Winter 2011-12 -- Getting to a +75 run differential


'round the cyber-block this week, there's a very strong argument that the Mariners need to pick up 200-250 runs (20-25 WAR) in order to be 'serious' about contending in 2012.  In other words, that this winter Jack Zduriencik's job is to add 200+ runs to his 2011 edition.

There were many interesting ideas in this article, so Dr. D is gonna mosh off them to slam-dance into his own crunch on the situation...


Q.  Is that true, that WAR predicts playoff teams well?

A.  But of course, m'sieur.  Any run differential formula does.  Team RC/27, team EqA, or you could just use simple run differential.

Bill James conceptualized the fact that, over a 26-mile, 385-yard MLB season --- > you'd be able to predict a team's success by simply counting up its runs (bases) gained and lost.  

WAR is the latest refinement on James' Pythagorean system, but I still hate to see James' 1980's movies remade with CGI and without crediting his intellectual property ... at least when kids these days see the remake of Psycho, they were dimly aware that Norman Bates had been around before the 21st century :- )

The teams with the highest 2011 run differentials (and therefore WARs), are, of course, the ones that make the playoffs.  In 2011, what playoff teams looked like, was like this:

  • +210 Yanks
  • +178 Rangers
  • +93 Rays
  • +76 Tigers
  • (+118 Boston missed playoffs)
  • +184 Philly
  • +83 Milwaukee
  • +77 Arizona
  • +70 St. Louie
  • (+36 Atlanta missed playoffs)

And 2011 was typical.  

Riffle through the almanac and you'll see that each year, there are a few teams way over +100 differential, and the rest of the playoff teams in the 70-100 area.


Q.  So when Dr. D hears, "the 2007 Cubbies are going to be a legit playoff team," he thinks of the 2007 Cubbies as .... what?
A.   Well, slap me silly, I guess the 2007 Cubbies were a team with at least a +75 run differential.
Probably that means that their ERA+ and OPS+ added to 205 to 210.
Maybe they were average-solid in offense (98-100) and pretty good at pitching (105-107).  Or maybe they were kinda weak in offense (90) but great at pitching (115).  Or maybe hitting was the thing they did good.
Point is, MLB playoff teams aren't necessarily terrific.  But they're consistently better than average, overall.  They're good enough to let the percentages work in their favor over the course of 162 games.
You don't have to plan to be the Rose-Morgan Reds in order to shoot for the pennant.  You do have to have a fairly good team.
Fans, in all sports, persist in thinking that they have to have the best team in order to do battle.  Nay verily.  You have to be good -- better than the 50% waterline.




I read Dave's article over on USSM.  But simply saying "get more WAR to be a playoff team" is a bit like saying "get more money to be rich." 
Playoff teams have a bunch of WAR, or they wouldn't be playoff teams.
Gene Mauch didn't need a WAR number to know that if he got Jimmy Wynn and Tom Seaver he would be much closer to winning a pennant.  Add a Jim Palmer and , "Bingo!"
Playoff teams (minus the Yankees) often get that way because they have 4 or 5 guys who jump from 1 or 2 WAR to 3 or 4 WAR, all in the same season.  There is SOME (but not all) serendipity involved in that occurance.  The '10 Giants are a classic example.
Unless you're going to outbid the Yankees and Red Sox, the easiest way to get that WAR jump is to load up with potential.....and hope it gels together.  The M's have done just that.
You can force the issue by spending $100 gabillion dollars on Fielder or Pujols or Billy Williams or Frank Robinson, but if those other guys don't gel then the huge contract didn't achieve what you wanted it to do, and then you're stuck with it.
It really isn't a great business model.
I don't think we're a playoff team in '12.  But we're moving directly in that direction.  We've had some fits and starts (FIGGINS!, he spits out!), but we're closer.
Soon, this stuff will gel. 
Interesting times.


There is *some* question as to how useful it is to set a target of +100, +200, or what-have-you.
I mean, Zduriencik wants to improve his team as much as possible.  If his pencil marks show that he's improved his team by +200 on paper, does that mean he passes up the chance to replace Aaron Laffey with Steve Delabar?  
Z has 25 roster slots and, at all times, he wants to max out each one.  :shrug:
Not saying there is no use to knowing that you were -113 and you want to be +100, but I wouldn't overstate the importance of this kind of schedule.
The year the M's acquired Bedard and Silva, that's exactly what happened - a saber dude calculated that they needed +100 runs and recommended that they acquire two +5 win pitchers.  ::shrug::
Honestly, in F-500 the main use for this kind of calculation would be to show your boss, to get him to sign off on moves.

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