Replacing Replacement Level – How the San Diego Padres Could Have Won 13 More Games

The definition of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball-Reference is “a single number that represents the number of wins a player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add.”  With that in mind, let’s take a look at how many of the 2011 Padres found themselves playing at a replacement level caliber (i.e. hovering around 0 WAR).

In all, there were 10 players with a WAR of 0.2 or below.  Those players were Jason Bartlett, Ryan Ludwick, Alberto Gonzalez, Brad Hawpe, Rob Johnson, Kyle Blanks, Logan Forsythe, Jorge Cantu, Anthony Rizzo, and Wade LeBlanc.  My qualifier for hitters was at least 150 plate appearances, and my qualifier for pitchers (only one made the list) was at least 50 innings pitched.  With at least 150 plate appearances or 50 innings pitched, a player has enough time to rack up at least 1 WAR.  The players on this list failed to do so, many of them actually accounting for a negative WAR.  Here’s the breakdown:

Jason Bartlet*: 0.1
Ryan Ludwick*: -0.1
Alberto Gonzalez: -0.4
Brad Hawpe: -0.6
Rob Johnson: -0.6
Kyle Blanks: 0.1
Logan Forsythe: 0.2
Jorge Cantu: -1.0
Anthony Rizzo: -0.7
Wade LeBlanc: 0.2

*Denotes a regular starter

These ten players provided the Padres with a grand total of -2.8 WAR.  That’s not a good way to win ball games.  Now, if we take the meaning of WAR literally, how much better would the Padres have been if each of these players played “replacement level” ball (meaning they earned exactly 0 WAR)?  Well, they would have won 2.8 more games, and if we round, 3 more games. The Padres would have been sitting on a 74-88 record which is slightly more respectable.

Now, what if these player did what Major Leaguers should do and played above replacement level?  What if each player earned just 1.0 WAR for the season?  That’d be 10 WAR total among the ten players, and would have been 12.8 wins more (remember the above ten combined for -2.8 WAR).  If the Padres won 12.8 (rounded to 13) games, they would have seen a record of 84-78, good enough for third in the division.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect a bunch of bench players and platoon players to put up 1.0 WAR.  But what about 0.5 WAR?  If each of these players earned 0.5 war, that would be a total of 5 WAR on the season or 7.8 more wins (again, consider they were actually -2.8 in the WAR column).  If the team won 8 more games, we’d have seen a Padres record of 79-83.  This is exactly what the Padres Pythagorean record was at the conclusion of the 2011 season.

It seems the first step to building a winning ball club is finding guys would can contribute positively in WAR.  Injuries happen, and players have bad years, but ten players combining for -2.8 WAR is a horrid display.  If the Padres can replace “replacement-level” (or worse) talent with players who can contribute wins for the team, perhaps we may see a winning ball club sooner rather than later.  Until then, the Padres have no chance of out-performing their Pythagorean record or the talent they have on the field.