Yesterday afternoon, we revealed this year’s AL WAR-Stars. This evening, it’s the Senior Circuit’s turn.
You know by now that WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It’s a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one statistic combining both offensive and defensive performance, including baserunning. WAR also includes a defensive positional adjustment. (For those who need a primer, Alex Remington offered up an easy-to-digest yet pretty thorough explanation of Fangraphs’ version – which we are using here – a few years back.)
As with the AL winners, the outfield consists of a left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder.
So who are the NL winners, as of last night’s action?
It was never a matter of performance for Goldschmidt: he mashed in college and mashed in the low minors. His power and strength were never doubted. However, his strikeout rates were a caution flag from both a sabermetric and scouting perspective, and many hitters with similar profiles have failed to adapt at higher levels.
I don’t think even the most optimistic observers saw Goldschmidt as a potential .280–.300 hitter; even people who liked him saw him more as a .250–.260 guy, albeit one who would produce power. That was my take on him, and even that proved to be an underestimate of his ability.
By all accounts, Goldschmidt has worked very hard to improve his defense and mobility through better conditioning. Although his height/weight data is the same as when he entered pro ball, he’s in notably better physical condition compared to his college days. His baseball instincts are sound, and he’s even turned into an efficient stealer (26 for 30 in his big league career) despite his size and lack of plus running speed.
What separated Goldschmidt was his ability to adapt and remedy his weaknesses, even as he faced better and better competition. Figuring out which players will do that and which won’t involves the intersection of player tools/talent, baseball skills, and human/makeup factors . . . that’s what scouting is all about. Goldschmidt is a good example of how much we still have to learn.
Meanwhile, Votto (.325/.435/.513) is enjoying another Votto-esque season.
2B: Matt Carpenter (4.1)
Even more surprirsing than this Redbird’s (.321/.395/.483) leading the pack is that he is multiple horse lengths ahead, as his nearest rival, Brandon Phillips, posts only a 2.0 WAR.
SS: Everth Cabrera (3.6)
The 26-year-old Cabrera (.305/.382/.418) and his 24-year-old teammate Jedd Gyorko make up one of the more potent middle-infield combinations in the bigs, according to Paul Swydan. Here is what the Fangraphs author has to say about Cabrera’s progress since joining the Padres organization:
Room for improvement is definitely what Cabrera had when the Padres poached him from the Rockies in the 2008 Rule 5 Draft. He didn’t acquit himself too poorly, but after a 2010 hamstring injury severely hampered Cabrera’s effectiveness, the Pads plugged Jason Bartlett into the lineup and sent Cabrera to Tucson. He spent all of 2011 there, but in early 2012, San Diego finally tired of Bartlett’s ineptitude and recalled Cabrera. He’s been there to stay, in part because he swiped 44 bases in 449 plate appearances last season. That seemed like a pretty hard pace to keep up in today’s game, but with 28 steals in 288 plate appearances this year, he’s basically setting the same pace. His plate discipline has improved, and if he can keep his batting average on balls in play at its current level – a decent bet given his speed and how frequently he puts the ball on the ground – he is basically the ultimate slap hitter. Combine that with above-average defense and you have a pretty nifty player.
3B: David Wright (4.3)
Is the concept of “lineup protection” a myth? Those answering in the affirmative might cite Wright’s numbers to date (.305/.392/.517) and then point out that the Mets’ three-hole hitter is having his most productive season since 2008, even though those hitting clean-up for the Amazins have collectively posted a beyond-pathetic .236/.291/.396 slash line.
LF: Carlos Gonzalez (3.5)
CarGo is having another strong season at the plate (.292/.359/.596), but Joe Lemire of Sports Illustrated recently noted his outfield prowess:
A true five-tool talent, Gonzalez prides himself on his defense and is known for baiting runners into attempting to take an extra base. He’ll charge balls slowly or, as was the case [on June 20] when the Nationals’ Adam LaRoche was rounding second on a teammate’s single to left, Gonzalez may not take a single step forward at all. (LaRoche still didn’t run for third, and Gonzalez’s strike behind the runner to second didn’t quite work.)
CF: Carlos Gomez (4.3)
Hold on to your hats: Not only is Gomez (.309/.349/.557) rated No. 1 among NL center fielders, he and Wright share the honor of being the top-rated NL position player. His defensive skills have never been in doubt, and 2013 is no exception (10.9 UZR, 25.2 UZR/150). Even if the performance of this Mets and Twins castoff tails off in the second half, he may still be the wisest $4.3 million ever spent in one season on a ballplayer. (In March, the Brewers extended his contract through 2014–16 for $24 million.)
RF: Hunter Pence (2.9)
With a .280/.326/.480 slash line, Pence is providing power to an otherwise offensively challenged outfield in AT&T Park. In all likelihood, the Fort Worth native will not get dealt before the trade deadline, the first time he won’t have to rework his wardrobe in three years.
C: Yadier Molina (3.5)
Molina, always a premier defender, is arguably having his finest offensive season (.347/.388/.497), although his über-high BABIP (.369 vs. career .296) suggests there will be some regression in the second half. He finishes just ahead of last year’s MVP, Buster Posey (3.4), who currently posts a .316/.389/.532 slash line.
In truth, you cannot go wrong with either backstop.