Advanced statistics continue to be controversial topic for Major League Baseball fans, analysts, and management alike. Is it possible to define a player’s contribution with numbers alone? That would seem to be a stretch.
Among the many advanced stats, wins against replacement (WAR) is one of the most cited and discussed of the bunch. By calculating a player’s value considering what the team would get from a replacement player (say, from AAA), WAR aims to reflect the overall contribution of a ballplayer from offensive and defensive standpoints. For this reason, WAR leaders like Atlanta’s Jason Heyward may surprise some people by how high they rank (it’s his defense). On the contrary, all-time WAR leaders Babe Ruth (1), Cy Young (2), and Barry Bonds (4) quell doubts about the statistic’s validity.
For offensive WAR, only hitting and baserunning factor into the equation, which makes for a list with fewer surprises. Home runs, steals, doubles in the gap, and anything else that leads to runs scored all count the way they should. Here are the top ten MLB players on offense in 2014 according to WAR.
Stats are current as of August 15, 2014.
10. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
As he is Milwaukee’s primary catcher and all-around most consistent player, it won’t surprise many to find Jonathan Lucroy among the top-rated players in the game. Stats alone suggest his offensive contribution (4.26 WAR) is the stronger side of his game. Lucroy may not hit 30 dingers, but he is not making outs like other players do. Lucroy’s batting average (.303), one-base percentage (.369), and slugging percentage (.483) are all exceptional. Even more impressive, he has racked up 38 doubles while striking out just 54 times versus 46 walks in 2014. His ability to put the ball in play is incredibly valuable.
9. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt went on the DL with a broken hand August 2 yet continues to rank in the top ten in offensive WAR (4.52) for 2014 several weeks later. Since these numbers reflect a cumulative contribution over the course of a year, it takes more than a few games for players to pass the top performers in baseball. Goldie was putting together quite a season before his injury. In 109 games, Goldschmidt hit .300 with .542 slugging, 19 HR, and an NL-best 39 doubles. The 2013 NL leader in HR, RBI, SLG, OPS, and total bases was having another sensational offensive year before his injury.
8. Jose Altuve, Astros
A throwback to the days when ballplayers had nicknames like “Pee Wee” and “Scooter,” the diminutive (5-foot-5) Jose Altuve has been a giant offensive force (4.72 WAR) for the Houston Astros in 2014. He’s leading Major League Baseball with a .337 batting average and 167 hits while sitting atop the AL leader board with 46 steals through 118 games. His low strikeout total (37 SO) and .374 OBP are part of the reason he has been so valuable offensively for the ‘Stros in 2014.
7. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
They call him “Joey Bats” for a reason. Jose Bautista’s offensive contribution (4.75 WAR) fills up the stat sheet from any era. He’s hit .294 (.925 OPS) and cracked 23 HR with 23 2B through 116 games while notching 72 RBI for Toronto. With more walks (79 BB) than strikeouts (75 SO), it’s easy to see how Bautista’s sparkling .409 OBP is leading the American League, and why his offensive contribution is so valuable for the Jays.
6. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
Like Paul Goldschmidt, Troy Tulowitzki is going to miss the rest of the 2014 season to injury, but that doesn’t mean his huge offensive contribution (4.85 WAR) will be surpassed overnight. Tulo was absolutely torching opposing pitchers (.417 BA, 1.246 OPS) at Coors Field in 2014. While he qualified, his .340 batting average and 1.035 OPS were bests across Major League Baseball. Hip surgery has him on the shelf until 2015, which will give pitchers a respite from this dynamic offensive force for a few months.
5. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Despite being the one guy you do not pitch to in the Miami lineup, Giancarlo Stanton is putting up sensational offensive numbers (4.95 WAR) in 2014. Stanton is a slugger (31 HR, 26 2B) who also hits for high average (.290) and gets on base at a dominant .395 clip (best in NL). His league-leading walk total (74 BB) is buoyed by his league-leading intentional walk total (20 IBB), which is only further testament to Stanton’s exquisite performance in 2014. He’s taking just about every mistake pitch he gets in the at-bats when he sees pitches and is crushing the ball.
4. Robinson Cano, Mariners
Boy, do the Yankees miss the offense of Robinson Cano (5.04 WAR) in 2014. His home runs may be down (the Safeco Field effect), but his overall contribution has been mammoth. Cano is hitting .329 with a .397 OBP and 28 doubles through 115 games. As with many of the offensive WAR leaders, Cano doesn’t make as many outs as the average player. His strikeouts (51 SO) barely outweigh his walks (48 BB). Taking WAR literally, the Yankees would be five games better in the standings had they not opted for a replacement player (Brian Roberts) over Cano in 2014. That sounds about right.
3. Michael Brantley, Indians
One of the more unsung players in the game, Cleveland’s Michael Brantley is having one of the best offensive years (5.15 WAR) in baseball. With his .325 average, 147 hits, 17 HR, and 32 2B through 116 games, it’s easy to see why pitchers would want no part of Brantley this season. Again, his incredibly high value on offense stems from his ability to swing at strikes and make solid contact on most cuts. Brantley has chalked up a .383 OBP with just 42 SO versus 40 BB.
2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
The reigning NL MVP needs no introductions. Unfortunately for pitchers, Andrew McCutchen is actually topping his 2013 campaign with his sterling offensive production (5.82 WAR) in 2014. Both his OBP (.411) and SLG (.536) are up this season (his OPB leads the majors), while he remains a pure hitter with 32 2B and 17 HR in 109 games. Sadly, the NL’s top offensive contributor in 2014 hit the DL with a broken rib on August 4. McCutchen actually broke the rib from the torque produced taking one of his hefty cuts at the plate. That makes sense.
1. Mike Trout, Angels
The MLB leader in overall WAR is not surprisingly the leader in offensive contribution (6.71 WAR) in 2014. Mike Trout is having another season for the ages with 27 HR, 33 2B, and a .382 OBP through 115 games. While Trout strikes out more than any of the top offensive players by WAR, his ability to run the bases with the best players (12 SB, 0 CS) picks up the slack and then some. His 256 total bases lead Major League Baseball.
This statistical symmetry — most total bases, highest offensive WAR — is likely to satisfy purists who want a real stat to quantify offensive production. How can a player contribute more than by touching more bases than any other player? Call it one more bit of evidence that Mike Trout is the game’s most elite player on offense (and overall). And score another one for WAR.