Pittsburgh Pirates: Examining Players Using Wins Above Average


The Pittsburgh Pirates have a some good players, but how good are they compared to the league average?

WAR is a measure of how good a player is compared to a replacement level player. A zero WAR means you aren’t really providing any value to your team, but you also aren’t hurting your team. Last year, two Pittsburgh Pirates position players and nine relief pitchers finished the year with a zero fWAR.

While WAR is a good way to see how much value a player provided to a team over a season, or over a period of time, it doesn’t show how great a player was. An average player is much different to a replacement level player. It’s the difference between Domingo Santana who had zero fWAR, and Andrew Bennitendi who had 1.8 bWAR but a -0.2 wins above average. Today, let’s use this metric and see how good some of the Pittsburgh Pirates were compared to an average level contributing player.

Bryan Reynolds 2.3 WAA

Switch hitter Bryan Reynolds had an outstanding rookie campaign. Reynolds batted for a strong .314/.377/.503 line, a 131 wRC+ and hit 16 long balls. Among rookies with at least 300 plate appearances last season, Reynolds ranks 5th in wRC+, wOBA (.371), and OPS.

He also led all rookies in doubles with 37. Among the seven rookies with at least 500 plate appearances, Reynolds ranked 2nd in wRC+, wOBA and OPS. Although Reynolds wasn’t that great defensively, he wasn’t awful with +5 DRS, -3.5 UZR, +2 outs above average and 0 range runs above average.

The switch hitter was worth an overall 4.1 bWAR. Wins above average places him at 2.3, which overall makes him a very good player. That’s overall better than Trea Turner who had a 1.7 mark, and similar to Rafael Devers who finished off 2019 at 2.7 WAA.

Josh Bell 0.8 WAA

Josh Bell’s 2019 breakout campaign saw him become a top tier slugger in baseball. In 2019, Bell hit .277/.367/.569 with 37 home runs and doubles. He also put up a 143 OPS+ and 135 wRC+. Bell showed great plate discipline with a 12.1% walk rate to go with a sub-20% strikeout rate.

In 2019, Bell finished 22nd among all qualifiers in wRC+, and among first basemen, he sat behind Pete Alonso, Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo. He also had a strong .378 wOBA which ranked 5th among all 1B’s and 25th in all of baseball. In terms of OPS+, he actually had a higher mark than both of the silver slugger winners, that being the aforementioned Freddie Freeman (136) and Carlos Santana (136).

Despite all of his offensive achievements in 2019, Bell still finished the year with a 2.7 bWAR and 0.8 wins above average. That’s because WAR and WAA takes into account both base running, but more importantly defense. Bell was easily one of the worst defenders at first in 2019. He had -8 DRS, a -7.5 UZR, and -1.3 range runs, ranking last in DRS and UZR. He also ranked near the bottom of outs above average with -5. This all brought down his value.

Kevin Newman 1.4 WAA

Along with Reynolds, Kevin Newman also had a standout rookie season. Although he didn’t hit as well as Reynolds, he still registered a .308/.353/.446 batting line, a dozen home runs, 111 OPS+ and 110 wRC+ through his 531 plate appearances. He also flashed some speed with 16 stolen bases.

He still was a better offensive force than Vlad Guerrero Jr. who had a 105 wRC+, and was similar to Eloy Jimenez who had a 117 OPS+. The most notable part of Newman’s game in 2019 was his ability to avoid a strikeout, something that is underappreciated in today’s game. He went down on K’s just 11.7% of the time, the 5th lowest mark in baseball.

Most of Newman’s innings in the field came at shortstop, a position he ranked as one of the worst fielders in baseball at. Newman had -7 DRS, a -5.2 UZR and -4 range runs above average. All of which he ranked in the bottom five of shortstops with at least 800 innings at the position. With -8 outs above average, he was the 5th worst defensive shortstop in baseball. However, he did play a handful of innings at second base where he had a +2 DRS, 0.8 range runs above average, and a 1.9 UZR which helped his cause a bit.

Regardless, he still clocks in with a solid 1.4 wins above average. Overall, that’s better than Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez (1.3), and Yankees’ middle infielder Gleyber Torres (1.3).

Joe Musgrove 0.4 WAA

Joe Musgrove was the only starter in the Pittsburgh Pirates rotation in 2019 that stayed healthy for the entire season. In total, he pitched to a 4.44 ERA, 3.82 FIP, and 1.215 WHIP across 170.1 innings of work. Musgrove posted a walk rate just north of 5 at 5.4, while also striking out batters at a 21.9% rate. Home runs also weren’t an issue with Musgrove as he surrendered just 21 for a 1.1 HR/9 rate. In comparison, the league average HR/9 rate in 2019 was 1.4.

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Musgrove only as a 1.8 bWAR, which is very similar to Dodgers’ co-ace Walker Buehler 2.0 bWAR and 0.5 WAA. This is because bWAR does not take into consideration factors such as ERA predictors. Musgrove was really hurt by a bad defense, as seen in his 3.82 FIP. But that is also seen in his DRA or deserved run average of 3.59.