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The Spoils of WAR

The Houston Astros went all in on Rafael Montero and Jose Abreu this offseason, but what will those two players need to do to make it worthwhile?

Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

WAR, what is it good for?

WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is an advanced metric that has gained popularity over the past 20 or so years. To wit, a 1.0 WAR means that a player adds one win (above replacement level) to a team’s win total over a 162 game season.

Replacement level, as it were, is defined as a team of players who would produce a 48-114 record over a full season. WAR is calculated in a few different ways, most notably amongst them Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. I default to the B/R version under normal circumstances, although FanGraphs updates with each plate appearance in real-time, while B/R updates once daily.

Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

The 48-win threshold — there’s more to it than a lot of people realize. Consider that a 30-team league plays 162 games each for a total of 2,430 regular season games. That’s 2,430 wins available. 48 wins times 30 teams is 1440...almost exactly 1000 less than a .500 league. That means that for every season that has been played with 30 teams, there is exactly 1000 WAR divvied up between all players. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty neat.

What that also means is that for Houston’s 106-win campaign from a year ago, there should correspondingly be a total of 58 WAR from the roster. Let’s evaluate:

Yordan Alvarez 6.8
Justin Verlander 5.7
Kyle Tucker 5.3
Jose Altuve 5.1
Jeremy Peña 4.9
Alex Bregman 4.5
Cristian Javier 3.7
Framber Valdez 3.5
Ryne Stanek 2.2
Lance McCullers Jr. 1.4
Bryan Abreu 1.3
Michael Brantley 1.3
Luis Garcia 1.3
Chas McCormick 1.3
Rafael Montero 1.3
José Urquidy 1.2
Aledmys Díaz 1.0
Ryan Pressly 0.9
Hunter Brown 0.8
Seth Martinez 0.8
Jose Siri 0.7
Jake Meyers 0.5
Hector Neris 0.5
David Hensley 0.3
Martín Maldonado 0.3
Brandon Bielak 0.1
Parker Mushinski 0.1
Jake Odorizzi 0.1
Will Smith 0.1
Yainer Diaz -0.1
J.J. Matijevic -0.1
Cristian Vázquez -0.1
Pedro Báez -0.2
Ronel Blanco -0.2
Mauricio Dubón -0.2
Niko Goodrum -0.3
Yuli Gurriel -0.3
Phil Maton -0.3
Korey Lee -0.5
Trey Mancini -0.5
Jason Castro -0.6

I did the math, there was an aggregate 53.5 WAR for Houston, corresponding to a 102-60 record. The Pythagorean record is predicated on runs scored vs. runs allowed, yet Houston’s pythag was their actual record. How do you account for the missing 4 12 victories? As I said, WAR isn’t perfect.

This season, Houston’s aggregate WAR rating is 10.1 (as I write this pre-game on Wednesday). A replacement-level team would produce 12.4 wins in 42 games, and Houston is at 23-19. Adding replacement level (12.4) to Houston’s WAR (10.1) yields 22.5, so this season’s WAR is pretty much spot-on...but what is the cost of WAR?

Check back here this weekend for a breakdown of how much a WAR costs.