WAR: Wins Above Replacement
WADJ: Wins Above Derek Jeter
I recently wrote a couple of goofy posts about WADJ but they got me thinking about the fact that all great players were originally replacement players, i.e., someone who had just become a MLB player and who would replace a starter.
Jeter played 15 games in 1995 but was a 21 year old rookie in 1996. Thirty-three year old Tony Fernandez played 108 games in 1995, his only season with the Yankees, as their starting shortstop. However, Fernandez was injured and did not play in 1996. Enter Derek Jeter, replacement player.
Now the replacement player in WAR is not a specific player but a statistically tweaked approximation of a marginal player at a position in a particular season. In this case, probably a player not as good as Derek Jeter.
Jeter's WAR in 1996 was 3.0. Fernandez's WAR in 1995 was .6, which is a bit misleading since Fernandez played in only 66% of Yankee games in 1995. However, we can reasonably assume, to the extent that WAR is accurate, that Jeter added about 2.5 wins. In 1996 the Yankees won their division with 92 wins, four more than Boston, and won the World Series for the first time since 1978.
Let's look at another Yankee shortstop from another era and the flesh and blood human being who replaced him on the field. In 1961 Tony Kubek was 25 years old and had completed his fifth full season as a Yankee, the undisputed starting shortstop in 1960 and 1961. The Yankees won pennants each of those seasons except 1959 and had won the World Series in 1958 and 1961. Kubek was also fulfilling his mandatory military obligation as an Army reservist and his unit was activated because of the Berlin crisis. The Yankees needed to replace Kubek at the start of the 1962 season.
In 1961 Tom Tresh had played 9 games for the Yankees. In spring training 1962 Tresh competed for Kubek's open shortstop spot against Phil Linz; both were 23. Tresh won the job, made the All Star team and was Rookie of the Year. Tresh played shortstop until August 17 in Kansas City when he switched to left field.
Kubek returned from the Army and played his first game in 1962 on August 7 ... in left field. He played left field in five more games and pinch hit in three others. Kubek and Tresh essentially switched positions in that August 17 game. Tresh did not play shortstop again in 1962 but became a starting Yankee outfielder for the next several seasons, primarily in left. Kubek played only shortstop for the remainder of the 1962 season (Yanks won 1962 WS and 1963, 1964 pennants) and remained the Yankees starting shortstop through 1965 when he was forced to retire at age 29 because of injuries. During the 1969 season the Yankees traded the often injured Tresh to Detroit after which Tresh retired at age 30.
There are probably other threads of such replacements, not only between Kubek and Jeter but for all teams. It's interesting to note that the replacement player is not just a theory. Baseball is a game of blood, sweat and tears.