In the world of advanced analytics in baseball, there are few stats more misunderstood than Wins Above Replacement. Its use has been debated among the analytics community and has been the rally cry of those more resistant to modern analytics. It’s often misused as the end-all stat that tells the total story of how good a player, or in this case a team, is—or was.
So let’s have some fun and misuse it.
The chart below lists the cumulative Wins Above Replacement (per Fangraphs) for each World Series team since 1991:
Just looking at the chart, we can come up with some interesting data points and create some pretty interesting matchups.
THE BEST OF THE BEST: The 2019 Houston Astros (40.8) vs. the 2016 Chicago Cubs (37.1)
The Cubs rotation going heads up against the Astros lineup is enough to make any baseball fan salivate to a medically concerning degree. Imagine Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta matching up against George Springer and José Altuve. Or Kyle Hendricks taking on Yuli Gurriel. The flip side is pretty epic too, pitting Justin Verlander against Anthony Rizzo, or Kris Bryant stepping in against Gerrit Cole, all playing at their highest levels. Just, ya know . . . keep the trash cans in plain sight.
HOW DID THEY GET THERE? The 1991 Braves (14.3) vs the 2001 Yankees (17.3)
The Cinderella Braves of 1991 go up against the Yankees the one time in American history everyone in the country was rooting for the Yankees (no offense, Dbacks). Both of these teams feature multiple Hall of Famers (John Smoltz and Tom Glavine for the Braves, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera for the Yankees), and both were up against teams in the top 10 of the league for WAR that particular season (The Twins in ’91 were fourth, the Diamondbacks in ’01 were sixth). But both played them tough, producing two of the more memorable series in recent history. In fact, both teams lost the series on the final play of the final game, both on bases-loaded singles. Go figure.
THE EVEN-UP MATCHUP: The 2005 World Series, Chicago White Sox (18.0) vs. the Houston Astros (18.1)
Ah yes, the World Series that time forgot. On the surface, the series itself was kind of a dud, with the White Sox sweeping the Astros in four games, thanks to timely hitting and a dominant performance from Chicago’s rotation. But with just .1 WAR difference between the two teams, you’d think that this would produce the most dramatic matchup. Not so much.
SOME OTHER FUN FACTS:
- The 1991 World Series also had the biggest disparity in WAR rank: the Twins were fourth in the league; the Braves finished the year twentieth.
- The number one ranked teams appeared in the World Series seven times, and went 3–4:
- 2002 Giants (Lost)
- 2004 Cardinals (Lost)
- 2013 Red Sox (Won)
- 2016 Cubs (Won)
- 2017 Astros (Won)
- 2018 Red Sox (Won)
- 2019 Astros (Lost)
- Despite making the World Series five times in the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves never ranked higher than fifth in WAR for any of those seasons.
There are so many possibilities. What would your favorite World Series matchups be?