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2014 Most Balanced American League Teams


It seems intuitive that teams will want to have a balanced lineup.  Unlike sports like basketball and football in which superstars are seemingly a necessity to winning a championship, the best players in baseball have a limited impact on the game.  Whether they’re batting once out of every nine spots or starting once every five games (we’ll assume that relievers can’t truly be considered “superstars”), when the game is on the line the outcome of the game won’t necessarily be up to the best players.

With that in mind, some teams are more “superstar heavy” than others. The table below shows what percentage of a team’s total Wins Above Replacement (WAR – via baseball-reference.com) came from a single player:

Team

Total

Max

%

Player

TEX

15.3

7.0

45.8%

Adrian Beltre

CLE

17.6

7.0

39.8%

Michael Brantley

HOU

16.1

6.0

37.3%

Jose Altuve

CHW

15.4

5.5

35.7%

Jose Abreu

SEA

18.5

6.4

34.6%

Robinson Cano

KC

20.3

6.6

32.5%

Alex Gordon

MIN

17.7

5.2

29.4%

Brian Dozier

OAK

27.5

7.4

26.9%

Josh Donaldson

TB

19.2

5.0

26.0%

Ben Zobrist

LAA

30.4

7.9

26.0%

Mike Trout

TOR

24.4

6.0

24.6%

Jose Bautista

DET

22.9

5.5

24.0%

Ian Kinsler

BOS

20.0

4.8

24.0%

Dustin Pedroia

NYY

18.2

4.0

22.0%

Brett Gardner

BAL

31.9

6.0

18.8%

Steve Pearce

There are two ways for a team to be top-heavy: 1) teams can accumulate a relatively low Wins Above Replacement total by having a substandard offense and/or defense, or 2) a single player can achieve a high WAR.  By and large, the teams at the top of this list were near the bottom of the standings in 2014 and in most cases had a single superstar-type player who single handedly carried his team with the bat and/or the glove.  Similarly, Baltimore is at the bottom of this list, representing the team with the most balanced group of positional players in 2014, not because they didn’t have any superstar-type players but because they led the league in total WAR with their offensive players (though to be fair Steve Pearce’s 2014 season with 6.0 WAR appears to be a fluke in an otherwise pedestrian career).

At the same time, picking out a single player is not necessarily the best way to measure “top-heavyness”.  The table below shows the teams with the highest WAR from TWO players:

Team

Total

Top Two

%

Players

TEX

15.3

11.6

75.8%

Adrian Beltre & Leonys Martin

CHW

15.4

10.7

69.5%

Jose Abreu & Adam Eaton

SEA

18.5

12.2

65.9%

Robinson Cano & Kyle Seager

CLE

17.6

11.4

64.8%

Michael Brantley & Yan Gomes

KC

20.3

11.6

57.1%

Alex Gordon & Lorenzo Cain

MIN

17.7

9.2

52.0%

Brian Dozier & Trevor Plouffe

HOU

16.1

8.0

49.7%

Jose Altuve & George Springer

DET

22.9

10.8

47.2%

Ian Kinsler & Victor Martinez

TB

19.2

8.7

45.3%

Ben Zobrist & Kevin Kiermaier

LAA

30.4

13.3

43.8%

Mike Trout & Howie Kendrick

BOS

20.0

8.1

40.5%

Dustin Pedroia & Daniel Nava

NYY

18.2

7.3

40.1%

Brett Gardner & Jacoby Ellsbury

OAK

27.5

10.9

39.6%

Josh Donaldson & Josh Reddick

TOR

24.4

9.6

39.3%

Jose Bautista & Edwin Encarnacion

BAL

31.9

10.9

34.2%

Steve Pearce & Adam Jones

There aren’t a whole lot of differences between the two tables, as Leonys Martin and his 4.6 WAR with Texas in 2014 helped keep the otherwise offensively inept Rangers at the top of this table. Adam Eaton’s 4.6 WAR with Chicago in 2014 bumped the White Sox up from fourth place in the first table to second place in the second table, meaning they had very little production outside of Abreu and Eaton.

Additionally, Houston’s lack of quality positional players in 2014 outside of Jose Altuve (the second best player according to WAR was George Springer with just 2.1) knocked the Astros down this list.

Interestingly, the Tigers’ total of 10.8 WAR between their top two players in 2014 did not include Miguel Cabrera (instead Ian Kinsler and Victor Martinez), despite Cabrera’s reputation as the heavy hitter in the Detroit lineup (Kinsler’s more balanced skill set of defense and baserunning led to him creating more value for the Tigers in 2014 than both Martinez and Cabrera).

Finally, the Yankees’ 7.3 WAR from their top two players in 2014 came from Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, both with a reputation of having high on-base percentages and producing quality defense. In other words the days of the Yankees bashing their way to the top of the standings with heavy hitters are long gone (they had just two players hit more than 20 home runs in 2014, and neither of those players – Brian McCann and Mark Teixeira, were the most offensively valuable).

If there’s anything either of these lists tell us, it’s not a problem per se for a single player or two players to produce more value than all other positional players – instead it’s a problem when the rest of the lineup doesn’t produce.

 



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