Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/5/13

One of the most often cited criticisms of WAR is that replacement level is essentially an arbitrary construct, making the entire model just an act of theoretical speculation. The idea of replacement level is to essentially set a baseline for expected performance from a team that invested the absolute minimum in putting together a Major League roster. This replacement level team wouldn’t have a farm system, so that they didn’t have to spend money on draft picks, coaches, equipment, or facilities. They would rely entirely on league minimum veterans to build out their roster, thus allowing us to see how approximately many wins a team could expect if they did the absolute bare minimum in terms of organizational investment. That team doesn’t exist, obviously, as even organizations that completely tear down their big league roster work to rebuild through accumulation of young talent, and no team actually spends the league minimum on its Major League payroll. Thus, the criticism that the entire exercise is a thought experiment, not applicable to the Major Leagues and incapable of serving as a baseline against which Major League players should be judged. However, that argument misses out on the fact that MLB teams give us a pretty great list of replacement level players every winter, thanks to the processes of minor league free agency and the waiver system. Minor League free agents are the quintessential idea of a replacement level player. For the most part, they simply want a job in the big leagues, and they don’t have enough leverage to be picky about what kind of job it is. They take non-guaranteed invites to spring training in hopes of earning a spot on the roster, and if they don’t play well in March, they end up in the PCL or the International League, waiting for an injury to create a need that will get them back to the big leagues for a little while. If a Major League team was attempting to build out a roster of league minimum players, these are exactly the kinds of talents they’d be picking from. However, they could also supplement those players with waiver claims, as there is a second pool of replacement level talents available to any team willing to simply use a 40 man roster spot to obtain a player who doesn’t have a say in where he lands. This winter, we saw a number of players — Scott Cousins, Russ Canzler, and Sandy Rosario among the most notable — change teams multiple times, as GMs tried to sneak them through waivers so they could be stashed in Triple-A without requiring a spot on the 40 man roster. Since they wouldn’t require more than a league minimum salary and the price of a waiver claim is so low that it doesn’t materially affect a team’s budget, we’ll include these players in the pool of replacement level talents as well. Using the Transaction Tracker from MLBTradeRumors, I went through and identified two dozen position players who signed minor league contracts or were repeatedly claimed on waivers this winter, with the sole requirement being that they had at least 100 combined plate appearances between the last two seasons. Okay, I actually only identified 23 such players, but Jeremy Hermida had 93 plate appearances, and two dozen sounds better, so I included him in order to get the list up to 24. Since I did this manually, I’m sure there are a few guys I missed, but as you’ll see, it’s not going to change the conclusion in any meaningful way – these 24 guys a pretty good representative sample of what a replacement level Major Leaguer looks like. To combat selection bias, we don’t want to just focus on what these players did last year, as the fact that we’re identifying players who were forced to sign minor league deals means that we’re starting with a group that likely underachieved last year. A replacement level player who overperformed in 2012 likely secured his place on a 40 man roster for the winter, removing him from the pool of players available to sign minor league deals or get passed through waivers. So, we need to adjust for the fact that the 2012 performances are likely a bit below their actual talent levels, and we can simply adjust by looking at a larger pool of data. We don’t want to go back too far, of course, as many of these guys are aging players who aren’t what they used to be, so to try and come up with a balance of a larger but still relevant sample, we’ll simply focus on how these 24 players did over the last two years. The results? Season PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR Total 10,459 6.8% 20.7% 0.131 0.275 0.233 0.289 0.365 0.288 78 (103.4) (11.9) (0.7) In the past two years, these 24 players have combined for over 10,000 plate appearances in the Major Leagues, and they’ve combined for -0.7 WAR. If you scale that back to a rate of per 600 plate appearances, that’s -0.04 WAR per full season. For a “theoretical” construct that supposed doesn’t reflect reality, replacement level seems to do okay. For those interested, here’s a list of the 24 players, and their 2011-2012 performance. If someone asks you what a replacement level player looks like, point to one of these guys. Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR Matt Downs 413 6.1% 20.6% 0.207 0.265 0.241 0.303 0.448 0.327 106 (7.0) (2.0) 0.8 Ryan Sweeney 518 8.7% 17.6% 0.092 0.323 0.263 0.328 0.355 0.302 87 1.6 (2.3) 0.8 Shelley Duncan 511 9.2% 22.5% 0.204 0.257 0.231 0.305 0.435 0.321 104 (6.1) 0.4 0.8 Jason Bourgeois 318 4.4% 8.8% 0.063 0.314 0.287 0.318 0.350 0.297 85 (1.8) 3.0 0.7 Jeremy Hermida 93 10.8% 35.5% 0.159 0.319 0.207 0.301 0.366 0.294 88 4.3 (0.2) 0.6 Brent Lillibridge 425 6.6% 31.3% 0.162 0.297 0.226 0.295 0.388 0.301 85 (5.6) 5.0 0.5 Miguel Olivo 830 3.3% 27.1% 0.162 0.268 0.223 0.248 0.385 0.273 74 (10.6) (3.4) 0.4 Austin Kearns 349 11.5% 26.4% 0.104 0.302 0.222 0.334 0.327 0.303 89 (0.6) (0.3) 0.4 Darnell McDonald 278 9.4% 18.7% 0.159 0.250 0.224 0.301 0.384 0.302 83 2.3 (0.5) 0.3 Chris Snyder 377 13.3% 24.7% 0.129 0.253 0.205 0.320 0.334 0.294 84 (6.3) (4.9) 0.3 Jordan Schafer 698 9.2% 25.2% 0.078 0.306 0.226 0.303 0.304 0.274 69 (6.2) 5.2 0.3 Eli Whiteside 250 7.6% 25.2% 0.112 0.244 0.192 0.261 0.304 0.249 56 (0.6) 0.1 0.1 Cesar Izturis 206 2.4% 11.2% 0.087 0.257 0.235 0.254 0.321 0.251 52 3.4 (0.9) 0.1 Juan Rivera 860 7.1% 12.9% 0.127 0.266 0.252 0.306 0.379 0.300 89 (5.9) (3.9) (0.1) Russ Canzler 102 4.9% 22.5% 0.125 0.324 0.271 0.304 0.396 0.301 91 (2.3) 0.3 (0.1) Don Kelly 408 6.9% 13.2% 0.114 0.246 0.227 0.286 0.341 0.280 71 (0.8) 0.4 (0.2) Ryan Raburn 640 5.3% 26.1% 0.144 0.287 0.226 0.272 0.370 0.281 71 (4.4) 2.0 (0.3) Yuniesky Betancourt 812 3.1% 10.8% 0.141 0.250 0.245 0.266 0.387 0.281 73 (15.0) (0.4) (0.4) Ben Francisco 500 9.2% 18.2% 0.131 0.280 0.242 0.317 0.373 0.306 91 (9.4) (1.6) (0.4) Scott Cousins 150 6.7% 30.0% 0.094 0.209 0.152 0.209 0.246 0.199 17 3.9 0.1 (0.6) Danny Valencia 769 5.6% 18.2% 0.131 0.264 0.234 0.274 0.365 0.279 72 (8.0) (4.0) (0.6) Jeff Baker 413 5.1% 22.8% 0.126 0.316 0.254 0.291 0.380 0.292 78 (6.9) (1.0) (0.7) Bill Hall 213 7.5% 32.9% 0.113 0.311 0.211 0.277 0.325 0.266 65 (11.4) (1.5) (1.4) Joe Mather 326 6.1% 21.2% 0.110 0.251 0.210 0.260 0.320 0.253 52 (10.2) (1.6) (2.0)

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Best and worst from NBA All-Star Saturday night

WATCH: Klay Thompson can't go home unless he beats Steph Curry in 3-Point Contest

Star players are hurting Houston Rockets

Emmitt Smith: Adrian Peterson only current player who could break rushing record

Coach K gets buzzer-beater win over Virginia for his birthday

Baylor approves new measures to deal with sexual assault

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Joe Mauer: Concussions blurred vision, affected hitting

LeBron James says Kevin Love-Celtics trade rumor is false

Michael Jordan gifts Kobe Bryant full set of Air Jordans

Bethune-Cookman football player killed at party

Former UFC heavyweight Kevin Randleman dead at 44

WATCH: Chelsea scores three goals in less than 20 minutes

LaVine, Gordon put on best NBA dunk contest in years

WATCH: Klay Thompson beats teammate Steph Curry in 3-point contest

NFL teams, players hand out awesome Valentines

Earl Campbell ‘disappointed’ in Johnny Manziel, wants to help

Big man Karl-Anthony Towns wins NBA Skills Challenge

MLB commish: Cubs will host All-Star Game in near future

WATCH: Memphis forward recreates Vince Carter's elbow dunk in game

Bruins forward is goal scoring machine after suspension

Michael Jordan gives Kobe Bryant complete set of Air Jordans

Drake has Kentucky edition of custom ‘OVO’ Air Jordan 8s

QUIZ: Name every NBA All-Star Game MVP

Watch rare footage of Stephen Curry from 2001-02 emerges

Check out this custom camouflage Oregon helmet

MLB News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Ranking the ten best free agent pitcher signings

Who had the best NBA All-Star Game of the last 40 years?

The winners and losers of the 2016 MLB offseason

On Kobe Bryant and taking greatness for granted

Bucks need to choose between wins, development

Fantasy booking WrestleMania 32

Unrestricted free agents each team must consider re-signing

QUIZ: Name the winners of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Thank you Daniel Bryan

The timeless greatness of Jaromir Jagr

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker