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Astros History: Cesar Cedeno's Career WAR

Here's an interesting thing. One of the best all-around players in Houston Astros history collected just 47 bbWAR in 11 seasons for Houston. That's right, Cesar Cedeno averaged just about 4 WAR per season with Houston, which means he was an average All-Star during that time, per the stats.

Except that he was much, much better than that. Cedeno was one of the best players in the league, combining power with speed and great defense. Why doesn't that show up in his WAR totals?

It does and it doesn't. Only three Astros position players have more total WAR than Cedeno, but his seems low, considering Jeff Bagwell has over 30 more WAR despite playing a less important position. What's going on here?

Well, it goes back to how Baseball Reference calculates their version of Wins Above Replacement. For the fielding component, BBRef uses Total Zone rating, which tries to make comparisons for how many plays a guy "should" have made without having data specifically for that.

That leaves Cedeno at a loss, since he never posted one defensive WAR total above 1.0 in a single season. To put that in perspective, Chris Young led the National League in defensive WAR last season at 2.6. Michael Bourn currently leads the league with 1.3 dWAR through a quarter of the season.

By every measure of him at the time, Cedeno played excellent outfield defense. He won five Gold Gloves in his career. That's not necessarily a great way to judge defensive skill, but beside the Gold Gloves, he had a great defensive reputation. Just look at this takeaway from an interesting article in The Hardball Times:

A sabermetrician will look at Cesar Cedeno, and will see him utterly differently thanks to park and league adjustments and a willingness to cast aside language barriers, off-the-field problems, and preconceived notions of his "potential." That sabermetrician will see a remarkable player who could beat you in innumerable ways. Cedeno could beat you with a single, a double, a home run. He could beat you by stealing a base, beat you by drawing a walk. He could beat you with his stellar outfield play too, with a catch or a throw.

And, yet, we see a very average player in his WAR totals. Let's sub in a guy like Andruw Jones' defensive WAR for Cedeno's. Jones compiled 24 dWAR in his career in the outfield. That's an average of just under 1.5 dWAR per season, which if we give Cedeno over his 11 seasons in Houston, would raise his bbWAR up to 65 instead of 47.

At 65 career WAR, Cedeno jumps to second place on the all-time just, ahead of Craig Biggio and just behind Bagwell. I may not have seen him play, but that feels right to me.