Who Is MLB's Most Top-Heavy Team?

  • Friday, August 5, 2011 8:34 AM
  • Written By: Andrew Simon

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The Dodgers beat the Padres on Monday in a battle of woeful NL West clubs, and like many LA victories these days, the driving force largely consisted of two players. Clayton Kershaw gave up two runs in a complete game, and Matt Kemp doubled, tripled and drove in a run.

You could sum up the Dodgers’ season by saying that nearly everything has gone wrong, except for Kershaw and Kemp. The former is one of the top few pitchers in the National League; the latter is one of the NL’s best position players. The rest of the team has resembled a black hole.

That brought me to this question: Are the Dodgers baseball’s most top-heavy team? There’s no precise way to answer that since “top-heavy” has no precise definition when it comes to baseball teams.

But I took an entirely unscientific shot anyway. For each team, I added the best two players’ FanGraphs wins above replacement (fWAR) -- through Wednesday's games -- and divided that number by the entire team’s. What I found was that my hunch was almost correct, but just like pitchers around baseball, it was foiled by a certain slugger residing north of the border.

Baseball’s five most top-heavy teams

1. Toronto Blue Jays
Jose Bautista (6.9) + Yunel Escobar (4.2) / 26.4 total = 42.05 %
Comment: Bautista holds a sliver of an edge over Dustin Pedroia as baseball’s most valuable player by fWAR. The guy simply is the best hitter on the planet right now, and it’s not close. Escobar, traded from Atlanta to Toronto last season, is vastly outperforming his Braves replacement, Alex Gonzalez.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers
Matt Kemp (5.3) + Clayton Kershaw (4.7) / 24.3 total = 41.15 %
Comment: The Dodgers only have five other players with even 1 WAR. Meanwhile, Kershaw ranks sixth among MLB pitchers and Kemp seventh among MLB position players. It’s lonely being good at Chavez Ravine this year.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen (5.2) + Neil Walker (2.0) / 17.7 total = 40.68 %
Comment: When you look at this, it is both difficult to see how the Pirates hung around near the top of the NL Central standings so long and easy to see why they have been backsliding of late. The Bucs have been a great story but also one with a single strong main character in McCutchen and not much else that promises sustainability.

4. Seattle Mariners
Felix Hernandez (3.7) + Doug Fister (3.0) / 17.0 total = 39.41 %
Comment: Here is a true fact – The Mariners’ top three position players by fWAR are Brendan Ryan, June callup Dustin Ackley and Adam Kennedy. Yeesh. Fister has now been traded to the Tigers, leaving fellow pitcher Michael Pineda (2.7 fWAR) as the team’s second-best performer.

5. Houston Astros
Michael Bourn (3.4) + Hunter Pence (2.5) / 15 total = 39.33 %
Comment: Yep, the Astros’ two best players this year are no longer Astros. The next two guys in line are Clint Barmes and the shell of Carlos Lee. In other words, feel the excitement of Astros baseball!

And in case you were wondering, for some reason, your least top-heavy (most bottom-heavy?) is …

30. Atlanta Braves
Brian McCann (3.6) + Tim Hudson (2.7) / 29.4 total = 21.43 %
Comment: Despite being solidly in playoff position, the Braves have not had too many real standout performers this year. Of course, Bourn is now in the fold, joining a cast of solid players (plus Scott Proctor).

Conclusion: First of all, it's obviously the case that the results would be somewhat different if we measured by each team's top player only or top three players or top four players.

It does make sense that most bad teams rank higher in this rating than most good teams. After all, even bad teams tend to have one or two good players, and their WAR will be a higher percentage of the team's than someone on a good team. But there are exceptions. Four of the bottom five teams are the playoff-contending Braves, Rangers, Yankees and Cardinals, but the Marlins and A's are mixed in with them. The Phillies and Red Sox, baseball's two best teams, rank in the middle of the pack.

So what do we learn? Well, not much. But hey, at least the Dodgers lead the National League in something other than lawsuits.

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