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Meet the 2014 NL WAR-Stars

Yesterday, we revealed this year’s AL WAR-Stars. Well, it’s now the the Senior Circuit’s turn to shine.

You now know that WAR stands for “wins above replacement.” It’s a useful (not to be confused with “perfect”), all-in-one approximation 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 ago.)

As with the AL winners, the outfield consists of a left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder.

So who are the NL winners, as we get set for the second half? (Last year’s top dogs may be found here.)

1B: Paul Goldschmidt (3.6 WAR)

Never mind his fantastic numbers to date (.308/.400/.549), Goldschmidt is an absolute bargain. At the end of last month, Scott Lindholm of Beyond the Boxscore constructed a scatter graph plotting “FanGraphs dollar value (FG) on the horizontal axis and salaries on the vertical”:

Lindholm concluded:

The diagonal line is the boundary between producing more or less value than a player’s contract — players in the upper left are delivering less value than they’re being paid, and players in the lower right are delivering more value than their contracts. Salary data comes from Deadspin and are half of 2014 salary to reflect they’ve played around half a season. Data is through Wednesday, June 25th with up-to-date information available here. . . .

Since I made this chart Miguel Cabrera has overtaken Paul Goldschmidt as the player with the highest FG. However, if value is a criteria, then Goldschmidt is the best, delivering $16 million in value for just over $500,000 in salary. He’s already working on a restructured deal that pays him through 2018 with a team option for 2019, but if he continues to produce like he has, that deal will be re-negotiated.

2B: Chase Utley (3.1)

Utley has cooled off since having a monster April when he posted a .355/.408/.570 slash line but the first-half numbers remain quite respectable (.293/.349/.445).

SS: Troy Tulowitzki (5.2) 

When healthy, Tulowitzki is the best player in the National League. Despite playing in only 126 games last season, he racked up an über-impressive 5.5 WAR. Unbelievably, he currently stands at 5.2 WAR after his first 89 games of 2014. And while it’s true that he profits from playing in Coors (.417/.497/.748), only Hanley Ramirez has overall numbers (.275/.369/.467) that are comparable to Tulo’s road slash line (.265/.367/.463).

3B: Todd Frazier (3.7) 

Like Goldschmidt, Frazier is an incredible bargain. He’s arbitration-eligible after this season but, meanwhile, he’s costing the Reds a measly $600,000 for 17 doubles, 19 home runs, and excellent defense.

LF: Christian Yelich  (2.5)

If you don’t know the 22-year-old Yelich, a native of the San Fernando Valley and the 23rd pick of the 2010 amateur player draft, here’s one reason why you’ll want to get to get acquainted:

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CF: Andrew McCutchen (4.6)

This is what Baseball America’s John Manuel wrote about then-high school senior McCutchen back in the spring of 2005:

McCutchen’s star has risen all spring, and he could go in the first 15 picks. Like [Chris] Volstad, he was an AFLAC All-American last summer, and while he struggled with Team USA in the World Junior Championship, he has followed up with a stellar senior season. McCutchen’s game isn’t all about tools, though his tools are plus across the board. That starts with the most important tool: the bat. McCutchen has quick hands and a compact swing, producing surprising raw power for his size and giving him the bat speed to lash line drives to all fields. His athletic ability, speed and frame earn comparisons to Mets prospect Lastings Milledge, but he’s more polished at the plate, earning 60 and 70 grades from scouts (on the 20–80 scouting scale) with 50 raw power. A former state champion in track as a relay runner, McCutchen has well-above-average speed and should have no trouble playing center field. The biggest question about him is his size and a perceived lack of durability, as some scouts wonder if he can maintain his bat speed over a 140-game professional schedule.

Dennis Green-esque analysis: He is who we thought he was.

RF: Giancarlo Stanton (3.8)

The league’s co-home-run king (21) is not on the trading block, insists Marlins general manager Dan Jennings. If so, Fish fans will get to watch Giancarlo for at least a few more months and perhaps even through the end of the 2016 season, when he will be eligible for free agency.

C: Jonathan Lucroy (3.7)

WAR doesn’t take into account a player’s clever political attack ad for All-Star Game reccognition, but in Lucroy’s case, maybe it should make an exception. Meanwhile, it’s reasonably safe to say that, had the NL won the All-Star Game, MVP honors would have gone to the Brewers catcher, who got the start behind the plate after division nemesis Yadier Molina fractured his right thumb. The Brewers catcher rapped two doubles in as many plate appearances.

So now that we’ve recognized the first-half standouts, let the trade deadline and division/wildcard race drama begin!

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.


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