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Teams with the most WAR Hitters

Recently I was thinking about how some teams have multiple elite hitters while others might have one superstar mixed with average hitters or others have no elite players to be found. This got me interested in looking at all 30 MLB teams to see how each team fairs with top hitters.

So I decided to take the 3 year WAR totals from the MLB and find the top 60 players from 2012-2014. I decided on the 3 year totals to help find a better average. If I took 1 year, than I might find players who had 1 great season or miss players that had injuries. Three years gives enough time to account for some time loss to injury and is not too long to account for most players who have declined sharply. It does eliminate rookies or some players who have recently broke into the league but most players take a few years to reach elite status. By no way is 3 years perfect but it helps to get a good understanding. I settled on the top 60 players instead of maybe 50 as there are 30 teams and 60 sounded like a nice cutoff.

For the sake of this article lets call the top 60 players elite players. There are a few that didn’t make the cut that could be considered elite but over the past 3 years the players on my list provided the most value. Lorenzo Cain came in as number 60 on the list with 9.2 WAR. He also accomplished this in the fewest plate appearances at 1188. This suggests that true elite players even with some lost time could still make the top 60. Another factor was how many players have moved this offseason, however not as many of the top 60 moved teams which made sorting a little easier.

I wanted to see going in to 2015 which teams have the most elite hitters and what that might tell about 2015. First off lets look at the top 10 players over the past 3 years according to WAR.

Name Team WAR
Mike Trout Angels 28.4
Andrew McCutchen Pirates 21.8
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 19.8
Robinson Cano Mariners 19
Buster Posey Giants 18.2
Adrian Beltre Rangers 17.3
Ben Zobrist Rays 17
Carlos Gomez Brewers 16.4
Alex Gordon Royals 15.7
Josh Donaldson Blue Jays 15.6

No surprise that Mike Trout leads the list with a massive 28.4 WAR, at only 23 Trout is currently dominating the MLB at a significant rate. Even going down to Josh Donaldson at #10 we see a significant drop off of 12.8 WAR or the equal value Joey Votto & Kyle Seager provided their respective teams over the past 3 years. Also consider that the Athletics traded Donaldson this offseason who is the only top 10 player to get signed or moved this offseason. Some people would be surprised to see Ben Zobrist on the top 10 list but he is just so consistent in putting up high WAR totals it should not be a surprise. Moving on to the bottom 10 we see a lot less variation.

Name Team WAR
Salvador Perez Royals 9.5
J.J. Hardy Orioles 9.5
Bryce Harper Nationals 9.5
Adrian Gonzalez Dodgers 9.5
Jose Reyes Blue Jays 9.5
Josh Reddick Athletics 9.5
Erick Aybar Angels 9.5
Chris Davis Orioles 9.4
Austin Jackson Mariners 9.3
Lorenzo Cain Royals 9.2

All of the players in the bottom 10 only vary by .3 WAR which is a pretty small margin considering the significant variations near the top but not unexpected. A few guys on the bottom 10 stood out to me. First off Chris Davis was not very good in 2014 with a .196 BA and .5 WAR but his 6.8 WAR in 2013 gets him in the top 60. I didn’t expect to see Jose Reyes on the list but he makes the top 60 by staying consistent over the past 3 years despite only playing 93 games in 2013. These factors point to why I wanted to look at 3 year totals, some players have provided elite production by having monster years and others by giving consistent value.

As I expected some teams did not have any players in the top 60. Four clubs get this distinction and they are the Astros, Cubs, Padres and White Sox. I had to double-check that Jose Altuve wasn’t in the top 60 but seeing 2014 is his only elite season with 5.1 WAR he fell in at #83. These 4 teams have also had very active offseasons and are making strides to improve. Jed Lowrie who joined the Astros falls 1 spot ahead of Altuve, Jose Abreu of the White Sox looks to be a future top 60 with a 5.3 WAR in his first showing and new teammate Melky Cabrera falls in at #116 with a 3yr total WAR of 6.2. The Padres have also been making additions with Will Meyers & Matt Kemp but neither have come close to the top 100 in the past 3 years. Kemp has had some elite seasons but has not been consistent and injured while Meyers has potential to join the elite hitters but it has yet to be seen. At the very least the Astros & White Sox should have at least 1 or two players in the top 60-100 range in the near future.

Now on to the Top 5 teams with the most elite hitters on their rosters for 2015 based on the past 3 yrs.

#5 – Mariners – 3 Elite – 41 Total WAR – 13.7 Avg per year – 4.6 Avg Player

The Brewers, Dodgers, Rays and Royals also had 3 Elite players but the Mariners take the 5th spot with the highest overall WAR number. Robinson Cano leads the team at #4 with 19 WAR, Kyle Seager comes in at #23 with 12.8 WAR and Austin Jackson finishes the Mariners at #59 with 9.3 WAR. The Mariners also added Nelson Cruz but he comes in at 104 with 6.6 WAR.

#4 – Orioles – 4 Elite – 43 Total WAR – 14.3 Avg per year – 3.6 Avg Player

Adam Jones starts off at #16 with 14 WAR, Manny Machado comes in at #44 with 10.1 WAR, J.J. Hardy comes in at #52 with 9.5 WAR and Chris Davis rounds off the list at #58 with 9.4 WAR. The Orioles have the lowest average WAR per player at 3.6 but they make up for it with 4 Elite players.

#3 – Nationals – 4 Elite – 44.3 Total WAR – 14.8 Avg per year – 3.7 Avg Player

The best of the Nationals starts with Ian Desmond at #17 with 14 WAR, Denard Span comes in at #38 with 10.8, Jayson Werth comes in at #45 with 10 WAR and Bryce Harper finishes the list at #53 and 9.5 WAR. Similar to Orioles the Nationals have one top 20 player and 3 players near the bottom 20.

#2 – Cardinals – 5 Elite – 65.6 Total WAR – 21.9 Avg per year – 4.4 Avg Player

The top Cardinal is the newly acquired Jason Heyward at #13 with 14.8 WAR he just beats out Yadier Molina #14 with 14.6 WAR, Matt Holliday comes next at #24 with 12.7 WAR, Matt Carpenter comes in at #26 with 12 WAR and Jhonny Peralta finishes the Cardinals at #31 and 11.5 WAR. The Cardinals have 5 elite players with an average of 4.4 WAR per player.

#1 – Blue Jays – 5 Elite – 71 Total WAR – 23.7 Avg per year – 4.7 Avg Player

The Blue Jays take the #1 spot with 5 elite players and the highest Average WAR of 4.7 per player in the top 5. Newly acquired Josh Donaldson tops the Blue Jays at #10 with 15.6 WAR, next is Jose Bautista at #21 with 13.4 WAR, followed by Edwin Encarnacion at #30 with 11.6 WAR, newly acquired Russell Martin is right behind Edwing at #32 with 11.4 WAR and the final Blue Jay is Jose Reyes at #55 with 9.5 WAR.

Having elite players is a great way to build an offense and it goes without saying you need to fill the remaining roster with quality players. If this exercise shows anything, it shows these top five teams have a solid foundation in elite players. Past performance is never a guarantee of future success but it can be a useful starting point. In thinking about the potential top teams many of the actual top 5 were in my mind. I was expecting stronger showings from the Red Sox, Dodgers and Tigers but while they have Elite level performances they did not have the bulk of consistent performers. The Dodgers missed the cut by losing Hanley Ramirez which would have put them ahead of the Mariners.

In total last year the Blue Jays’ hitters had a team WAR of 23.6 which is nearly equal to the average yearly WAR of their top 5. The average total includes this years additions of Martin & Donaldson which indicates the Blue Jays should have a top offense in 2015. Last year the Dodgers led the league with 31.2 WAR which gives us a good base to consider.

Again you do need an overall offense which is why the Red Sox did not make the top 5 in elite players. The Red Sox only had 2 Elite players in Dustin Pedroia & newly acquired FA Hanley Ramirez. However they do fill out their roster well with non elite players who are average to above average performers. David Ortiz & Pablo Sandoval are examples of players who did not make the top 60 but fall into the next category and offer strong value but not elite value.

Most teams would jump at the chance to acquire or sign the players listed on the top 60, it of course does not include some of the rookies or up and coming players but it does give some insight into which teams are positioned to have strong offenses.

  • John Meloche

    Feel free to discuss! Anything that surprises you?

  • MiggityMatt

    Nice work. I wonder, though. Would your list of elite “hitters” be more accurate if you used offensive war? Zobrist and Donaldson get a boost from their defense value. I’m a Rays fan, so you know I love Zobrist.

    • John Meloche

      Ya that would be also interesting to look at. Miguel gets dinged for his D just like Bautista and a few other guys. I do like like that WAR considers those things and Zobrist & Donaldson benefit from their D but they are also some of the MLB leaders in defensive runs saved. So I don’t mind using WAR over oWar. Though I am in the camp that thinks fWAR overvalues defense a little. Also I find Bref very difficult to sort, even though I prefer their metrics to Fangraphs. I guess I did not mention I used fWAR for this article… I don’t think Zobrist falls out of the top 60 on oWAR, he is just sooo consistent!

      • MiggityMatt

        I was curious which WAR you used, so I looked up some numbers and determined it was fWAR. That’s where my question about oWAR came from. I use both sites (FG and Bref) often. Bref seems to load quicker and has everything you need for individual players. Fangraphs is wonderful for filtering groups of players, as you said.

        Again, nice work. This was my first time coming across your site. It’s now book marked in my baseball folder. Happy Holidays 🙂