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Using WAR to identify Cardinals bargains and busts in 2010

Looking at WAR and player salaries to determine which players helped and hurt the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals.

By Ian Walton

Kyle Lohse (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)In our last article, we examined each National League team’s combined WAR (wins above replacement) for position players and pitchers in 2010.  The St. Louis Cardinals were found to have received more production from their hitters than they paid for and slightly less production from their pitchers.  In this article, we will examine each of the Cardinals’ major contributors in 2010 to determine which positively impacted the team’s results and whether or not their contribution exceeded or fell short of the money invested in them.

I have a few more disclaimers to note here.  Player salaries may not be perfectly accurate, but this examination is not perfectly accurate to begin with, so we must be content with what is listed in Baseball Reference.  Players called up during the season only received a prorated portion of the league minimum salary of $400,000, but they are counted as making a full season’s minimum here so as not to overvalue their production.  I estimated that Jake Westbrook was paid one third of his $11M salary by the Cardinals, that Ryan Ludwick was paid two-thirds of his $5.45M salary by the Cardinals, and that Pedro Feliz was paid one fourth of his $4.5M salary by the Cardinals.  All statistics listed encompass performance only while in a Cardinals uniform this past season.

Furthermore, it becomes abundantly clear that pre-arbitration players are exceedingly valuable to a team.  Players who reach their free agent years will typically be paid more than the average player for their production, since those pre-arbitration players are also averaged in.  This does not mean that a free agent signing is a poor one if a player’s performance doesn’t match the average league production for his salary.  However, it also does not mean that a team can be successful while paying free agent prices for most of its players’ production unless it spends a very large amount of money.  In addition, it should be noted that elite players are likely worth more than simply the average value of their WAR since their level of production could not likely otherwise be duplicated by one player. For example, Skip Schumaker can be easily replaced, but Albert Pujols’ level of production cannot be replaced by a single player.

With all of that said, here are the details of the Cardinals position players with at least 100 plate appearances in 2010:

Table 4: Cardinals Hitters WAR and Salary Comparison

Name PA WAR Salary Paid WAR WAR – Paid WAR
Colby Rasmus 534 2.9 $418,000 0.0 2.9
David Freese 270 1.7 $400,000 0.0 1.7
Yadier Molina 521 3.1 $4,312,500 1.6 1.5
Albert Pujols 700 7.2 $14,595,953 5.9 1.3
Brendan Ryan 486 0.9 $425,000 0.0 0.9
Ryan Ludwick 314 2.2 $3,633,333 1.4 0.8
Jon Jay 323 0.8 $400,000 0.0 0.8
Tyler Greene 122 0 $400,000 0.0 0.0
Allen Craig 124 -0.1 $400,000 0.0 -0.1
Aaron Miles 151 -0.1 $400,000 0.0 -0.1
Randy Winn 162 -0.2 $400,000 0.0 -0.2
Skip Schumaker 529 0.4 $2,000,000 0.7 -0.3
Felipe Lopez 425 -0.1 $1,000,000 0.3 -0.4
Nick Stavinoha 126 -0.5 $400,000 0.0 -0.5
Pedro Feliz 125 -0.4 $1,125,000 0.3 -0.7
Matt Holliday 675 5.5 $16,333,327 6.7 -1.2

Paid WAR is the number of wins above replacement that the team should have expected, on average, to receive in exchange for the salary spent on the player beyond the major league minimum.  Players are ordered by the final column which compares a player’s actual WAR to the WAR expected by his salary.

Of the players with a replacement level salary ($400,000) or slightly more, Nick Stavinoha was economical, but cost the team half a win more than an average replacement player would due to his poor performance, as measured by WAR.  Late-season acquisition Pedro Feliz not only cost the team over a million dollars but also performed at a sub-replacement level. Oft-maligned Skip Schumaker only provided production at half of the rate of his salary. Interestingly enough, Tyler Greene was the very definition of a replacement level player in both salary and performance.

Inexpensive youngsters Rasmus, Freese, Jay, and Ryan all provided good value for the team, with Rasmus providing the best return for dollar spent among the position players by a considerable margin.  Of the veterans, Pujols, Molina, and Ludwick all produced at levels beyond their pay grades.  Holliday fell a bit short of his large contract, but given that he managed the sixth highest WAR of any batter in the NL, I doubt that anyone would complain.  (Pujols was highest.)

The following table outlines the production and salary of all pitchers on the Cardinals with at least 30 innings pitched in 2010:

Table 5: Cardinals Pitchers WAR and Salary Comparison

Name IP WAR Salary Paid WAR WAR – Paid WAR
Adam Wainwright 230.3 5.7 $4,837,500 1.4 4.3
Jaime Garcia 163.3 2.8 $400,000 0.0 2.8
Kyle McClellan 75.3 1.8 $425,000 0.0 1.8
Jason Motte 52.3 1.5 $411,000 0.0 1.5
Jeff Suppan 70.3 0.3 $400,000 0.0 0.3
Mitchell Boggs 67.3 0.3 $402,000 0.0 0.3
Fernando Salas 30.7 0.1 $400,000 0.0 0.1
Ryan Franklin 65 0.8 $3,050,000 0.8 0.0
Dennys Reyes 38 0.4 $2,000,000 0.5 -0.1
Jake Westbrook 75 0.9 $3,666,667 1.0 -0.1
Trever Miller 36 0.1 $2,000,000 0.5 -0.4
PJ Walters 30 -0.5 $400,000 0.0 -0.5
Blake Hawksworth 90.3 -1.1 $402,000 0.0 -1.1
Brad Penny 55.7 0.6 $7,500,000 2.2 -1.6
Chris Carpenter 235 3 $15,840,971 4.8 -1.8
Kyle Lohse 92 -2.9 $9,187,500 2.7 -5.6

Cy Young Award runner up Adam Wainwright provided the best value of all of the Cardinals pitchers, yielding 5.7 WAR for an equivalent of 1.4 WAR of salary.  Garcia, McClellan, and Motte all provided excellent value to the team at replacement level salaries.

Despite their low salaries, Walters and Hawksworth both did some damage to the team, performance wise.  Brad Penny’s injury-shortened season clearly did not live up to the expectations provided by his salary.  Even Chris Carpenter’s solid performance did not measure up to his compensation this past season, as he was the fourth-highest paid pitcher in the league yet only pitched like the twentieth best.

Despite some doubters at the time, midseason acquisition Jeff Suppan did provide more than replacement value to the Cardinals while Jake Westbrook more or less lived up to his salary, at least while pitching for St. Louis.

Unfortunately, the most influential player to the 2010 Cardinals’ fortunes was Kyle Lohse.  Not only did he have the lowest WAR of any National League pitcher at nearly three fewer wins than replacement level during his injury-plagued year, but his salary could have on average gone to pay a player worth another 2.5 wins over replacement.  Given that the Cardinals fell five games short of both the National League Central title and wild card, Kyle Lohse’s performance and contract alone might have been the difference between reaching the playoffs and not this past season.

In summation, the Cardinals outperformed their payroll due to a number of strong performances from their younger players and most of their stars, but were kept from exceeding expectations even further (as was needed for a playoff berth) by a few notable poor performances and bad contracts.   In order to reach the postseason in 2011, St. Louis will quite obviously either need to spend more money or produce greater efficiency from the same level of spending.

Thanks again to Baseball Reference for providing the WAR and salary data used above.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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