Finding 40 Wins: The 2019 Giants

It’s FanFest Saturday, so I’m sure you’ll forgive the optimistic & potentially dreamy tone of another post that relies on the Giants signing Bryce Harper. Just hear me out…

Early in the offseason I created a Net Value spreadsheet for MLB last season. While WAR Dollar values are all the rage, it’s actually another facet of the spreadsheet that has stayed with me. Here’s a breakdown of the WAR totals for postseason vs. non-postseason teams in 2018. Keep in mind these figures don’t include every last player who appeared on a roster last year, but they’re pretty darn close. I also rounded them for convenience sake. Oh, and I left out the bottom-feeders, because I felt like it…

Playoff Teams fWAR
  • Yankees = 57
  • Astros = 54
  • Dodgers = 53
  • Red Sox = 51
  • Indians = 50
  • A’s = 45
  • Braves = 42
  • Brewers = 42
  • Cubs = 40
  • Rockies = 34
Non-Playoff Teams fWAR
  • Nationals = 42
  • Cardinals = 40
  • Rays = 39
  • Angels = 37
  • Mets = 37
  • Mariners = 36
  • Pirates = 35
  • Diamondbacks = 35
  • Giants = 22 (23rd in MLB)

That’s the top 60% of the league, not including the Giants. By no means is WAR a perfect measure of team success, as you can see by a few oddities here. The Rockies made the playoffs despite finishing with a lower team WAR than 8 non-qualifying teams. I think a lot of that has to do with the uncertainty of park factors, which still don’t exactly know how to value production at Coors Field. Either way, you get a pretty good idea here that a team needs at least 40 extra wins to put themselves in the hunt for October.

This makes sense, as a “replacement level” team is projected for about 47 wins. Add 40 WAR & you’ve got an 87 win team. Last season, as the Rays (90 wins), Mariners (89), and Cardinals (88) learned, that wasn’t quite enough to make it. In the era of super teams vs tanking teams, it may not ever be enough. But in almost any typical baseball season, 87 wins gives you a fighter’s chance at a wildcard birth. Even if you don’t get in, it’s enough of a projection to justify “going for it,” anyway.

So, the obvious question for us becomes, can the Giants find those extra 40 wins? Let me put it simply. No. Actually, hell no sounds more appropriate. I’m a pretty optimistic fan, but if you think this roster as it’s currently constructed has playoff potential, I think you’re highly overrating them. And most of the baseball world would agree with you. In fact, they’ve posted only 39 fWAR during the past two years COMBINED. There’s simply no way you can convince me they can produce that total this season without significant additions.

Now that I’ve got that out my system, let’s see what happens when we add Bryce Harper to the mix. Actually, for the sake of this post, I’m also adding Marwin Gonzalez, who is really a perfect fit for the roster when you look at his skill-set. I get the age argument, but I’m not projecting the 2024 Giants here. I want them to compete THIS SUMMER.

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve likely seen my Giants Community Projections project. I created a simple form for people to submit stats for any Giants player. If you haven’t submitted any yet, I highly recommend you do. It doesn’t take very long at all, and it’s a lot of fun! What I do is take the raw data as it comes in, and use it to calculate a a Game Score “Advantage” for pitchers and a “weighted-On Base Average” (wOBA) for hitters.

If you aren’t familiar with wOBA, it’s an all-encompassing offensive metric that really isn’t hard to calculate. It was created by Tom Tango, whose work I have studied pretty diligently this winter, and it’s listed on player profiles at Fangraphs. wOBA by itself isn’t park-adjusted, but it’s converted into the adjusted “weighted-Runs Created Plus (wRC+)”, which is essentially Fangraphs’ version of OPS+. Here’s the basic formula:

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 9.39.14 PM

Once I get the projected wOBA for each projection entry, I run it through my offensive WAR calculator, which I created based on the formulas Mr. Tango shared on his blog during the holidays. You know, I had felt for a long time like WAR was this complicated, unobtainable beast that was just too difficult to ever fully understand. I think a lot of fans still feel that way. And while the actual formulas used to calculate them are very complex, the idea behind WAR really isn’t. How good was a player, and for how long? That’s pretty much it, in a nutshell.

What I learned from reading Tango was a pitcher’s WAR score can be calculated pretty accurately just by collecting his IP & ERA. The more innings & the lower the ERA, the better the WAR score. It makes sense, but I’d just never had it put in that simple of terms before. Yes, things like walks, strikeouts, etc., are used to “pin-point” the differences between individual pitchers, but FIP/IP essentially does the same thing.

On the hitting side, Tango suggests using wOBA (and positional adjustments) to get a “quick” offensive WAR total. Obviously, players who really stand out for their defense and/or base running can sway these quick figures a bit. But again, they’re surprisingly accurate.

So that’s what I’ve been doing with the projections that people have submitted, with the idea of sharing them in total around the start of spring training.

In the meantime, we can see how Harper & Gonzalez might affect a projected Giants lineup. I’m just sharing the screenshot from my WAR calculator, so these totals don’t include anything for defense. Also, I’m trying to present these numbers as objectively as possible, so for most of these guys, the wOBA mark is their career average. In the case of Longoria, it’s actually well below his average, which he likely won’t ever get close to again. For Mac & Duggar, there’s obviously some playing time projection involved. Again though, the actual “production” numbers are nothing amazing.

Since there aren’t any names: C = Posey | 1B = Belt | 2B = Panik | SS = Crawford | 3B = Longoria | LF = Williamson | CF = Duggar | RF = Harper | UT = Marwin Gonzalez

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 10.08.42 AM

Now, the hope is guys like Crawford, Duggar, & even Posey can potentially add another win with their defense. Also, nobody in this current group projects as a very poor defender, which is obviously a good thing. You know, if the Giants players gave off a vibe at their media session yesterday, it was that they believe they have a capable group… and they REALLY f’ing want Bryce Harper.

So, if the Giants were able to get to those “40 extra wins,” what might that look like? Well, here’s one scenario I put together, including the pitching staff.

Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 10.12.24 AM

I’m going to be up front in saying this is NOT a 50th percentile projection. That’s what engines like Steamer produce, and even with Harper & Gonzalez, the Giants would probably get something like a 78-win projection. This is optimistic, and it relies on good health (something the Giants haven’t gotten and likely can’t count on), as well as continued development from the younger guys like D-Rod, Suarez, Duggar, and Mac.

But look carefully at those 2018-2019 differences. Aside from Pomeranz & Samardija “bouncing back” to simply below average instead of awful, the players the Giants are hanging their hats on for success here are Posey & Bumgarner. Isn’t that exactly how it should be?

The rumor swirling is that Harper might be open to signing a shorter deal now. We know Scott Boras also represents Marwin. If the Giants landed both, it would drastically change their lineup. Of that I have no doubt.

So, my question for you is, can they do this? And if you’re Farhan Zaidi, are you also feeling like your team may not be as far from that 87-win mark as most people believe? Frankly, I hope the answer to that question is yes. I’m starting to dream a little bit here…

Thanks for reading, and happy FanFest day! ~ K.G.

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