The Total WAR Project, Part I: Atlanta Braves

One of the great 20th-century proponents of Total War, Curtis LeMay, advocated a nuclear version of total war (should it come to pass) called Mutually Assured Destruction. LeMay (the inspiration not only for General Buck Turgidson of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb but for Burt Lancaster’s hawkish and treasonous General James Scott in Seven Days in May) thought that the best way to prevent war was to make the cost of waging it too high for a rational enemy (read: the Soviet Union) to want to wage it.

Khrushchev once said of LeMay’s vision, “The living would envy the dead.”

And so it came to pass that I discovered, after having promised the Total WAR project for all players, that FanGraphs’ CHONE projections don’t include predicted value numbers for pitchers. Therefore, where possible, I’ll be using the fan projections, which do. It’s far less scientific, I know, but for the purposes of keeping the numbers consistent, it seems to be the best option. If the fan numbers are completely f’d up the a, missing, or if only a few readers have projected stats, I’ll just repeat last year’s. This only seems to be happening with middle relievers and back-end starters, however. 2009 numbers will be italicized and followed by CHONE’s projected FIP and innings pitched, and fan predictions will be marked with an asterisk. It’s also worth noting that fan projections seem to be consistently optimistic, if only by a couple decimal points, because of the preponderance of, for instance, Braves fans projecting Braves players. Just bear that in mind when you’re reading.

So. On to the Braves.

In April 2006, I saw a Phillies-Braves game at Turner Field. The Phillies won behind early homers by Bobby Abreu, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, and Gavin Floyd got the win. In the later innings, the Braves fans (such as were left), started doing the tomahawk chop, and I almost caught myself joining in. It’s hypnotic. Far and away the best cheer in sports, racist though it may be. Total WAR begins after the jump.

2009 Roster

C1: Brian McCann (4.4 WAR)
C2: David Ross (1.7 WAR)

1B: Adam LaRoche (2.4 WAR)
2B: Kelly Johnson (0.7 WAR)
3B: Chipper Jones (2.8 WAR)
SS: Yunel Escobar (4.1 WAR)
INF: Martin Prado (2.8 WAR)

OF1: Nate McLouth (1.9 WAR)
OF2: Garret Anderson (-1.0 WAR)
OF3: Matt Diaz (2.5 WAR)
OF4: Ryan Church (0.5 WAR)
OF5: Omar Infante (1.1 WAR)

SP1: Javier Vazquez (6.6 WAR)
SP2: Jair Jurrjens (3.9 WAR)
SP3: Derek Lowe (2.7 WAR)
SP4: Tommy Hanson (2.6 WAR)
SP5: Kenshin Kawakami (1.7 WAR)

CL: Rafael Soriano (2.0 WAR)
SU: Peter Moylan (1.5 WAR)
RP: Mike Gonzalez (0.9 WAR)
RP: Kris Medlen (0.9 WAR)
RP: Eric O’Flaherty (0.7 WAR)
RP: Manny Acosta (0.0 WAR)
RP: Jeff Bennett (-0.1 WAR)
RP: Buddy Carlyle (-0.5 WAR)

2009 Total WAR: 46.8

Obviously, there were contributions by players not listed here, but while other bench players like Greg Norton and Diory Hernandez spent some time in the majors, they didn’t get enough playing time to make a huge impact. These are literally quad-A replacement players, the likes of whom the Braves will probably trot out from time to time this season as well, to similar effect.

If the name Diory Hernandez sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve read a Braves box score. I remember him because the only game I’ve ever live-blogged (an extra-inning Braves win in June) featured Uncle Cholly intentionally walking Hernandez twice when he (Diory, not Uncle Cholly) was hitting .128. Mystifying.

Anyway, lots of these replacement-level players (some of whom snuck into the back end of the bullpen anyway) put up negative WAR numbers anyway. You can find stats for everyone who put on a Braves uniform last year here and here.

2010 Roster

C1: Brian McCann (4.7 WAR)
C2: David Ross (2.5 WAR)

1B: Troy Glaus (1.7 WAR)
2B: Martin Prado (2.2 WAR)
3B: Chipper Jones (3.8 WAR)
SS: Yunel Escobar (4.7 WAR)
INF: Omar Infante (1.1 WAR)

OF1: Nate McLouth (2.5 WAR)
OF2: Matt Diaz (1.1 WAR)
OF3: Melky Cabrera (3.4 WAR)
OF4: Gregor Blanco (1.4 WAR)
OF5: Eric Hinske (0.7 WAR)

SP1: Jair Jurrjens (4.1 WAR)*
SP2: Tommy Hanson (4.6 WAR)*
SP3: Derek Lowe (4.0 WAR)*
SP4: Tim Hudson (3.4 WAR)*
SP5: Kenshin Kawakami (2.3 WAR)*

CL: Billy Wagner (1.1 WAR)*
SU: Peter Moylan (1.5 WAR) 3.67 FIP, 52 IP
RP: Eric O’Flaherty (0.7 WAR) 3.74 FIP, 48 IP
RP: Kris Medlen (0.9 WAR) 3.31 FIP, 57 IP
RP: Manny Acosta (0.0 WAR) 4.47 FIP, 57 IP
RP: Jo-Jo Reyes (0.1 WAR) 5.02 FIP, 127 IP as a starter
RP: James Parr (0.1 WAR) 4.86 FIP, 104 IP as a starter
RP: Luis Valdez (0.0 WAR) 4.33 FIP, 78 IP

2010 Projected Total WAR: 52.6

Out: Vazquez, Johnson, LaRoche, Church, Anderson, Soriano, Gonzalez

In: Glaus, Cabrera, Hinske, Blanco, Hudson, Wagner, Reyes, Parr, Valdez

Obviously, Blanco, Hudson, Reyes, Parr, and Valdez all played for the Braves last year, just not enough to make the cut for the 2009 Total WAR list.

Hudson, if he can bounce back from injury, will probably be huge, and the 3.4 WAR the fans have him putting up is not out of the question. Derek Lowe and Tommy Hanson, on the other hand, are a different story. If Hanson and Lowe both put up a 4-win seasons next year I’ll do the tomahawk chop in Love Park.

The biggest acquisition for the Braves, by far, is that of Eric Hinske. The 2002 AL Rookie of the Year has bounced around of late, playing for 3 teams in the past 3 years. However, each of those 3 teams has won the AL pennant. Therefore, I can predict with extreme confidence that the Atlanta Braves will be your 2010 American League Champion! Wait…that’s not right, is it….

Having a full season of Nate McLouth will help, and I personally think that CHONE has completely screwed both him and Matt Diaz. Both are slated for a drop-off of at least a win in value, a prediction that I honestly can’t find any reason to suspect.

The bad news for the Braves is that they’re still broke, they’ve only got three really good position players under 30, and they’ve just traded their best player last year (by almost two full wins) almost straight-up for a mediocre outfielder.

The good news is that they’ve got at least five quality starting pitchers, including a pair of twentysomethings who could be monsters coming through in the next couple years, a few nice young relievers, and quality depth at just about every position.

One unique condition for the Braves is that of Jason Heyward, one of the few young prospects who I think warrants special mention, so, with your indulgence, a few words on him before we finish.

Heyward is very young—he’ll only miss the distinction of “first major leaguer born after I was potty-trained” by only a couple months, but he’s a 6-foot-4, 220-pound man-child.

Heyward won’t turn 21 until after the all-star break next year, but Bill James has him getting 600 plate appearances in 2010 and hitting .300 with pretty good power and plate discipline. Last year, he started as a 19-year-old single-A outfielder and finished the year in AAA, having OPS’d (near as makes no difference) 1.000 between three levels of the minor leagues.

Essentially, all indications are that Heyward can step into a major league uniform before he can legally step into a bar and be a Jayson Werth-type player right off the proverbial bat.

CHONE only has him getting 300 or so at-bats next year, with all rate stats down about 50 points from James, but that’s still an age 20/21 season worth 1.4 wins.

I’m inclined to predict that Heyward will start the season at AAA Gwinnett, but will not stay there long. By the time Heyward turns 21, Atlanta will have liquidated one of Cabrera, Diaz, or Blanco, and installed Heyward in his place.

But I digress.

All told, Total WAR shows the Braves having improved by nearly six wins. I call bullshit on that, based on CHONE overrating Melky Cabrera and Gregor Blanco and the fans counting their starting pitching chickens before they hatch. If Cabrera and Blanco duplicate last year’s stats, they’ll combine for about 2 wins between the two of them. CHONE puts the two of them at close to 5 wins.

We’ll see throughout the rest of the project whether that’s a systematic thing or not. For now, you can lock in Atlanta’s delta-Total WAR: +5.7.

Next up in Part II: the New York Mets

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