's a video to show you what I mean:

Machado's 31.2 UZR in 2013 was the best by a long shot, and his UZR/150 of 31.8 ranked him fourth, behind only Juan Uribe (35.3), Shane Victorino (35.3), and Gerardo Parra (32.3). Still, Machado's near-1,400 innings at third base is a much larger sample size than Uribe's 900.1 at third, Victorino's 913.1 in right field, or Parra's 1,042.1 in right field, which explains why his UZR and UZR/150 are nearly identical (for comparison, Uribe had a 24.0 UZR, Victorino, a 25.0, and Parra, a 26.6).

Yet, already know that Machado's defense is excellent and, while his defense composes the majority of his value, he was still able to offer some pop offensively.

Like Carpenter, Machado was a master of extra base hits in 2013, ranking second in doubles with 51 and tacking on three triples. On the season, nearly 36 percent of his 189 hits went for extra bases. Although his slightly-above-average .325 wOBA is nothing to brag about, he did enough last year with his glove and a bunch of doubles to be one of baseball's most valuable players.

Making Noise Without Power

These three players are just a small snapshot of the types of hitters who can provide enough value without much power to make a substantial difference. Still, the reality is that it's almost impossible to provide considerable value without having above-average power. Of this list of 100 players over the last 10 years, 90 players hit 20 or more home runs, 58 hit 30 or more home runs, 20 hit 40 or more home runs, and four hit 50 or more home runs.

We know that people usually "dig the longball," but this time, let's celebrate the players who don't need to smash home runs in order to be great.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Evan Kendall is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and co-founder of The Sports Post. You can follow him on Twitter at @Evan_TSP.