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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Josh Donaldson has higher WAR than Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis

Josh DonaldsonThe anti-baseball stat crowd is going to have a field day with this one.

Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis are having monster seasons for their respective teams and posting huge power numbers this season. They are considered frontrunners for the AL MVP award, while Mike Trout is also expected to be a factor. But did you know that Josh Donaldson actually has a higher WAR this season than those two sluggers? Do you even know who Josh Donaldson is?

I was having a conversation with one of my buddies the other day about how the Oakland A’s have replicated their “Moneyball” success a decade later. It left us figuring that GM Billy Beane must be on to a new secret system for building a successful roster on a tight budget. It also led my friend to point out that Donaldson, who is 27 and in his first full season as a big leaguer, is posting a higher WAR than Miggy and Davis. That left me stunned.

Donaldson is batting .302/.384/.504 this season with 23 home runs and 35 doubles. He also has walked 70 times, giving him a solid OBP. So how in the world would Donaldson have a higher WAR than a guy who has clubbed 51 home runs, or a guy who has 44 home runs and nearly an OPS of 1.100?

Fangraphs, which has Donaldson third in MLB with a 7.6 WAR, gives the third baseman strong defensive marks and slightly positive baserunning marks. He is fourth among qualified third baseman in terms of defensive value, ranking well ahead of most third basemen, including the out of position Cabrera, who is at the bottom of the chart. Despite his limited defensive range at third, Cabrera still has a 7.5 WAR on Fangraphs thanks to his incredible offensive production.

As of Sept. 19, here’s where Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs has each of the players (the two sites use different formulas to calculate their WAR):

Fangraphs:

    Donaldson 7.6
    Cabrera 7.5
    Davis 6.6

Baseball-Reference.com:

    Donaldson 7.6
    Cabrera 7.0
    Davis 6.2

Donaldson ranks higher than all three because WAR compares players by position, therefore he is not expected to post the same power numbers as a first baseman like Davis. Donaldson is having a strong offensive season, strong defensive season, and doing fairly well as a baserunner. Cabrera is having an amazing offensive year, but he is having a poor defensive and baserunning season. Davis is having a great offensive season and received strong marks as a baserunner, but poor scores as a defender.

I’m sure many people already disliked WAR and that this will only increase the distaste for the popularly-cited stat, but the figures help explain why Oakland is having such a successful season despite not having many standouts on the roster. Based on WAR, the A’s have an MVP candidate.



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