An average major league player is supposed to be worth about 2 wins above replacement over a full season. I bet you’re wondering which teams had the most above average players this year? And even if you’re not wondering that, you’re going to find out. Unless you leave the page now. In which case, good riddance.
The data I’m using for this exercise is from FanGraphs. I’m setting the cutoff for an average or better major leaguer at 1.9 fWAR for the season, because there are still 2 games left, and because there could be some rounding issues. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough. I’m also not adjusting for playing time. If you were above average for only a portion of the season, then why weren’t you playing more? You had a broken arm? No excuse. Get out there on the field.
Do playoff teams have more above average players than non-playoff teams? Perhaps! According to my criteria, there were 157 average or better hitters in the major leagues this year, and 88 pitchers. That’s a total of 245 players, or 8.2/team. That’s more than I expected.
Here’s the list of the number of average or better players for all 30 teams, in order. (I assigned 0.5 to each team that traded or acquired a 2+ WAR player in-season.)
The Reds come out on top with 7 average or better hitters and 5 average or better pitchers. That’s pretty good. Seven of their eight regulars are at least average, and four of their five starters, as well as Aroldis Chapman, are all better than average. Only Mike Leake hasn’t been a league average pitcher this year, although he has also been worth 1.3 fWAR as a hitter this year, so if you add that to his pitching total, he’s been above average as well.
Four other teams have at least 11 average or better players this year; the Braves, Rangers, Cardinals, and Rays. Those first three will make the playoffs, while the Rays made it very close. The next five teams are the Angels, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Yankees and Tigers. Only 2 of those are making the playoffs, but the Dodgers and Angels are both very close, and the Diamondbacks are a good team as well. Next up is the Brewers and Giants, and then we finally get to the Nationals, who are tied with the Red Sox. That’s a bit strange, and is perhaps the best demonstration that having a couple of 5+ WAR players is not the same as having a bunch of just above average guys. At the end of the day, If you get 7 WAR from one 6 win guy and one 1 win guy, it’s the same as having one 4 win guy and one 3 win guy, except that it’s probably easier to upgrade the 1 win guy than it is the 3 or 4 win guy.
So that’s 14 teams that have more than 8.2 average or better players. Eight of those 14 teams will make the playoffs. The other 2 playoff teams are the Athletics, who have 8 average guys, and the Orioles, who have 6.5. The Athletics are very close to having more than average, and much has been written about the Orioles and their team of over-achievers.
Overall, it’s a pretty decent indication of the quality of a team – which makes sense. The more above average players on your team, the better you should be. It’s not perfect, but it’s interesting. Kind of.