Team of National League rookies would have been a real winner
The 2010 NL rookie field was deep enough to make up a 35-player roster
Using the WARP formula, such a team would have won 99 games last season
That total would have been more than any team in either the NL or AL
In writing my Awards Watch column this season, I often found myself struggling to find five -- or even three -- worthy players to round out my list of American League Rookie of the Year candidates. That stood in stark contrast to the crop of rookies in the National League, which was so large and diverse that one could assemble a strong 25-man roster from it. With the Rookie of the Year awards set to be announced on Monday, that got me thinking: What would that 25-man roster of NL rookies look like? And how well could it have done in this year's standings?
To answer those questions, I have to set out some ground rules. First, I'm looking for a team that could play a full season, not an All-Star game. Thus, I need my position players to total 162 games played at each position, my starting pitchers to total 162 games started, and my bullpen to add enough relief innings to combine with my starters to give me a total of 1,458 innings on the season (nine innings times 162 games). In order to reach those totals, I'll likely have to expand my roster beyond 25 men -- but no team uses just 25 men over the course of an entire season, so this remains within the realm of reality.
With regard to position, I will give myself a bit of flexibility. For example, though Buster Posey started 30 games at first base this year, I will count all of his games toward my catchers, and if an outfielder has experience in a pasture other than his usual one, or an infielder has experience at a relatable position (a third baseman who has played first, a shortstop who has played second or third, etc.), I'll give myself permission to use that player to fill in the necessary games at those positions as needed. I will not use starting pitchers in my bullpen unless they have actually thrown those innings in relief, and vice versa for relievers starting. However, if a pitcher has both started and relieved this season, if I include him his starts will count toward by rotation and his relief innings will count toward my bullpen. I won't attempt to isolate his performance in either role.
With that established, I need a total-production metric to allow me to measure the performance of my roster relative to an existing standard. Joe Posnanski examined some of the issues with the two different versions of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) earlier this season. I share his belief that FanGraphs' WAR weighs defense more heavily, which I find problematic given how inexact even advanced fielding metrics are relative to our ability to parse out value from pitching and hitting. I also find FanGraphs' WAR problematic because it uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) for its defensive component, but UZR doesn't rate catchers and doesn't take into account several key aspects of paying first base. Baseball-Reference's WAR uses Total Zone Runs for its defensive component, which at minimum has the advantage over UZR of rating catchers and seems to be more gently applied to the overall WAR stat. Baseball Prospectus's VORP is an offense-only statistic, but it's counterpart WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player, which predates WAR by roughly a decade) not only includes fielding, but its fielding component, Fielding Runs Above Average, also was overhauled last year to employ play-by-play data, giving new life to an old favorite. I'll stick with the dame I came in with and use WARP.
For players with more than the required amount of games played, I will use a prorated portion of their total WARP. Those partial-season statistics are in italics below.
Here, then, is my 2010 National League All-Rookie team:
1B -- Ike Davis, Mets (147 G, 3.1 WARP)
2B -- Neil Walker, Pirates (110 G, 2.1 WARP)
SS -- Starlin Castro, Cubs (125 G, 2.4 WARP)
3B -- Chris Johnson, Astros (92 G, 1.96 WARP)
C -- Buster Posey, Giants (108 G, 4.4 WARP)
RF -- Jason Heyward, Braves (142 G, 5.1 WARP)
CF -- Jose Tabata, Pirates (102 G, 2.7 WARP)
LF -- Mike Stanton, Marlins (100 G, 2.5 WARP)
1B -- Gaby Sanchez, Marlins (15 G, 0.21 WARP)
SS/2B -- Ian Desmond, Nationals (89 G, 1.10 WARP)
3B -- David Freese, Cardinals (70 G, 2.2 WARP)
LF -- Logan Morrison, Marlins (62 G, 1.5 WARP)
CF -- Lorenzo Cain, Brewers (43 G, 1.1 WARP)
RF/CF -- Chris Heisey, Reds (37 G, 0.42 WARP)
C -- Josh Thole, Mets (54 G, 1.55 WARP)
Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals (28 GS, 4.0 WARP)
Jhoulys Chacin, RHP, Rockies (21 GS, 2.8 WARP*)
Madison Bumgarner, LHP, Giants (18 GS, 2.9 WARP)
Barry Enright, RHP, Diamondbacks (17 GS, 2.6 WARP)
Dan Hudson, LHP, Diamondbacks (11 GS, 3.6 WARP)
Travis Wood, LHP, Reds (17 GS, 1.7 WARP)
Alejandro Sanabia, RHP, Marlins (12 GS, 1.4 WARP*)
Casey Coleman, RHP, Cubs (8 GS, 1.2 WARP*)
Dillon Gee, RHP, Mets (5 GS, 1.2 WARP)
John Axford, CL, Brewers (58 IP, 4.1 WARP)
Jonny Venters, LHP, Braves (83 IP, 2.2 WARP)
Wilton Lopez, RHP, Astros (67 IP, 2.3 WARP)
Ryan Webb, RHP, Padres (59 IP, 1.3 WARP)
Drew Storen, RHP, Nationals (55, 1.5 WARP)
Ernesto Frieri, RHP, Padres (31 2/3 IP, 0.9 WARP)
Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers (27 IP, 1.4 WARP)
Craig Kimbrel, RHP, Braves (20 2/3 IP, 1.7 WARP)
Michael Dunn, LHP, Braves (11 1/2 IP, 0.48 WARP)
Hisanori Takahashi, LHP, Mets (12 GS, 122 IP, 2.7 WARP*)
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals (12 GS, 1.6 WARP)
*WARP includes relief innings, which are factored into overall team innings
That's 35 players, fewer than any of the 30 major league teams used during the 2010 season (the Rays came closest, using just 37 men, 35 of whom appeared in at least 10 games). Though I have a nice mix of righties and lefties on my pitching staff, the offense is heavily right-handed. Only Heyward, Davis and bench players Morrison and Thole bat lefty, while Walker is the only switch-hitter. Not that I mind. Want a batting order? How's this:
R -- Jose Tabata (.299/.346/.400, 19 SB)
R -- Starlin Castro (.300/.347/.408, 10 SB)
L -- Jason Heyward (.277/.393/.456, 18 HR)
R -- Buster Posey (.305/.357/.505, 18 HR)
L -- Ike Davis (.264/.351/.440, 19 HR)
R -- Mike Stanton (.259/.326/.507, 22 HR)
R -- Chris Johnson (.308/.337/.481, 11 HR)
S -- Neil Walker (.296/.349/.462, 12 HR)
WARP, again, is Wins Above Replacement Player. Replacement level is defined as the production that can be expected from a freely available player, be it a non-prospect promoted from Triple-A or a player placed on waivers or released by another team. A replacement level team is thus, essentially, the worst major league team possible. The worst major league team in the modern era was the 1916 Philadelphia A's, who had a .235 "winning" percentage. That translates to 38 wins over a 162-game schedule. According to Baseball Prospectus's definition of WARP, a team that is replacement level across the board would probably win no more than 25 games. I can thus use that 25 wins as the starting point for my team, adding the total WARP from my roster above to figure out just how many games this team might have won.
Adding up the 35 WARP totals above, I find my NL All-Rookie team was 73.92 wins above replacement in 2010. If you add those 74 wins to the 25-win baseline you'll find the team above, comprised exclusively of National League rookies, would have won 99 games, more than any other team in baseball in 2010.
So how deep was the 2010 National League rookie class? So deep you could not only assemble an entire 25-man roster (with 10 alternates) of NL rookies, but future stars such as Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez, Phillies outfielder Dominic Brown, Reds righty Mike Leake, and Mets hurlers Jenrry Mejia and Jonathon Niese didn't even make the team, nor did hot-hitting rookies Tyler Colvin of the Cubs or Jon Jay of the Cardinals (all had inferior WARP-per-game rates to the players listed in their positions above). It was so deep that it could absorb Stephen Strasburg's elbow injury and still have a deep and effective rotation. So deep that the resulting roster would have had the best record in the major leagues in 2010, won any division in the game, and had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. That deep.
Thanks to Baseball Prospectus's Colin Wyers for filling me in on the finer points and current formulation of WARP.