The world of sabermetrics is an extremely complicated, complex and intricate one. Some of the finest brains are employed by baseball teams to help them win for less. And, within this incredibly complicated, complex, intricate world, I've come to a dumbfounding conclusion: not being bad is an easy way to save a few wins.
It sounds rather simple, if you don't suck, you'll do well. But, there is a difference between being good and not being bad. And, the Astros seem to have mastered that very art. While their positive player value (in terms of wins), is solid -- while WAR is far from being the pinnacle of sabermetric analysis, it's a handy tool to quickly evaluate a player's quality on the year -- their avoidance of accruing negative player value is pretty special.
If you consider the context, it becomes even more special. They, all season long, stuck with Evan Gattis, and Chris Carter despite their disappointing seasons. They promoted Carlos Correa, Preston Tucker, Vincent Velasquez, and Lance McCullers Jr. Promotions which, even to the most educated Astros fans, were a little bit of a surprise. With prospects, it's always hard to know when someone is truly ready for the majors.
On the season, the Astros had only two players who qualified in plate appearances, reaching the 600 mark. Rather, they used a combination of fifteen different players, all playing an equal role. They rotated the starting lineup lots, giving everyone plenty of plate appearances. Yet, despite all this; they didn't record one run of negative value.
The Astros, and the Toronto Blue Jays were the only teams in all of baseball last season to do so. Not a single bad player, not a single negative run (the table counts for all players who recorded at least 100 PAs). While, on the other hand, at the other end of the spectrum, the Chicago White Sox lost 53 runs because of players performing below replacement level. Five wins makes a huge difference come the end of the season.
In baseball, we talk a lot about a player's ceiling. Best case scenario, how good can a certain player be? Maybe, it's time to start considering floor a lot more. What's the worst case scenario? Looking at the above results, maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to sacrifice some ceiling, to ensure a higher floor. Having somebody who can fill in for 100 plate appearances to the tune of a 0.0 WAR could be very valuable.
While we would all love somebody who could fill in, and provide some positive value, that can't always happen. In reality, players who can avoid accruing negative value are looking to be extremely useful. How exactly to determine and find such players is a completely different question, but that can be left that to the Astros (although, it seems they may already know the answer).
Only yesterday I was laying in to Gattis, Carter, and Valbuena for posting wRC+s that were far from inspiring (in fairness, I was giving them plenty of praise for slugging, another market inefficiency, perhaps, but that's for another time). Yet, in reality, being solid across the board in this department, ranked them fourth in all of baseball. Being solid across the board in his department, gave them one of the best offenses in the game.
Realisation that a team wRC+ of 105 is good enough for fourth in baseball, and second in the American League (behind only the unbelievably good Blue Jays, the same Blue Jays who avoided accruing any negative value) furthers the point. Having fifteen players who all play a solid role, creating a number of runs that is close to league average -- as well as having a few stars, though, of course -- can collate for one the best offenses in the game. Quality depth is key.
The only three players on the roster who created a low amount of runs, relative to league average, were valuable in other areas. Jason Castro, Carlos Gomez, and Jake Marisnick were all good enough on defense (and on the bases, in the case of some) to erase the poor offense from meaning. And, perhaps more importantly, keep them well away from being worth negative runs.
It's difficult to know exactly how to build depth that isn't bad, so to speak. But, that's probably why I'm here, and the big brains are in the front office, acquiring exactly these players. Well, there you have it, market inefficiency number one: not being bad. Who would've known, eh? Moneyball for you, silly old thing, really.