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Composite pitcher WARs for 2014

How can a pitcher's hitting, fielding, and baserunning affect their overall value? A little? A lot?

Joe Scarnici

One of the items that has been getting a lot of traction on our Twitter feed recently relates to the power of pitchers hitting. I don't know if you've heard, but Madison Bumgarner hit a grand slam, and is establishing himself as a bit of a dangerous hitter in his limited set of plate appearances.

Bumgarner isn't the first pitcher to crush dingers. Don Newcombe, Victor Zambrano, Dontrelle Willis ... there are tons of names that we remember of pitchers who are solid offensive contributors as well as righteous arms. The only problem* is, when we access a Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs or Baseball Prospectus leaderboard, we only see their pitching contributions factored into that one, "holistic" wins above replacement number.

* - This isn't actually a problem. It's smart, because the information we typically want isn't the hitting or fielding or baserunning stats. It is the pitching information. That's what's usually most salient to the discussion of a pitcher's talent / ability.

But there are some cases -- typically at the margins -- where we may want to factor in the offensive and defensive aspects of the pitcher's game into a discussion of his overall value. While it won't give us a better idea of how good a pitcher a guy is, it may provide a little insight as to a player's value to his team. Pitchers gotta hit too, at least until the designated hitter is adopted in the NL.

... and even then, they have to play defense. If someone's very good -- or very bad -- at one, or both, or baserunning, it will eventually affect their team. And we should acknowledge it in their over value.

So, I went to FanGraphs and to Baseball-Reference -- the two most commonly-used places to find a player's wins above replacement -- and pulled the data for this season's pitchers. I grabbed the positional WAR for a number of pitchers, mostly active guys who have had 20 or more plate appearances this season, and simply added it to the pitcher's pitching WAR. The result is what I call composite pitcher WAR, and it's something that's been done many times before.

Below are a bunch of (sortable) tables, with some thoughts:

FanGraphs composite wins above replacement for 2014 leaderboard

Name Pitching fWAR Positional fWAR Composite fWAR
Madison Bumgarner 2.1 0.8 2.9
Travis Wood 0.9 0.6 1.5
Adam Wainwright 3.4 0.4 3.8
Jacob deGrom 1.0 0.3 1.3
Gerrit Cole 0.8 0.3 1.1
Henderson Alvarez 1.8 0.3 2.1

Baseball-Reference composite wins above replacement for 2014 leaderboard

Name Pitching bWAR Positional bWAR Composite bWAR
Madison Bumgarner 1.1 0.9 2.0
Travis Wood 0.0 0.6 0.6
Adam Wainwright 5.0 0.6 5.6
Jacob deGrom 1.2 0.3 1.5
Clayton Kershaw 4.2 0.2 4.4
Jordan Lyles 1.0 0.2 1.2
Shelby Miller 0.1 0.2 0.3
Gerrit Cole 1.0 0.2 1.2
Zack Greinke 3.0 0.2 3.2
A.J. Burnett 1.3 0.2 1.5
Henderson Alvarez 2.7 0.2 2.9
Hyun-Jin Ryu 1.5 0.2 1.7
Josh Beckett 2.9 0.2 3.1

You can see that there aren't any huge differences between the FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR values for the guys at the top end of the leaderboard. Madison Bumgarner is a huge outlier, adding loads of value -- almost a full win -- with his bat and glove.

Wood and Wainwright also give sizable boosts to their teams, and then everyone else at the top only sees a 0.3 or 0.2 WAR difference. That's small. It may even be enough to say that creating a composite WAR metric doesn't tell us very much, because the amount of value pitchers can add on the high end -- well, it doesn't seem like very much in a half-season sample.

But it is something -- and you see a few one-win seasons crop up from time to time. Wins are useful, and it's good to be able to give pitchers the appropriate credit for them.

Now, let's check out the differences on the low end of the leaderboards.

FanGraphs composite wins above replacement for 2014 laggardboard

Name Pitching fWAR Positional fWAR Composite fWAR
Andrew Cashner 1.4 -0.4 1.0
Nathan Eovaldi 2.0 -0.3 1.7
Bartolo Colon 1.1 -0.3 0.8
Roberto Hernandez -0.1 -0.3 -0.4
Matt Garza 2.1 -0.3 1.8
Charlie Morton 1.0 -0.3 0.7

Baseball-Reference composite wins above replacement for 2014 laggardboard

Name Pitching bWAR Positional bWAR Composite bWAR
Josh Collmenter 0.8 -0.3 0.5
Tom Koehler 1.4 -0.3 1.1
Aaron Harang 1.3 -0.3 1.0
Matt Garza 0.5 -0.3 0.2
Charlie Morton 0.8 -0.3 0.5
Roberto Hernandez 0.7 -0.3 0.4
Kyle Kendrick 0.4 -0.3 0.1

There's even less extreme of a WAR adjustment on the back end: no one seems to lose more than 0.4 wins due to the combo of hitting, fielding, and baserunning. As bad as Cashner has been (it's a UZR thing, not a hitting thing), he's the worst by either metric -- and it still isn't that bad. Less than half a win.

So what does this teach me? Well -- it seems to show me that these adjustments to take into account the "position player" aspects of a pitcher's job don't make a dramatic difference in most cases on a pitcher's seasonal performance. They do make some difference, but not a lot.

You're unlikely to see Clayton Kershaw's overall value turn into Jordan Lyles ... but maybe Aaron Harang's value will turn into Jordan Lyles?

Can we pick up anything else? I know! Let's look at some career numbers for these active players!

FanGraphs composite wins above replacement for career (active) leaderboard

Name Pitching fWAR Positional fWAR Composite fWAR
Adam Wainwright 31.6 3.2 34.8
Yovani Gallardo 17.8 3.2 21.0
Mike Leake 6.4 2.4 8.8
Zack Greinke 39.7 2.0 41.7
Dan Haren 38.9 1.9 40.8
Travis Wood 7.5 1.7 9.2

Baseball-Reference composite wins above replacement for career (active) leaderboard

Name Pitching bWAR Positional bWAR Composite bWAR
Adam Wainwright 31.4 3.6 35.0
Randy Wolf 20.2 3.6 23.8
Yovani Gallardo 14.9 3.2 18.1
Mike Leake 5.8 2.9 8.7
Dan Haren 30.9 2.3 33.2
Zack Greinke 38.1 2.1 40.2

Welp, even after examining the long-term guys -- we're still not seeing a dramatic difference. Don't get me wrong, three and a half wins are a lot ... that's like all the total career value of Kyle Blanks (by bWAR), but it's probably not going to dynamically change the calculation on a guy, unless he racks it up pretty quickly.

That makes Mike Leake kind of an interesting case, as he's only been in the league for about 800 innings. Four seasons-ish, and the positional player adjustment accounts for about a third of his composite WAR.

Also, it's fun to see that some of the career guys (Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke, etc.) are pretty great pitchers.

FanGraphs composite wins above replacement for career (active) laggardboard

Name Pitching fWAR Positional fWAR Composite fWAR
Aaron Harang 26.7 -4.1 22.6
Johnny Cueto 15.6 -2.1 13.5
Paul Maholm 13.9 -1.8 12.1
Charlie Morton 5.1 -1.6 3.5
Jorge de la Rosa 13.5 -1.5 12.0
Edinson Volquez 6.1 -1.4 4.7

Baseball-Reference composite wins above replacement for career (active) laggardboard

Name Pitching bWAR Positional bWAR Composite bWAR
Aaron Harang 22.1 -3.7 18.4
Johnny Cueto 19.1 -1.7 17.4
Charlie Morton 0.1 -1.5 -1.4
Paul Maholm 13.6 -1.2 12.4
Tom Gorzelanny 8.0 -1.2 6.8
Jorge de la Rosa 9.3 -1.0 8.3

Just look at how little this has affected even the worst guys at the end of the leaderboard, over an entire career. Yes, by Baseball-Reference's metric, it takes Charlie Morton from being a replacement-level pitcher over his career to a below-replacement guy. But that's about it. Aaron Harang, who's positively ancient by modern pitching standards, loses 3.7 or 4.1 wins, depending on your method. And that is a lot of wins to lose. But it's also over 13 seasons.

The aspects of position player life -- hitting, defense, and baserunning -- simply don't seem to have a large effect on a pitcher's overall value. If you're operating at the margins, perhaps considering a scrap-heap guy for a late roster spot, then perhaps you'd want to use composite pitcher WAR to see if there's extra value being gained or lost on the outside.

If a guy might give you half a win of pitching performance, but then give all of it back because they're a terrible hitter or fielder, perhaps you pick a different guy. Perhaps not, since pitching ability is more important. But there may be a place to add a little value around the edges, or to address weaknesses in existing guys -- and a composite pitcher WAR might be one way to do those things.

One More Thing

There's one thing I'd like to sneak in here at the end of the article. I actually have a second, nefarious purpose for writing this article. And that has to do with the nature of WAR.

It can't be brought up often enough that WAR is a framework, one that has three major implementations: FanGraphs WAR (fWAR), Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR), and Baseball Prospectus WARP (WARP). All of these implementations have value, but I wouldn't consider any of them "perfect." Each uses a different methodology to try and answer the same question: "what is this player's value?"

While these three implementations give you the easiest -- and most of the time, best -- answers to this question, these aren't the only answers. You (yes, you) have the ability to adjust the frameworks and make tweaks to go about your own way of refining this process.

Are you more interested in a framework that values the base-out states when a hitter comes to bat? Do you think that a different defensive metric should be substituted for one in a particular framework. Is it important to you to include catcher framing in the calculation? Do you want to be able to accurately see how the three major WARs can be averaged into a single index?

You can adapt the framework to answer questions that you may have -- and it doesn't always have to be an arduous process. Just be as rigorous as you can be, and try to understand the framework's underpinnings. Over the next few weeks, look for a few new articles about how to take this sabermetric framework beyond what you can find at the big sites' leaderboards.

. . .

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Bryan Grosnick is the Managing Editor of Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @bgrosnick.