Evaluating Hendry With WAR

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Some fans are calling for Jim Hendry to go, pointing at the Cubs lack of a World Series win under his tenure and his inability to keep a good team on the field for more than two seasons or so. Other fans (who have largely gone silent lately) are saying he should stay around, arguing that he is the most successful GM the Cubs have had in at least 60 years and that he has pulled off some absolutely masterful trades, such as the Aramis Ramirez deal.

Standing in the middle is the new Cubs owner Tom Ricketts. On the one hand, he continues to publicly state at every opportunity that he has full confidence in Jim Hendry, while on the other hand he has not extended Hendry’s contract and is rumored to be shopping around for a replacement. Maybe the Cubs owner hasn’t made up his mind, either.

But perhaps there is a way we can start to evaluate Hendry’s performance as a GM that should be independent of bad luck, improbable injury outbreaks, and other factors that are beyond his control. In theory, we can use WAR.

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. It is a computed statistic that attempts to measure player performance across years and leagues independent of mitigating factors. It is not a perfect formula and it does sometimes produce some funny looking results, but it will give a more objective measure of how Hendry has done.

Explaining the Math

If you are not interested in how I am doing the calculations, or you just hate math, skip this part. You probably won’t miss anything.

I am only going to be looking at trades Hendry has made. He took over the Cubs part way through the 2002 season, but for the sake of this analysis I am not going to consider any trades made during that season. There is no way for me to know whether a trade made during the 2002 season should be credited mainly to Hendry or mainly to Andy MacPhail, so to be safe I am ignoring anything happened prior to the Damian Miller trade in November of 2002.

In order to come up with a WAR score for the trade, I am taking the WAR accumulated by the players the Cubs acquired while they were playing for the Cubs and subtracting the WAR put up by the players the Cubs gave away while those players were playing with the team that acquired them.

For example, let’s say the Cubs acquired Andy Anderson from the Cardinals for Billy Bob. Andy stays with the Cubs two season and puts up WARs of 2.1 and 1.6, for a total Cub WAR of 3.7. Billy stays with the Cardinals just one year and posts a WAR of 0.4, but then goes to the Giants in the following season and posts a WAR of 4.9. In this case, the WAR score for the trade would be 3.7 – 0.4 = 3.3. I’m ignoring the 4.9 since it did not take place on the team to which Billy was traded.

Now, let’s say the Cubs then trade Andy to the White Sox for Carl Cubby. In one year with the Sox, Andy posts a WAR of -0.9 (yes, negative WARs do happen quite a bit). In one season with the Cubs, Carl posts a WAR of 0.1. In this case, the net WAR formula would be 0.1 -(-.09) = 1.0. The Cubs get credit for getting rid of a player who would have hurt their win total, and the trade’s WAR value equals 1 as a result.

There is one more oddity to this set up. If a player traded out of the minor leagues and that player never reaches the majors, he is credited with a WAR of 0.0 in the trade calculations. That means a guy who never makes it out Low-A is counted as potentially more valuable in the trade than a guy who plays six season in the majors, but winds up with a WAR of -0.1. I’m not too happy about that, but for now I’ll go with it.