Legitimate MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Candidates using fWAR and rWAR


Now that the Major League Baseball season is over (and what a final day it was), we can start talking about who deserves what award. There is plenty of disagreement about who will actually win, whether or not pitchers should win the MVP and if candidates should come from a winning team. But regardless of all of that, who are at least legitimate candidates that we should be talking about?


I like the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) framework, but each execution of it obviously has its flaws (evaluation of defense being the largest one). The two most well-known WAR statistics come from Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (rWAR). So we can just average these two statistics and use that, right? Well, there still may be some error there. So I have decided to take the average of fWAR and rWAR and then create a +/- 15% error on this average. So Jose Bautista finished the season with 8.4 fWAR and 8.6 rWAR, for an average WAR of 8.5. Multiplying this number by .85 and 1.15 gives a High WAR of 9.8 and a Low WAR of 7.2. The true measurement of how well he played this season probably falls somewhere in there.

If we look at the top player’s Low WAR and each of the next players’ High WAR, we should find a good list of players who should be in the MVP or Cy Young conversation for their league. I don’t believe that the vote should be based on WAR alone, but I do believe it is a good starting point.


Craig Kimbrel will win the NL Rookie of the Year because of his save totals and because he has been really good. But let’s not overlook the Nationals’ pair of rookies Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos who have been very good this year as well. With Espinosa, Ramos, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann and Drew Storen already in the majors and Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon on their way, the Nationals have a scary good core of very young players.

Matt Kemp should almost definitely win the NL MVP award, as his Average WAR is a whopping 1.6 points above the second highest player in that statistic. Roy Halladay and Ryan Braun are basically tied for how much value they have supplied to their respective teams.

As can be seen by the NL MVP results, the NL Cy Young is basically Roy Halladay’s to lose. The one thing that gives me pause about this is his hitting ability. Baseball Prospectus’s WARP takes this into account and ranks Halladay much lower than Kershaw. This year, Halladay had an on-base percentage of .145 in 92 plate appearances. Kershaw’s OBP was .267 in 86 PAs. This needs to be adjusted for sacrifice bunting situations, but there is a definite amount of value difference there.

The AL Rookie of the Year is a wide-open race. Mark Trumbo has been mentioned for it, but his .291 OBP is terrible. Brett Lawrie is a definite surprise, gaining a 2.8 average WAR in only 171 plate appearances. Over a full 600 PA season that would be a 9.8 WAR, or the same value as Matt Kemp’s 2011. However, the fact that he did not play all season hurts him. I would like to see Ivan Nova win the race, but Jeremy Hellickson has a much prettier ERA.

There are nine legitimate candidates for AL MVP, led by Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury. Either could win and it wouldn’t be a big deal. I do find the last name on that list quite interesting, though: Alex Gordon. I had given up on Gordon this year and traded him in a dynasty league for two prospect picks. The first one I used to draft Carlos Martinez and the second will be the 15th overall selection next spring. If Gordon keeps this up, I may have lost that trade.

Justin Verlander will win the AL Cy Young this year, simply because — as Keith Law likes to say — he has won the narrative. However CC Sabathia, and to a lesser extent Jered Weaver, deserve to be in that conversation with him.


Again, I don’t condone simply using WAR as a be-all, end-all for voting on awards. But I do believe it can provide us with good candidates and get rid of the bad candidates. My picks? Kimbrel, Kemp, Kershaw, Nova, Bautista, Verlander.


One Comment on “Legitimate MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Candidates using fWAR and rWAR”

  1. Deron says:

    Kershaw has won the pitcher’s triple crown; the discussion should end there. But for any doubters, here’s the cincher: compare how the top three candidates Kershaw, Halladay, and Kennedy fared against the top twenty NL hitters and the rest of the league. Against the rest of the league: OPS allowed was .548, .547, and .601 for Ker, Hal, and Ken, respectively. Now, against the 20 hitters Hal’s was .912, Ken’s was .948, and Kershaw… .610!

    I included Kennedy instead of Lee because of Lee’s 17 wins not being enough to beat Kershaw or Halladay. Although I concede that good arguments can be made to include Lee over Kennedy, it doesn’t change the fact that Kershaw should win.


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