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Which Yankees are most polarizing by WAR?

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There are several different ways to calculate WAR. Which Yankees cause disagreements across metrics?

MLB: Kansas City Royals at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Wins Above Replacement, the most widely cited all-in-one statistic in sports, has its fair share of critics. Any metric that purports to measure a player’s total contributions is bound to generate controversy, especially when there are several different variations of said metric. The fact that there are different ways to estimate a player’s value doesn’t actually detract from WAR’s usefulness, but it can be interesting to dig into the differences.

The most prevalent, public versions of WAR are Baseball-Reference’s rWAR, Fangraphs’ fWAR, and Baseball Prospectus’ WARP. Typically, all three versions come to similar conclusions regarding players, but sometimes, very real differences emerge. This is no less true when it comes to the Yankees.

There are a handful of Yankees whose WAR totals differ across the board. Let’s take a look at the Yankees who cause the different versions of WAR to disagree the most, and try and see where the discrepancies lie.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury has been a bit of a polarizing player since he signed with New York. Given that the money the Yankees saved in letting Robinson Cano walk was in some part reinvested in Ellsbury, expectations have always been high, and Ellsbury hasn’t exactly met them.

This year, even WAR found him to be polarizing. Per Baseball-Reference, Ellsbury was actually pretty good, notching 2.8 rWAR. His 2.0 fWAR was basically average. However, his -0.2 WARP was dreadful.

This discrepancy lies in a disagreement among defensive metrics. Ellsbury was worth 1.2 defensive WAR, which contributed to his strong rWAR, and was above average by UZR, keeping his fWAR in line. Baseball Prospectus’ fielding metric, FRAA, pegged Ellsbury as 14.5 runs below average.

Which number best represents Ellsbury’s value? It’s tough to say. Ellsbury hasn’t lost his speed yet, and he passes the eye test in center field. He is very sure handed, as he made 99.6% of plays labeled as “routine” by Inside Edge. Perhaps WARP penalizes him for a lack of spectacular plays, as he went 0 for 10 on plays that Inside Edge quantified as “unlikely” or “remote”.

Regardless, his -14.5 FRAA seems harsh, and a probable product of the vagaries of still imperfect defensive metrics. It’s more likely that Ellsbury is closer to the frustratingly average player most value metrics see him to be.

Brian McCann

As Tyler wrote earlier this week, McCann has generally done his job as Yankee while still leaving something to be desired. rWAR and fWAR also were left underwhelmed by McCann’s work this year, pegging his contributions at 0.9 and 1.3 WAR, respectively. He fared much better with a 2.1 WARP.

All three found McCann’s offensive game to be about average. McCann posted a 103 wRC+, a OPS+ (99), and a .256 True Average (Baseball Prospectus offensive metric, where .260 is average). However, McCann’s proclivity for pitch framing boosted his WARP figure.

Neither Baseball-Reference nor FanGraphs incorporates catcher framing into WAR. WARP does include framing, and his 9.6 framing runs helped McCann earn an 8.9 FRAA mark. Since catcher framing is generally accepted as a valuable part of a catcher’s job, it seems fair to side with WARP in assessing McCann’s value as a dependable, if unspectacular backstop.

Michael Pineda

Pineda might be the most polarizing Yankee on the roster. He has shown flashes of brilliance during his tenure in New York, and his power stuff is tantalizing. Yet Pineda just hasn’t fared that well in preventing runs, as his middling 101 ERA+ with the Yankees suggests.

Consequently, value metrics can’t agree on Pineda. rWAR essentially looks at how many runs a pitcher allows, so Pineda naturally posted a below average 1.2 mark. FIP underlies FanGraphs’ WAR calculations, so Pineda’s excellent strikeout and walk rates helped him post a strong 3.2 fWAR figure in 2016. WARP, on the other hand, has drank the Pineda Kool-Aid, as his 5.6 mark is among the best in the AL.

Those are three very different marks. One sees Pineda as a back of the rotation type, one sees him as a strong 3rd starter, while WARP sees him as an ace. Anyone that watched Pineda extensively this year will probably have a hard time agreeing with his 5.6 WARP, but perhaps we can try and at least understand what led to such an excellent mark.

WARP uses DRA, and Pineda’s 2.58 DRA was great. For one, DRA adjusts for opponent quality, and Pineda’s .262 opponent true average suggests he faced slightly above average hitters. DRA is also impressed by Pineda’s 207 to 53 strikeout to walk ratio, and doesn’t penalize Pineda for a sky high .340 BABIP and 17.0% HR/FB ratio.

In the end, it’s really tough to let Pineda off the hook for the runs he allowed his year. His peripherals were strong, and some of his 4.82 ERA can certainly be attributed to bad luck. It’s just difficult to argue that a player that allowed over five runs per nine innings was worth five or six wins above a replacement player. Still, looking forward to next year, the fact that advanced metrics beyond ERA were so positive regarding Pineda at least engenders some hope for 2017.