Even after an offensive outburst in the ninth inning last night, the D-backs are playing miserably. Although the Australia trip may be at least partly to blame for the 9-22 start that essentially killed the season, the team hasn’t been great since: 27-29. A.J. “Action Jackson” Pollock was a bright spot this season, particularly in the D-backs’ 14-13 May, but Paul Goldschmidt leads the team in every major offensive category (he’s even tied with Pollock for the lead in stolen bases).
So as a less-serious question for this July 4th holiday, how about we ask: where would the D-backs be right now without America’s First Baseman?
Let’s try the easiest answer first: assuming that Goldy’s replacement would be replacement level, and subtracting his WAR total from the team’s win total.
In 86 games, Goldy is at 3.3 WAR — a pace to finish with a mark almost exactly the same as last year’s (6.4 WAR in 160 games). Subtracting 3 wins from the D-backs’ current record of 36-51 (.414 winning percentage) would make the Goldy-less D-backs 33-54 (.379). 35 points of winning percentage is enough to turn a 81 win team into a 75 win team — or a 87 win team.
That really underscores just how valuable Goldy is to this team. The next-most-valuable player, per WAR, is still A.J. Pollock, more than a month after he was put on the DL (he’s at 2.5 WAR, which ranks 36th among all MLB position players). And, by the way, the most valuable D-backs pitcher so far this year is none other than Brandon McCarthy, who has just 1.2 WAR — Goldy has been more valuable than the top three pitchers combined.
Still, WAR is a context-neutral statistic. In a vacuum, Goldy’s performance offensively and defensively would help the average team win an average of 3.3 more wins in 87 games, as compared to a replacement level player. But how much did Goldy actually help his team win so far this season?
WPA (win probability added) is a context-dependent statistic. With WPA, a home run in the ninth with three men on, down three runs, is worth much, much more than a home run in the ninth inning of a blowout that the player’s team was already winning. And with a 1.93 WPA so far this season, Goldy ranks just 5th among MLB first basemen.
WPA can’t really be compared to WAR, since the latter is keyed to replacement. A review of player WAR totals will usually only have one or two players below replacement (under 0.0 WAR), but there are several first basemen with negative WPA totals, including Mark Reynolds and Joe Mauer. There’s also no positional adjustment in WPA, while WAR discounts the accomplishments of first basemen.
Relying on WPA leads to a less impressive result: 34-53, a .391 winning percentage for the Goldy-less D-backs.
WPA is an excellent storytelling statistic, but as a context-dependent statistic, it can shortchange Goldy for the mediocrity of his team. Behind 8 runs, for example, there is little that Goldy can do in one plate appearance to change his team’s win probability.
There is a way to split the difference, using runs instead of win probability while still measuring things in context. RE24 compares the expected run total for a particular inning to the run probability after a particular player’s plate appearance. For example, let’s say a player comes to the plate with one out and a runner on second — we know that in that context, a team scores an average of .721 runs that inning. If the player then draws a walk, there’d be runners on first and second with one out, and we know that in that situation, a team scores an average of .963 runs that inning.
In that situation, RE24 would credit that player with .242 “runs,” regardless of whether he or the runner on second actually comes around to score. RE24 helps eliminate luck and the score of games out of the equation. RE24 is a counting statistic, like RBI, and so if a hitter is above average, chances are his RE24 will increase as the season wears on.
Goldy’s RE24 this season is 33.42, which is first among first basemen, and well ahead of Miguel Cabrera, who ranks second at 27.34. It’s also third in baseball, behind just Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. When you convert RE24 to wins, you get REW; and Goldy’s REW is 3.59.
Goldy’s REW is higher than WAR, but it doesn’t account for the fact that replacement level is higher at first base, or for defense. Still, consider this: WAR is about calculating a “wins” total above replacement, but REW is about batting “wins” above average. Average is a much higher bar.
How Many of the D-backs’ Wins Did Goldy Win?
But how much should we credit Goldy for the D-backs’ actual wins? If we’re looking to figure out how many of the D-backs’ wins to credit to Goldy, it would make sense to look only at those games, using WPA.
Goldy posted a positive WPA in 26 of the D-backs’ 36 wins. Adding his WPA from each of the 36 games together, and I get 1.42; that means that Goldy earned 74% of his WPA in the 41% of games that were wins. As Goldy goes, so go the D-backs, it seems.
We’re just having some holiday fun here, and as with many baseball questions, the answer is complicated by there not being any way to know for sure what would have happened in the alternative. If Goldy had disappeared just before the start of the season, his replacement might have come from outside of the organization; but it also might have been Nick Evans, who projects as barely over replacement. That means Goldy’s WAR total might actually be the best indication of how much worse off the D-backs would be at this point without him.
Any way you slice it, though, Goldy has been the most valuable player to the D-backs thus far, and, considering his RE24, arguably the best first baseman at the plate in all of baseball so far this season. Just a regular day in the office for America’s First Baseman. Have a wonderful Independence Day, everyone!
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