Brett Lawrie is the perfect example for what is wrong with relying on WAR to settle arguments on how well a player is playing. We want something like WAR because it is simple: One number to symbolize how many wins a player is worth to his team. The problem is that we do not know who to believe. According to Baseball-reference.com, Brett Lawrie is currently the most valuable player in baseball with 4.8 bWAR. Yet, according to the Fangraphs.com leaderboard, Lawrie is not even on the first page of leaders and has a 2.8 fWAR. Just to round out the roster, Baseball Prospectus has Lawrie at 2.9 WARP. So how can we know how to choose?
Do not misunderstand. Brett Lawrie is having a nice sophomore season. It is slightly disappointing compared to the flying start he had last year. Offensively, he currently has a 106 OPS+. Not spectacular, but solid. His wOBA at .332 is a full 80 points behind last year's figure. His wRC+ is down 58 points from last year at 108. His triple slash line of .291/.337/.435 is pretty good, but still a bit of a letdown from last season. There is a lot of season to go, but as of now, we expected more from Lawrie.
The on-base percentage is troubling and presents a bit of a reality check when looking at Lawrie as an offensive player. Last season, Lawrie was much more patient at the plate. His walk rate was 9.4 percent and his on-base percentage finished at .372. But perhaps that was a fluke because his minor league walk rate was around 7.7 percent. But even that would be preferable to the 5.2 percent this season. Last year, Lawrie walked 16 times in 171 plate appearances. This season, he has 329 plate appearances and has 17 walks. That is just one more than last year. Last year, he only swung at 22.3 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This season, that rate has jumped to over 30 percent.
Lawrie's slugging percentage is off by a full 144 points. Lawrie had an ISO of .287 last season and this year, it sits at .144. His home runs per fly ball rate is down and that combined with the fact that he his hitting far less fly balls than a year ago have contributed to the power decline. This year, 50.2 percent of his batted balls are grounders compared to a year ago when that rate was at 38.4 percent.
And one thing Lawrie should stop doing is trying to steal bases. He does have eleven stolen bases, but he has been thrown out eight times! Stop running!
Okay, so Lawrie is a bit of a disappointment over a year ago. Still, his numbers show him to be a solid offensive player.
All that said, Baseball-reference.com thinks he is the most valuable player in baseball right now. Baffling. Fangraphs and BP disagree dramatically. So where is the difference. Fielding of course. B-R gives Lawrie three batting runs. Fangraphs hikes that to 4.3. B-R gives Lawrie a minus 0.1 for base running. Fangraphs gives him 1.2. B-R must factor in the stolen base percentage. Anyway, both of those categories are pretty much in the same ballpark. But the fielding isn't even close.
Fangraphs gives Lawrie 9.1 fielding runs above replacement. Baseball-reference.com gives him 30! B-R breaks their WAR into oWAR (offensive categories only) and dWAR (defensive). They give Lawrie an oWAR of 1.7 but a dWAR of 3.4. If you convert Fangraphs' defensive runs into WAR, you don't even get a full win of WAR from Lawrie's defense.
This disparity really shows the struggles of lay people like yours truly to figure out rankings of players. The rankings are so far off on a player like Brett Lawrie, that they become nonsensical and not reliable. And it will remain this way until the sites and services can come up with some sort of fielding standards that everyone can agree upon.
Brett Lawrie is a breath of fresh air in baseball. His intensity and flair really add excitement to the game and have quickly given the fans of the Blue Jays something special to root for. Just don't ask anyone how good he really is. Because at this point, nobody can agree with that valuation.