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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Greg Bird, Hector Lopez: Yankee replacement players as in WAR.

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira was having a very good season after being injured most of 2013 and some of 2012 and 2014.  But he was injured again in mid August, 2015, had only three plate appearances (PA) since then and now is out indefinitely.  He was replaced at first base by a minor league player, Greg Bird, who played his first major league game August 13.
Photo of Gregory Bird
Bird
Teixeira was leading the Yankees in OPS+ 148, 31 homers, 79 RBI.  Oh, and WAR with 3.8.

You know, WAR (Wins Above Replacement), that annoying thing that people on TV act like they understand but never explain.  Here, try this for a definition of the word replacement:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/about/war_explained.shtml

Average players are relatively rare and difficult to obtain. Replacement level players, by their very definition, are players easy to obtain when a starter goes down. These are the players who receive non-roster invites at the start of the year or the players who are 6-year minor league free agents.
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Now Greg Bird is not just any minor league player.  Bird is one of the top Yankee prospects.  Still, Bird is the actual player replacing Teixeira.  So far Bird is doing pretty well: OPS+ 111.  Bird is not Mark Teixeira, not yet anyway.  But Greg Bird is more than the nobody implied in the WAR concept.

Let's try another real replacement player already on a Yankee roster ... in 1963.

The R in WAR: Mickey Mantle's replacement in 1963. Monday, October 27, 2014

After Mantle broke his foot (June 5) Hector Lopez essentially replaced him at bat.  Lopez OPS increased from .568 on June 2 to .710 on Sept. 4 when Mantle started playing full games regularly.  That's a lot more than a replacement player like Jack Reed who appeared in 106 games, 86 PA, OPS .567.  It makes me wonder about the R in WAR (wins above replacement)...

Lopez basically became the regular left fielder.  Tom Tresh moved from left to center and was the primary replacement for Mantle in center field ...

So who actually replaced Mantle on the roster?  As near as I can tell, 22 year old lefty starting pitcher Al Downing replaced Mantle in 1963.  I checked game logs for Gonzalez, Gibbs, Long, Linz, Reed, Berra.  None match the date of Mantle's injury.

Downing 1963 game log.  Downing's first game in 1963 was June 7, one of two relief appearances.  Three days later in Washington Downing pitched a two hit complete game shutout with nine strike outs.  Downing went on to a 13-5 record (ERA+ 138, career high), helping the Yankees overcome the loss of Mickey Mantle, the best player in the American League.  Downing's 1963 WAR: 3.6, second highest of his career; 1967 4.6.  Downing primarily took starts away from Bill Stafford and Stan Williams...

I realize that WAR does not deal with actual players but this is an interesting situation in which the best player in the league does not play for almost half the season, then returns.  His Yankee team hardly misses a beat and increases its winning percentage without him.  The Yankees won the pennant by 10.5 games over the Chicago White Sox with a record of 104-57 (PythWL 100-61).  Part of this is due to the odd nature of baseball where even the best player can be marginalized.  Part of it is due to the nature of actual replacement players.
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WAR may be even more confusing than you think. Sunday, August 16, 2015

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