The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. – Robert Burns
Back in late January, as we planned out the feature articles that would appear in Issue 1 of Nationals Magazine (pick up a copy at the ballpark today!) this season, we decided to tackle a baseball statistic that had become one of the game’s biggest contentions: Wins Above Replacement, or WAR. No sooner did we pen the article than outlets across the sport posted similar pieces, outlining many of the same arguments as us. Still, we included a unique angle in our analysis, comparing the net change in WAR of the Nationals and Braves entering 2013, taking into account the three most high-profile replacements on each team during the offseason.
But then two more developments hit us over the past week.
First, our computations for the third and final section of the article, the one that compared the NL East rivals’ offseason moves, included only offensive totals for each team. As a result, our team totals were off. The second revelation, however, rendered that first one obsolete. FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, the two sites who kept different versions of the WAR statistic, joined together to come to terms on a redefined level of “replacement player,” thereby ripping up all of our hard-worked math and throwing it out the window anyway.
But hey, that’s just another reason why we’ve gone digital with our publications this year. Now we have a chance to update you with the new, correct numbers, which are an improved way of measuring the players anyway, now that there is a consistent baseline from which to project. And in spite of the change, the numbers still illustrate the underlying point of our article – according to WAR, the Nationals got better through their offseason acquisitions. The Braves? Well, not so much.
So here are the new numbers, as simple as we can give them to you. The Nationals combined for a total WAR of 44.2 in 2012, while the Braves notched a slightly lower 42.4, numbers which played out closely on the field as Washington won the division by four games. Heading into 2013, both teams essentially swapped three major players out and three players in. The newly tabulated 2012 WAR values of those players is ascribed as follows:
Michael Morse (0.0) Michael Bourn (6.1)
Edwin Jackson (2.2) Martin Prado (5.6)
Sean Burnett (0.9) Chipper Jones (2.6)
Total = 3.1 WAR Total = 14.3 WAR
Denard Span (3.6) B.J. Upton (3.1)
Dan Haren (1.8) Justin Upton (2.0)
Rafael Soriano (1.2) Chris Johnson (1.3)
Total = 6.6 WAR Total = 6.4 WAR
Net = +3.5 WAR Net = -7.9 WAR
Essentially, while the Nationals added an expected 3.5 wins (not to mention the fact that Dan Haren averaged 5.5 WAR per season in his previous four years, a good sign that he can improve on his 1.8 total of last season) the Braves actually LOST 7.9 expected wins. That’s a swing of 11.4 WAR between the two clubs, even higher than our original article’s combined total of 10.6.
So for all our troubles, the news turned out to be even better than we’d originally reported after all.
Following our interview with both Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon of ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption, Mr. Wilbon stayed behind to shed some more insight onto what the Nationals mean to him personally and to the Washington D.C. region.
Curly W Live: As a fan of the game of baseball, what do enjoy about Nationals games?
Mike Wilbon: The food is great. The variety of food, the pavilions you can walk. Basically, 20 years from now, all these kids who are going to these games where they see Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, they ought to be enormous fans, where there is loyalty built – real loyalty – to the brand.
I’m not from here. I go to one place, I take my kid to one thing: Nationals games. That’s it. I took him to Nationals-Cardinals, since we both hate the Cardinals. That’s my birthright (laughing). We sat next to a couple from St. Louis who are Nationals Season (Plan) Holders, but they’re from St. Louis. They were the nicest people in the world.
This year, I’ll take him to more like eight or 10 games, because he’s five. When he’s walking out, I’ll be like, “Why do you have that jersey on?”
Now we’re getting to reasons why you go to baseball games. But to me, that all goes back to the arc of planning for stuff you can’t control. There’s two separate parts: There’s the appeal of coming to something, then there’s the satisfaction you get once you get there.
D.C.’s an event town, it’s not a sports town. But for a baseball team, it’s the hardest one of all, because you’ve got 81 games. To me – and it’s too hot here, so they’ve done the right thing – but you should have as many afternoon games on the front and the back (of the schedule). April, May and September ought to be all day games. I’ve seen what day games do to a franchise: They create an environment where you take your kids and you play hooky. I’m going to say to my son, “Where were you?” and he’s going to say, “I was at school,” and it’s going to be a lie! He’s going to be at the Nats game.
CWL: How has the perception of the Nationals changed since the team arrived in 2005?
MW: People are aware of it. People are aware of baseball. My wife grew up here in the 70’s and 80’s and she doesn’t know anything about it. It’s a learning process, even for people in their mid-40s: They don’t know anything about baseball, I mean, not for real. They may have made a couple of treks over to Camden Yards because their parents took them, or it was a date night, or something like that. But you have to grow up with baseball every day, day-to-day, caring about the team, checking the box score. It’s what I want my kid to grow up with. Most of the people I know in Washington are at least 35 and up, and baseball is not in their soul, from no fault of their own. It’s not in their blood. It’s not a ritualistic thing. I feel for them – I can’t imagine my life without that obsession. Even though I live somewhere else, I want to know what the Cubs did: It’s the first thing I check. That’s changing. It’s sad, but that group’s going to have that void. I don’t know how you get rid of that. I don’t know if living here another 20 years, if my wife would automatically think about the Nationals. The Nationals have to hope the kids who are seven and nine years old, that those are going to be kids who grew up with the Nationals in their consciousness. It’s like starting over, but it’s been eight years. This sort of change is a big-time thing.
CWL: Did you see specific signs of the increased awareness around D.C. last season?
MW: Yeah, yeah. Even on the road. I was in Los Angeles walking through LA Live and I saw a guy in a Strasburg jersey and a Nationals hat. One of the things you can control – the uniforms – are great. They’re great. The combinations are great. The colors – even people who aren’t really Nationals fans are going to get into it. All of that was done well, in my opinion. But the awareness of last year was an adult awareness. Kids don’t know that. Kids don’t pick the team because it’s good, follow the team because it’s good. They follow the team because it’s their team, and I think that is building. That’s taken a while to build and it’s going to take some more years. They have to be successful, but they don’t have to be in the playoffs every year – nobody does that. Even the most popular teams, they don’t do that every year.
CWL: That being said, how much did the 98-win season in 2012 contribute to the change in attitude?
MW: Last year appealed to adults. They got some hardcore adults who didn’t pay attention to baseball all of the sudden on the bandwagon, but to me that’s a separate story of the seeding and of growing baseball in Washington. I think there are two separate things going on: the Nationals as a contender, which is an adult thing, and the Nationals as a civic – and I don’t want to say obligation, but baseball is almost an obligation – something you are tethered to, and it’s not affected by winning. I don’t want to hear, “Oh, in Washington they’re baseball fans because they won last year.” That’s bull. That’s nothing. You want to show me you’re a fan, show me how you react to losing. Winning accelerates the whole process. But God knows, if winning had everything to do with it, Fenway and Wrigley – the Red Sox and the Cubs – would not be overflowing all these years. I think there’s more to it than that.
Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch. Make sure to pick up the first 2013 issue of Nationals Magazine to read the full Q&A with Tony Kornheiser and Mike Wilbon.
As we launch into the 2013 season, here are 13 more great photos from an unbelievable NatsFest back on January 26 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Beginning this year, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.
9.28.13: Nationals 2, Diamondbacks 0
Stat of the Game: Dan Haren was in command in his final start of the season, scattering four hits over seven scoreless frames.
Under-the-Radar Performance: Another former D-Back, Chad Tracy, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a solo shot, his first homer since June 17.
It Was Over When: Rafael Soriano got the final three outs to record his 43rd save, second-most in the National League.
Those fans that made it out to NatsFest were treated to the offseason facial hair stylings of a number of their favorite players. While Jayson Werth arrived with his now-familiar grizzle, it was another member of the team who stole much of the spotlight: Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa’s propensity for quick facial hair growth had been pointed out numerous times since his arrival in The District, but he had never let it go beyond a week or two. Then, suddenly, the infielder showed up in Washington in late January, having not shaved since the end of the 2012 season. His mountain man image quickly spread across the internet, as fans wondered aloud if he had overtaken the title of best facial hair on the team.
EVP of Baseball Operations and General Manager Mike Rizzo joked at NatsFest that the team had “some facial hair problems we need to attack.” And so, sure enough, off came the beard, one uncomfortably hilarious strip at a time. Enjoy the process as Espi returns from nearly unrecognizable to his usual self, with a couple of ridiculous stops along the way.
Beginning this season, we will provide links, text shortcodes and QR codes to digital features like this throughout Nationals Magazine and Inside Pitch.