It’s hard to believe, but the 2014 regular season is already almost 10% finished. Crazy!
Early on in this young season some teams are surging (hello Milwaukee!), and others are scuffling (here’s looking at you Arizona!). But the one thing we keep hearing, the one universal caution about assessing performance at this time of year is this: it’s still early.
But it’s never too early to have some fun with stats. Just this past week, Baseball Reference began publishing WAR for the 2014 season. Let’s take a look at some early season WAR stats.
The above tables show the best players in baseball in terms of WAR. For total WAR (which combines offense and defense to provide a full view of a player), there are some standard names. Mike Trout, Carlos Gomez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Joey Votto are names that you’d expect to see there. But Juan Uribe? Chase Utley? If it was 2008 maybe, but not now. It will be interesting to see if they have discovered the fountain of youth, or if it is just a hot start. For Jays fans, Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista have both parlayed their fast starts into top-20 player status. And how much does it hurt to see Yan Gomes’ name in the top-10?
Offensively, there are no real surprises. Alexei Ramirez has shown pop earlier in his career, and Dee Gordon can fly on the basepaths. On the defensive side, it’s nice to see two Jays in the top-10, with Diaz and Goins doing what was expected of them early – contributing with the glove, if not the bat.
The first thing any Blue Jays fan will notice when looking at the list of worst players in terms of WAR is our old friend J.P. Arencibia. There were fears around Toronto that when Arencibia was let go, that he might blossom in Texas with a coming out season to make every Jays fan wince (see Yan Gomes, Chris Carpenter, etc.). But fear not! Wtih a -0.5 WAR, and -0.4 oWAR, Arencibia is picking up right where he left off in 2013.
The biggest shock of the above tables has to be Prince Fielder. Acquired by the Rangers to beef up their lineup, many predicted Fielder to be a potential MVP candidate this season. But early on he is actually the worst player in all of baseball. I have to think that that won’t last for much longer. Expect to see Fielder, Allen Craig, and maybe Billy Hamilton move up the list in the future.
In terms of Blue Jays, there are really no surprises. Sierra has struggled in his very limited playing time, and while Lawrie is showing signs of turning things around, he has a long way to go to make up for his rough start. Bautista has never been, and will never be, an outstanding fielder, but the Blue Jays will accept below average defense for 40 HR any day.
Johnny Cueto is tied as the best pitcher in baseball – it’s plausible. He’s had past success. But he’s tied with Scott Feldman? Feldman currently has a 0.44 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, and a staggering 908 ERA+, all amazing numbers. However, he also has 8 walks to 7 strikeouts, he’s hit 5 batters, and his FIP (a stat to measure fielding independent pitching) is 4.27, meaning he has performed closer to a below average pitcher, and has been very lucky to get where he his. I will make a 500 Level Fan guarantee that Feldman will be nowhere near the top of the list in September.
The other biggest surprise comes from the worst WAR list, where potential Cy Young candidate Stephen Strasburg is sitting with a WAR of -0.5. He is tied with Bronson Arroyo, a pitcher that many Jays fans were practically begging Alex Anthopoulos to sign in the winter. Good thing he went to Arizona! Unfortunately, it’s never a good sign when your team’s ace is sporting a -0.3 WAR himself.