NL West: All WAR Team and How the Giants Won the Pennant (This Year)

D-Backs, Luck and Inconsistency

D-Backs, Luck and Inconsistency


This may seem like two separate articles, but the All WAR team actually led me to an interesting conclusion regarding the Diamonbacks, a team I have been struggling to figure out all year. This conclusion led me to another about the division in general. And honestly, I think the numbers speak for themselves. There isn’t a lot to say about the guys on the All WAR Team other than the obvious, which is that they have played well.

The All WAR team is comprised of the players with the best WAR at their respective positions, with the six best remaining position players on the bench. We also have the top five starting pitchers. However, I had to leave off relievers, for whom WAR seems to me a flawed statistic. This is especially true within the NL West given the weird situation the Rockies have created with their whacky, new bullpen management strategy. As for the players who made it, there are a few obvious guys, and a few surprises. But, more than anything, I think this shows us where the balance of power is within the NL West in terms of star players.

NL West: All WAR Team

C – Buster Posey (6.8)

1B – Paul Goldschmidt (3.3)

2B – Aaron Hill (5.0)

3B – Chase Headley (6.3)

SS – Hanley Ramirez (2.7)

OF – Angel Pagan (3.9)

OF – Andre Ethier (3.4)

OF – Carlos Gonzalez (3.1)

SP – Clayton Kershaw (4.9)

SP – Wade Miley (4.3)

SP – Madison Bumgarner (3.4)

SP – Matt Cain (3.4)

SP – Trevor Cahill (2.9)

BE – Miguel Montero

BE – A.J. Ellis

BE – Dexter Fowler

BE – Cameron Maybin

BE – Shane Victorino

BE – Jason Kubel

Divisional Standings with All WAR Player Counts

  • San Francisco (4)
  • Los Angeles (5)
  • Arizona (6)
  • San Diego (2)
  • Colorado (2)

The Diamondbacks’ Lost Season

The Arizona Diamonbacks are a team with a lot of talent in a lot of areas. Let’s take a look at some numbers but before we do, lets have a little primer on xFIP. Expected Fielding Independent Pitching is basically ERA, which has been adjusted to examine only the things, which a pitcher can control. For this reason xFIP is adjusted for any runs a defense has saved or cost the pitcher or pitching staff. xFIP also accounts for any deviation from an average HR/FB rate. This last bit helps to park-adjust the number and it eliminates some of the luck involved in giving up (or not giving up) home runs. If your xFIP is lower than your ERA, that means you have pitched better than the results indicate. If you outperform your xFIP in ERA, you have been lucky. Believe me this is going somewhere.

xFIP v ERA

  • Arizona: 3.84/3.97
  • Los Angeles: 3.93/3.44
  • San Francisco: 3.98/3.72
  • San Diego: 4.04/3.88
  • Colorado: 4.23/5.11

Team WAR

  • San Francisco: 25.4
  • San Diego: 24.4
  • Arizona: 23.1
  • Los Angeles: 18.3
  • Colorado: 16.8

Team UZR/150

  • Arizona: 3.8
  • Los Angeles: 1.7
  • San Francisco: -0.6
  • San Diego: -1.5
  • Colorado: -4.7

Team wRC+

  • San Diego: 97
  • San Francisco: 97
  • Colorado: 92
  • Arizona: 92
  • Los Angeles: 87

What the Numbers Mean

Conventional wisdom is that pitching and defense win championships. By this standard the Diamondbacks should be about three weeks from snagging the NL West Pennant, given their division leading UZR/150 and xFIP. But conventional wisdom has been proven wrong quite often in baseball statistics over the last decade. Perhaps Arizona is an example of this.

With Los Angeles contending, despite placing last in wRC+, and fourth place San Diego sitting tied with division leading San Fran’ atop the wRC+ rankings, offense isn’t telling the story either. So what is telling the story of the West at the moment, from a statistical perspective? Well, it seems to be the same thing telling the story of the Diamondbacks in 2012.

Bad Luck and Inconsistency

Young Injured

Young injures shoulder, Arizona still feeling it.


After a torrid start ( 5 home runs, 13 RBI, and a 270 w RC+ through 11 games), Chris Young pounded his shoulder into the hulking center field wall at Chase Field. He headed to DL to mend, only to return a trembling shadow of his April self. Since May, he has hit .202 with just 9 homers in 79 games. His season wRC+ sits at 95, 67 points worse than in 2011.

Meanwhile Justin Upton has battled himself and a few nagging injuries to shape another disappointing “even numbered year.” Lately he has worked himself back to average (100 wRC+), but played so poorly early on that Kirk Gibson decided to bench his young right fielder, fueling trade rumors. But Upton has not been the only inconsistent member of the club.

Jason Kubel has 29HR. However, only 7 of those have come since the end of July. Kubel is batting .157 since August 1. Last season’s 21 game winner and staff ace, Ian Kennedy went 1-5 with a 5+ ERA in May. He hasn’t pitched quite so poorly since, but has rarely posted back to back outings of quality. And while other teams sometimes receive a boost from young pitchers making regular starts for the first time (Kris Medlen, Andrew Werner, Erasmo Ramirez, Marco Estrada, and Matt Harvey are recent examples), Arizona was forced to suffer a trio of disastrous debuts from Tyler Skaggs, Patrick Corbin and Trevor Bauer. Corbin has started settling down a bit, with a regular turn, but Bauer was exceptionally terrible, walking over seven batters per nine in addition to being thoroughly pounded.

With all the inconsistency and no fortune in their favor to mask their flaws, the Diamondbacks are on the outside of the Pennant Race looking in. Even saving twice as many runs on defense than the nearest division rival has them under-performing their xFIP and surprising some with their struggles this year, nearly as much as they did with their 95 regular season wins in 2011.

Those Lucky Dodgers Come Back to Earth

Many feel the Dodgers have been pitching over their heads, and in fact, the xFIP/ERA comparison backs this up. The Dodgers have out-performed their xFIP by over half a run, which is not sustainable. This is exceptionally true for a team that has played middle of the pack defense (when compared to all MLB teams). These two factors, have been seriously catching up with them over the last month. Their luck is no longer present to mask horrific offensive slumps from Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez and Shane Victorino, as it masked a rag tag corpse of position players during first half injuries to Kemp, and Mark Ellis.

Kemp injured, Dodgers plucked from Pennant Race.

Kemp injured, Dodgers plucked from Pennant Race.


Now with Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsly both out for the remainder of the season, the Dodgers will require huge stretch performances from Josh Beckett and Joe Blanton. Talk about Dodger Blue.

The Rockies Can’t Wait

Speaking of unlucky, another slew of injuries, a pack of inconsistent young pitchers, an almost totally lost season for Troy Tulowitzki, and the most inept manager in the game (Jim Tracy), have pock marked 2012 for a desperate franchise. Young hitters continue to blossom in numbers (Tyler Colvin, Josh Rutledge, and a totally revamped Dexter Fowler), while young starters wish they had played independent ball rather than signing with Colorado. One can hardly blame them. It would be challenging to find a fan base more anxious for football season.

The Surging Padres

Luck and inconsistency touched the Padres early. The club went 34-53 before the break due to an unconscionable attrition rate among starting pitchers. This saw the Padres adding the equivalent of chopped up old tires to their roster (Jeff Suppan, Kip Wells, Ross Ohlendorf). Adding to the abhorrent pitching, a defense best described as “freshly coiled” failed to pick of an offense which simply melted lazily in the gleaming summer sun.

Cabrera, Grandal, and Forsythe

Cabrera, Grandal, and Forsythe torchin’ bombs


But miraculously, the Padres are 37-24 since the All-Star break. The dual hitting coaches, Phil Plantier and Alonzo Powell, have finally delivered Chase Headley, the elite power hitter, to Padre fans. He is just two dingers shy of a 30/100 season. Meanwhile, rookies Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal (who, together I have dubbed The Great Grandalanso) look like bats to build around. Even the middle infield, a source of such bountiful misery early on, has been revitalized by the terrific (occasionally jaw dropping) defense of SS Everth Cabrera, along with the 2B tandem of hot hitting Logan Forsythe and the ever-energetic “Little Ninja,” Alexi Amarista.

The Giants Hold Steady

The Giants have had no such luck. And if you’ve been paying attention, that’s a good thing. Despite losing their best hitter to a toxic combination of selfishness, stupidity and vanity, the Giants have ket rolling along. The finely tuned ecosystem that it is, when one tree falls in the Giants rotation (Tim Lincecum) another, just as grand, takes it’s place (Madison Bumgarner). Marco Scutaro has complimented a much improved offense, and Hunter Pence has provided even more consistency, despite not truly emerging as a cornerstone. Buster Posey is a picture of perfection, if he could run, he would be Mike Trout. They have a deep bullpen, a good bench, and play solid defense. This means that the Giants do not have flaws, which are masked by luck. When Pablo Sandoval was injured, when they lost Brian Wilson for the season, when Santiago Casilla failed as closer, they supported these points of weakness with real strengths. They deserve this division and they are sure to get it.

The most talented do not always succeed, but time always expires for the lucky ones.

[RA ROWE]

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About ra_rowe

A long suffering Padres fan who grew up in San Diego, and moved to Pasadena, Rowe works as a Junior Product Manager and writes poetry in addition to knowing everything about baseball.

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