What is WAR? In terms of sabermetrics, WAR stands for wins above replacement and is used in MLB to determine the true value of players on the field. According to WAR, Mookie Betts is worth 10.9, more wins than whoever could replace him. In MLB, WAR has become king, overtaking batting average, runs batted in, and earned run average. As the new baseball season rages forward, let’s take a look back at 2018 and see who finished with the highest WARs, and how they compare to rest of the crowd.
Mookie Betts – 10.9 WAR
No player in Major League Baseball last year had a higher WAR than defending American League MVP Mookie Betts. His 10.9 wins above replacement ranked him just above a pitching phenom for Philadelphia who you’ll learn all about next.
On his way to being the best player in MLB last season, Betts had an insane on-base percentage of .438 and walked an average of once per game. His 129 runs scored were also top in the league as he led the Boston Red Sox to the World Series, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers and winning his first ring.
Aaron Nola – 10.5 WAR
The Philadelphia Phillies got a real jolt of life from up-and-coming pitcher Aaron Nola last season. Finishing the year with a 2.37 ERA and 224 strikeouts, it’s baffling Nola wasn’t a finalist for the Cy Young Award.
Having bragging rights as the best overall pitcher in 2018 is no laughing matter. Nola dominated the league in his fourth season, and will surely be rewarded with a hefty contract in the coming years. If Bryce Harper, (spoiler alert) who’s not on this list, is worth $330 million, just imagine what Nola and Betts will get!
Mike Trout – 10.2 WAR
To many analysts, Mike Trout is considered the best player in MLB and might be on track to be considered the best all-time. Of course, he has a long way to go before retiring, but his third best 10.2 WAR in 2018 helps make his case.
It doesn’t hurt that Trout has been voted to seven All-Star games, has won six Silver Slugger Awards, and has twice been named the American League MVP. Did we mention he’s only 27 years old?
Jacob DeGrom – 9.6 WAR
Just two spots under Aaron Nola we find Jacob DeGrom, the National League’s 2018 Cy Young Award winner. On his way to a 9.6 WAR, DeGrom won 10 games, showing a pitcher’s value isn’t reflected on whether their offense scores runs or not.
On his way to making MLB history, DeGrom struck out 269 batters over 217 innings. His 269:48 strikeout-to-walk ratio showed a pitcher in his prime that the New York Mets are lucky to have on their roster.
Max Scherzer – 8.8 WAR
In 2018, Max Scherzer struck out 300 batters in 220 innings, finishing the season with 18 wins and seven losses. He placed a distant second to Jacob DeGrom in Cy Young voting, likely because of his tendency to give up home runs.
Getting better with age, the Washington Nationals must feel like they got a bargain in 2015 when they signed Scherzer as a free agent for seven years and $210 million. The only thing left for Scherzer and the Nats to do is get over the playoff jump and win their first pennant in franchise history.
Kyle Freeland – 8.4 WAR
It didn’t take long for Kyle Freeland to become one of the best pitchers in MLB. Making his debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2017, Freeland was underwhelming, finishing the year with 107 strikeouts in 156 innings. His 4.10 ERA didn’t inspire much confidence either.
His second season proved to be a revelation. Freeland improved his ERA to 2.85, which is no easy feat playing a mile high at Coors Field. He also struck out 173 batters over 202 innings and is primed to be the ace of the rotation for years to come.
Matt Chapman – 8.2 WAR
No team in MLB history has been better at finding the most valuable player through sabermetrics than the Oakland Athletics. Matt Chapman, who finished 2018 with a top-ten WAR, is just one in a long line of A’s who have proven to be worth far more than their paycheck.
After an average first year in Oakland in 2017, Chapman came on strong in 2018. He finished the season with a .341 on-base percentage and 100 runs scored.
Francisco Lindor – 7.9 WAR
Francisco Lindor has seemingly gotten better every year he’s played for the Cleveland Indians. In 2018, he reached career highs in runs batted in (92) and home runs (38). He also got on base a lot and tied Mookie Betts for the league lead in runs scored.
All those numbers add up to a 7.9 WAR for Lindor, who began his career with Cleveland in 2015 and only appeared in 99 games. Since then, he has never played less than 158 games in a season.
Jose Ramirez – 7.9 WAR
Jose Ramirez first became a mainstay in the Cleveland Indians lineup in 2016, playing in 152 games with an on-base percentage of .363 and a WAR of 3.9. The next season his WAR increased to 6.9. In 2018, he reached new heights, finishing the season with a 7.9 WAR, earning a shining spot on this list.
To get such a high wins above replacement number, Ramirez improved in just about every offensive category. His on-base percentage increased from .374 to .387, he hit ten more home runs, and scored 110 runs, making him indispensable.
Christian Yelich – 7.6 WAR
It took almost half our list, but we’ve finally made it to National League MVP winner Christian Yelich. Traded to the Milwaukee Brewers from the Marlins in 2018 turned out to be a blessing in disguise for the heart of Brew Crew’s lineup.
On his new team, Yelich improved his on-base percentage from .369 to .402 and doubled his season over season home run numbers. It helps that Miller Field is a hitter’s paradise. The boosted offensive numbers had a big impact on Yelich’s WAR, which increased from 3.9 to the 7.6 that landed him here.
Blake Snell – 7.5 WAR
Following the National League MVP on our list is American League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell. Snell was transcendent with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018. Even if wins and ERA are undervalued today, his 21 wins and 1.89 ERA are still jaw-dropping numbers.
Even more impressive for Snell is that the Rays undervalued starters as a whole last year, placing preference on their bullpen. No team employed the “opener” more than Tampa Bay. Thankfully, that didn’t stop Snell from striking out 221 hitters in 180 innings.
Lorenzo Cain – 6.9 WAR
Lorenzo Cain was another new Brewer in 2018 that helped turn the team into an NL Central powerhouse. Cain signed an $80 million contract to play center field for Milwaukee in a move that instantly paid dividends.
Unlike Yelich, Cain’s numbers in his new ballpark didn’t exponentially increase. Still, there was improvement across the board, from on-base percentage to runs scored. Overall, his year over year WAR improved from 5.3 to 6.9. Cain’s career-best WAR, however, was the 7.2 number he recorded in 2015.
Chris Sale – 6.9 WAR
Chris Sale might have had a career-best WAR last year if he had stayed healthy the entire season. With just 158 innings thrown, Sale’s 6.9 WAR matched his 2013 high, when he pitched 214 innings. If he had reached 200 innings last season, who knows how much higher his WAR could have been.
Even with the injuries, Sale managed career-best numbers in earned run average and WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Those numbers were good enough to put him in the Cy Young conversation and force Boston to begin contract extension talks.
Alex Bregman – 6.9 WAR
Here’s the funny thing about WAR. Players are assigned a value for the offensive wins above replacement and their defensive wins above replacement. Alex Bregman finished offensively with a 7.5 WAR, but was negative defensively, lowering his overall value to 6.9.
Bregman’s bat broke out in a big way in 2018, turning him into one of the most dangerous hitters in MLB. His .394 on-base percentage and 105 runs scored are a testament to that. Unfortunately, his .964 fielding percentage left something to be desired.
J.D. Martinez – 6.4 WAR
J.D. Martinez became the poster child last season for the devaluation of runs batted in and home runs by WAR. Martinez was firmly in the MVP discussion hitting .330 with 130 runs batted in and 43 long bombs.
According to WAR, though, those numbers bury him into the middle of this list when you could argue he should be at the top. And if you think his numbers were affected by defense, they weren’t. Martinez played designated hitter and rarely took the field defensively, making it a non-factor.
Javier Baez – 6.3 WAR
Javier Baez had his best season as a Major League Baseball player during his last season. His 101 runs scored and .326 on-base percentage were both career highs. His 111 runs batted in and 34 home runs were a nice cherry on top.
Baez was also a stalwart with the glove, providing 1.7 defensive wins above replacement, helping to boost his overall score. At just 26 years old, the Cubs will have to act quickly to sign him to a contract extension before he ends up becoming a franchise player elsewhere.
Justin Verlander – 6.2 WAR
In the twilight years of his career, it’s impressive seeing Justin Verlander on this list. A few seasons ago he was an afterthought for the Detroit Tigers; traded away for prospects to the Astros. In Houston, Verlander reclaimed his early career dominance and struck out 290 batters in 214 innings.
Prior to that, Verlander found himself struggling in the motor city. In 2015, he recorded a 2.2 WAR. The year before that, his war was 1.1. His career-best WAR was 8.3, which he recorded in 2011; a season he struck out 250 hitters in 251 innings.
Andrelton Simmons – 6.2 WAR
No player on this list had their WAR boosted as much by their defensive prowess as Andrelton Simmons did. He finished his 2018 campaign with a 3.9 offensive WAR and a 3.1 defensive WAR. His gaudy defensive WAR can be attributed to his 9.84 fielding percentage.
Offensively, Simmons was no slouch, finishing the year with a .331 on-base percentage and 68 runs scored. A balanced player on both sides of the ball since entering the league with the Braves in 2012, the Angels are lucky to have him in the middle of his prime.
Mitch Haniger – 6.1 WAR
In his third year in the league, Mitch Haniger finally became an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners. He rewarded the team for their trust by delivering a 6.1 WAR thanks to a .366 on-base percentage and 90 runs scored.
Haniger showed his potential in 2017, earning a 3.0 WAR in 96 games with a .352 on-base percentage. With Seattle officially rebuilding, the surprising emergence of Haniger could help provide a solution to make the team competitive again faster than expected.
Freddie Freeman – 6.1 WAR
Freddie Freeman is one of the best homegrown players the Atlanta Braves have ever had. He became a lineup mainstay in 2011 and quickly established himself as the team’s franchise player. In 2018, Freeman played in all 162 games, scoring 94 runs.
Freeman is no slouch defensively either, ending last season with a .995 fielding percentage. This year, he is expected to help the Braves to their second consecutive playoff appearance, although Braves fans are hoping for a little bit more.