I am not a good writer to talk about numbers. I love the new stats and trying to figure out what they are telling me. But just don't ask me how they are calculated or to dig much deeper than that. I am probably a cross between Murray Chass and Dave Cameron. I like the numbers, but I don't always get them. I do know that WAR is an attempt to try to give us a value of a player that can be used to compare the player to others and a league replacement. Knowing only as much as that, sometimes what I find makes me scratch my head (hence, some of my Chass DNA). *
*Shameless Posnanski Asterisk: If you are too young to get the reference of this post, I apologize.
The first thing that set me off in this questioning mode was the fWAR (the "f" stands for Fangraphs.com) was looking at where Masahiro Tanaka stood among his fellow starters. I was surprised to find him tied for fourth behind Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber (if you can believe it). He is tied with Jose Fernandez of the Marlins who will be out the rest of the season and Justin Verlander. How can this be?
He has a better xFIP than all of them. He has a better K/BB ratio. He has the best LOB percentage. And, as meaningless as the stat is, he is 6-0 and the Yankees would be in a whup of trouble without him. The only thing I can see is that his home run rate is higher than the rest of him. Should that account for having more than a half a win WAR than Jon Lester? I don't buy that. Johnny Cueto and David Price have the same problem and David Price leads all of baseball with his K/BB ratio.
Okay, let's look at Jason Heyward. Heyward currently sports an inglorious 78 wRC+ and a .284 wOBA. The latter figure is not one you want to be less than .320, never mind .300. A wRC+ of 100 is league average. He is 22 points less than league average. He has an OPS of .619. I am not writing this to pick on Jason Heyward. He is obviously having a tough time at the plate and doesn't need me to pile on. His .248 BABIP suggest better days are ahead.
But I point out Heyward's numbers because according to fWAR, Heyward is tied for sixteenth place among "position players" for fWAR. How can that be? Well, it seems that he has been Superman in the field. In just 37 games, Heyward is given credit for 10.9 runs of value for his defense. That accounts for about a win and two-thirds of his total 1.5 fWAR.
Just to put that in perspective, Andrelton Simmons had just about the greatest fielding season ever last year and totaled 31.6 runs of defense in his 157 games. And he is a shortstop, the most valuable position on the field (you could argue for the catcher too). Simmons' runs for defense divided by his games comes to .201 runs per game. Heyward is currently sitting at .295 runs per game for his defense.
I will not dispute that Jason Heyward is a great fielder. But that great that he has been worth more per game than Simmons was last year? Call me dubious. And that is Mr. Dubious to those I don't know.
I could be wrong, but I think I heard somewhere that shifts in the infield are not even counted by the fielding stats because they are too confusing.
Okay, one more. Jacoby Ellsbury currently sports a .339 wOBA compared to last year's .343. That is a difference of .004. Minuscule right? His wRC+ last year was 113 and it is 111 so far this year. So how come last year, his offensive runs came to .0322 runs per plate appearance and this year, they come to .0185 per plate appearance? It doesn't make sense and it affects his fWAR.
Then you look at his defense. Last year, his defense (which affects fWAR) was worth 12.0 runs for the season. He is currently sitting at -2 this season. Seriously? I know this sounds awfully close to a certain Boston Globe's writer, but I have watched every game he has played this season. He has been terrific. -2? I don't understand.
Look, I know numbers are not perfect. For an example by a good writer, check this piece out. But it's hard for me because I am not learned enough to figure out why these numbers do not make sense to me. I risk looking stupid--which really isn't a risk because I already look stupid--because something doesn't feel right to me. I sense a problem without knowing enough to know if it is or not.