Thursday, July 2, 2015

How Surprising Are Each AL Team's Top Performers?

Last summer, I examined each team's Fangraphs WAR leader and gauged how surprised fans should have been with that player's club-leading performance. Was it surprising that Kyle Seager was outplaying teammate Robinson Cano deep into the summer? Definitely. But was it shocking that Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen paced their respective teams in WAR? Negative, Ghost Rider.

In order to rank the amount of surprise generated by each team's WAR leader, I created the Sam Champion Predictability Measure. For those who don't know, Sam Champion is a TV weather anchor who may or may not have been romantically involved with Mike Piazza. We can determine how predictable each player's season would have been on a scale of 1-10 Champions, with 1 meaning "ridiculously unpredictable" and 10 meaning "duh." Last season, Seager's team-leading WAR earned just 3 Champions because even most good forecasters wouldn't have predicted it. Meanwhile, McCutchen's performance garnered 9.5 Champions because it was more predictable than the Pirates raising the Jolly Roger after a win.

Now that we've just about reached the halfway point of the 2015 season, it's time to run that exercise back. Last year, I considered only position players; this time around, I'll also look at pitching WAR leaders. We'll take a swing around the American League today then examine the National League in a few days.

All stats are current through July 2.
AL East

Baltimore Orioles
Manny Machado (3.7 fWAR)
It's a mild surprise that Machado leads Adam Jones by more than a full win above replacement. After he missed nearly half of last season with a knee injury, Machado's health has allowed him to return to the superstar form he displayed in 2013. But while most of Machado's value that year could be attributed to the 33.6 runs above average he provided on defense, this season his biggest contributions have come at the plate. He's been 47 percent better than the league-average hitter, by the league- and park-adjusted stat wRC+.
Predictability Measure: 6 Champions

Ubaldo Jimenez (2.0 fWAR)
Many analysts expected 24-year-old righty Kevin Gausman to break out as the leader of the O's staff, but the veteran Jimenez has struck out more than a batter per inning to lead a rotation full of back-end starters. Gausman has pitched sparingly for the big-league club, but that might be about to change. Still, updated ZiPS projections forecast that Jimenez will slightly outpitch Gausman, Chris Tillman, and Wei-Yin Chen for the remainder of the season.
Predictability Measure: 5 Champions

New York Yankees 
Brett Gardner (3.5 fWAR)
Due in large part to a .351/.411/.622 slash line in June, Gardner again leads the Yankees in WAR. He's been the team's best player since Cano's departure in the 2013 offseason and he should continue to pace the team in position player value. Although many projection systems -- and I -- predicted that Chase Headley would have a big season, it's still not strange to see Gardner atop the team leaderboard. That's especially true since nobody could've foreseen bounce-backs from the entire trio of Brian McCann, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. I especially whiffed on Tex. After his recent hot streak, Gardner's outperforming all of those guys anyway.
Predictability Measure: 7 Champions

Michael Pineda (2.6 fWAR)
Many people and projection systems pegged Masahiro Tanaka for a strong comeback season. However, if you didn't trust Tanaka's balky elbow, you might have said that the hyper-talented Pineda would lead the staff in WAR. Then again, Pineda has been far from a pillar of health since landing in New York, so his strong performance still seems mildly unpredictable.
Predictability Measure: 4 Champions

Toronto Blue Jays 
Josh Donaldson (4.2 fWAR)
Donaldson has accumulated more WAR than any major leaguer other than the immortal Mike Trout since 2013, so this one was highly predictable. When are we finally allowed to say that Billy Beane lost a trade?
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

Drew Hutchison (1.4 fWAR)
The biggest issue that Toronto faces is that just two of its pitchers have notched more than a full win above replacement. Nothing would be shocking with this staff because not much was expected.
Predictability Measure: 5 Champions

Tampa Bay Rays 
Kevin Kiermaier (3.0 fWAR)
Kiermaier has been a league-average hitter, but he's been an absolute joy to watch in the outfield. And I say that as a Yankees fan who's witnessed Kiermaier run down a bunch of balls in the gaps against the Yanks this season. It's a pretty big surprise that Kiermaier has posted a higher WAR than a healthy Evan Longoria.
Predictability Measure: 2 Champions

Chris Archer (3.2 fWAR)

Archer was definitely due for a breakout, and he's fit nicely into the ace role that was vacated when the Rays traded David Price last year. After Alex Cobb got injured and elected to undergo Tommy John surgery, Archer was a pretty solid bet to lead the Rays' strong rotation.
Predictability Measure: 7 Champions

Boston Red Sox 
Mookie Betts (2.4 fWAR)
Some fans predicted that Betts would grow into Boston's most valuable player -- in 2016. But I don't think many people pegged him to outplay famous teammates Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Pablo Sandoval, and Hanley Ramirez this soon. Then again, four of the five guys I just listed have played at or below replacement level this season.
Predictability Measure: 3 Champions

Clay Buchholz (2.7 fWAR)
Really, who else could the Sox count on to pitch at an above-average clip?
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

AL Central

Kansas City Royals 
Lorenzo Cain (3.1 fWAR)
It's a bit surprising that a dude who didn't play baseball until high school is outperforming his outfield-mate Alex Gordon, who's having another strong season.
Predictability Measure: 4 Champions

Edinson Volquez (1.3 fWAR)
Like the Blue Jays, the Royals are lucky that their legion of mashers makes up for the shortcomings of a weak rotation. And speaking of that weak staff, nobody would have been surprised that most of the Kansas City starters trail reliever Wade Davis in value this season. By outperforming his fielding-independent pitching, Volquez has been the only hurler to contribute more value than Davis. After James Shields left the Royals during free agency, most fans predicted that Yordano Ventura would be the Royals' next ace. It hasn't happened yet.
Predictability Measure: 4 Champions

Minnesota Twins 
Brian Dozier (3.0 fWAR)
Dozier might just be keeping this spot warm for Byron Buxton, but Buxton has struggled early in his first stint in the big leagues. Meanwhile, Dozier is again raking, hitting 39 percent better than league average by wRC+.
Predictability Measure: 8 Champions

Trevor May (1.7 fWAR)
Most people would have pegged Phil Hughes for this spot following his historic strikeout-to-walk mark in 2014. However, Hughes has given up a bunch of homers and May has been a bright spot on a Twins staff that's among the worst in baseball.
Predictability Measure: 3 Champions

Detroit Tigers 
Miguel Cabrera (3.4 fWAR)
Miggy is among the league leaders in WAR despite costing Detroit nearly seven runs in the field. He's one of the best hitters that any of us will ever see.
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

David Price (2.8 fWAR)
Price has been the ace the Tigers knew they were getting when they traded for him last season.
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

Cleveland Indians 
Jason Kipnis (4.7 fWAR)
We knew Kipnis was a very good player, but he leads the AL in WAR -- ahead of brand names like Trout, Cabrera, and Donaldson. It's not totally shocking that he leads the Indians in the stat, although preseason ZiPS projections forecasted a few of his teammates contributing more value.
Predictability Measure: 4 Champions

Corey Kluber (3.0 fWAR)
The Klubot is proving that there was nothing fluky about his Cy Young season in 2014. Following a near-no-hitter on Wednesday, young teammate Carlos Carrasco is giving Kluber a run for his money as the team's ace. Still, expect Kluber to lead the team in WAR for the rest of the year.
Predictability Measure: 8 Champions

Chicago White Sox 
Jose Abreu (1.1 fWAR)
Abreu's season is only surprising in that he hasn't quite lived up to the Cuban missile-sized expectations he created for himself during his terrific 2014 campaign. He's been a pretty dim bright spot in a totally punchless White Sox lineup.
Predictability Measure: 5 Champions

Chris Sale (3.7 fWAR)
Sale has had an incredible -- albeit pretty predictable -- season. For those who predicted that Sale would get hurt, he obliged. And for those who predicted that Sale would turn into a modern-day Randy Johnson, he obliged.
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

AL West

Houston Astros 
George Springer (2.6 fWAR)
Springer is living up to the expectations of prospect hounds, and Jose Altuve has regressed a bit after hitting .360 on balls in play last season. Springer will have a lot of competition for that top spot in the next few years, though. Rookie shortstop Carlos Correa has already contributed 1.2 WAR in just 22 games in the majors.
Predictability Measure: 5 Champions

Dallas Keuchel (3.0 fWAR)
Preseason projections indicated that Keuchel would likely be Houston's top pitcher, but he's already eclipsed his projected WAR total.
Predictability Measure: 7 Champions

Los Angeles Angels
Mike Trout (4.5 fWAR)
Predictability Measure: 11 Champions

C.J. Wilson (1.4 fWAR)
With Jered Weaver firmly in the twilight of his career, it seemed like Garrett Richards would take over as the staff ace after his terrific 2014 season was cut short by an injury. However, Richards hasn't matched the production he put up last season, meaning that Wilson leads the staff with a ho-hum WAR total.
Predictability Measure: 3 Champions

Texas Rangers
Mitch Moreland (1.8 fWAR)
Moreland slammed four homers in two games earlier in the week to pass Prince Fielder for the team lead in WAR. Fielder is mashing again this season, but his WAR total is unimpressive because the big fella has cost the team more than 11 runs in the field. Meanwhile, Adrian Beltre -- the ZiPS system's preseason favorite to lead the team in WAR -- finally appears to be aging a little.
Predictability Measure: 2 Champions

Yovani Gallardo (1.7 fWAR)
When Yu Darvish got injured, Gallardo became the most likely Rangers hurler to contribute the most value. He's been solid, albeit unspectacular.
Predictability Measure: 6 Champions

Seattle Mariners
Nelson Cruz (1.9 fWAR)
Kyle Seager seemed to be the favorite to lead the M's in WAR. And since Cruz has cooled off considerably since bashing 18 combined homers in April and May, Seager might well contribute more value during the second half. For now, though, it's a mild surprise that Cruz has outpaced Seager and Robinson Cano.
Predictability Measure: 4 Champions

Felix Hernandez (1.7 fWAR)
Only 1.7 WAR at mid-season, Felix? Good thing your pitching staff boasts few other above-average arms.
Predictability Measure: 9 Champions

Oakland A's
Stephen Vogt (2.7 fWAR)
After Donaldson was traded to the Blue Jays and Ben Zobrist signed with the A's, Zobrist appeared primed to Swiss-army-knife his way to the team lead in WAR. However, Zobrist has disappointed so far while Vogt has hit 51 percent better than league-average by wRC+.
Predictability Measure: 2 Champions

Sonny Gray (3.0 fWAR)
ZiPS predicted that Gray would lead the staff in WAR and he's already eclipsed that optimistic projection. The lefty has been one of the best pitchers in the AL, and he'll probably be Oakland's most valuable pitcher for the next few seasons.
Predictability Measure: 8 Champions

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