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Astros/ MLB- 2023 WAR Year in Review

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Today, could be the last day of the season which means all of our energy will be focused on looking forward to the 2024 season VERY soon. Before we do that let's review the 2023 heatmap WAR tables for the Astros and the MLB. These tables will help you understand what REALLY happened in 2023.


Included here:

  1. How the Astros ranked position by position in WAR to identify strengths and weaknesses of the 2023 team.

  2. Rank of the overall team WARs

  3. Review how the final 2023 team WARs compared to the projected WARs

  4. Review how the final 2023 team WARs in the MLB compared to actual win totals

  5. Review how the final actual 2023 season win totals compared to the 2023 projected WAR win totals

  6. Looking at how the actual win RANKINGS compared to the projected win RANKINGS

  7. Who was underrated/ overrated and who maximized / minimized their talent

Almost all of this data comes from Fangraphs.com and I appreciate how they provide this data in a way that makes it fairly easy to arrange it for you here. The total data table is at the end.


1. How the Astros ranked position by position in WAR

If you are not used to the LarryTheGM heatmap, you will be by the end of this article. Red is good, white is average, and blue is bad. The top team will be dark red and the bottom team dark blue.


This data is shown by WAR delivered while a player played that position. When Yordan was in LF his WAR delivered in those games is reflected in LF and not DH. At the bottom of the table one can see the Astros rank at that position.


In this table you see where the Astros were weak and strong in 2023. Not surprising C and 1B were the most problematic areas. The Astros were a poor PH team. The Astros highly regarded bullpen of 2022 produced below average WAR in 2023.


Overall, the hitting was fifth in the MLB and the pitching was fourteenth. The team overall was tenth in WAR.


2. Overall team WAR Rankings

The table to the right shows the WAR rankings for every team in hitting, pitching, and overall. Also included are the wins that each team would project to have based on that total WAR.


Fun fact- the WAR would project the Astros to have had 90 wins. They did.











3, Final 2023 team WARs compared to the projected WARs

We often talk about how teams did not live up to what we expected or pleasantly surprised us. This comes in two buckets for me.

  1. Teams failed to perform as expected or overperformed expectations. This would be reflected in a WAR difference.

  2. Teams won more or less games than the WAR they delivered would indicate they should have.

For the first of these, it is interesting to see how teams did in delivering the WAR they were projected to deliver.


Overall, the average team delivered 7.4 less WAR that what was projected. The projections had the average team delivering 40.7 WAR and the league average team actually delivered was 33.3 WAR. This was a surprise to me as I normally view the projections as being a conservative estimate. In reality many players, both hitters and pitchers, fail to meet expectations and some of this is due to injuries.


I would hypothesize that over half of the WAR not being delivered is due to injuries. I included the injury data from Spotrac.com. This does not show a direct correlation to injuries and WAR performance drop but perhaps a general trend.


Also, there are situations that on a team doing well a player does everything he can to return to action- think Michael Brantley. On a team that is losing way more than expected or for some players in a contract year, that same push may not occur.


Relative to this population the Astros were better than average in that they delivered 5.8 WAR less than expected. The Astros also had one of the lowest injury impacts in the MLB.


You can see the teams at the top of this scale generally had fewer injuries and several players who had breakout seasons.


There were a few teams that were monumental disappointments including the White Sox, Yankees, Mets, Angels, Red Sox, and Padres.


4. Final Actual 2023 team WARs compared to actual win totals

How did teams do at delivering the second element? Which teams won more or less games than the WAR they delivered would indicate they should have?


Here is where the Orioles season really shines in that they delivered 12 more wins than their WAR indicated they should have. Similarly, the Brewers delivered 9 more wins. You might want to factor that in when considering Craig Counsell as a potential new Astros manager.


The Astros were right on target for the wins their WAR says they should have.


The Royals, Padres, and Cardinals are all in the cellar in this comparison. The Padres in particular are a huge disappointment. The 44.2 WAR they delivered was more than Houston, Milwaukee, and Baltimore- all teams that made the postseason. More was less in San Diego this year.


I should caution folks to thinking this is a direct measure of how good a manager is, however. This might be a reflection of their in-game strategy play calling, but it might not reflect at all their deployment of personnel playing time allocation. If a manager refused to play the right people- ours did- it would hurt the team's WAR delivered.


5. Final actual 2023 season win totals compared to the 2023 projected WAR win totals


Every year I use projected WARs in the offseason to focus my attention on what I think the Astros need to improve (hint: coming very soon) and ultimately drive my prediction for what I think the Astros will do in the coming season. I have been asked multiple times how accurate is that system. In short, for the Astros, it has been remarkably excellent.


For other teams, it does not appear it worked as well. I started with the previous topics to show that some of the gap between the projected WAR connection to win total had disconnects in two areas:

The ability of the team to deliver the WAR that was projected. (section 3)

  • Great - Rays, Cubs

  • Good - Rangers, Braves, Mariners, Orioles

  • Average- Astros, Blue Jays, Brewers, Pirates, Giants

  • Bad- Rockies, Athletics, Angels, Red Sox

  • Terrible- White Sox, Yankees, Mets

The ability of the team to translate the WAR delivered into wins (section 4)

  • Incredible- Orioles

  • Great- Brewers, Marlins, Nationals

  • Good- Yankees, Reds

  • Average- Braves, White Sox, Astros

  • Bad- Cubs, Rangers, Athletics, Mariners

  • Terrible- Royals, Padres, Cardinals

Given these two aspects, how did the preseason WAR translate into actual wins during the season?


Fans in San Diego, New York (both Yankees and Mets), and St. Louis were bitterly disappointed that teams they thought should compete for the post season did not come close to these expectations.


White Sox fans hoping for an outside chance to make a run ended up with one of the worst teams in the MLB. Angels fans were similarly disappointed. Royals and Athletics fans hoping that their teams might see improvements saw the opposite.


Every one of these teams were on the bad side of one of these metrics. On the opposite side were teams that seemed to come from nowhere.


Orioles fans saw their team projected to be mediocre team win more games in the AL than anyone. Reds fans saw a run the metrics didn't predict. Braves fans saw a team projected to be really good have the best record in the MLB. The Rays got off to an incredible start and beat expectations. Several other teams did well too- including the Brewers, Tigers, and the Dodgers.


Half of the league ended up within eight games of the pre-season WAR projection for their team including the Astros at two games above the 88 games their projected WAR would have projected for them.


I did a correlation graph of the Projected Wins vs. the Actual Wins. It isn't great depending on your perspective. The Astros data point (in orange) is actually one of the very best.



6. Actual win RANKINGS compared to the projected win RANKINGS


When asked about how accurate this system is to predict win totals, I explained that I believed it was MORE accurate in predicting relative win rankings. The projection algorithms are typically center data in a way that every team is going to project to 65 to 100 wins. We know, however, that it is very likely there will be teams that finish below and above that.

What works better is to RANK the teams by their win totals.


For example, the Astros preseason WAR projection of 48.2 RANKED it seventh in the league and third in the AL. THIS more than anything made me most concerned about their 2023 prospects. If the projections were right, they would lose in an ALDS. I chose to believe in them slightly more than that and said they would win an ALDS and lose in the ALCS. The RANKING drove my prediction.


They ended the season tied with Texas and Philadelphia in 6th place league wide and third in the AL for wins. Due to the divisions Tampa Bay got the 5th seed, and the Astros got the two seed by winning the tiebreaker with the Rangers.


Given the hysteria that saying the Astros were projecting to be the seventh best seed caused last year, the model was remarkably accurate for the Astros (orange dot on the graph below. The fans in Baltimore and New York would disagree.


How does the ranking correlation look? Significantly better. We are trying to predict the future here.



7. Who was underrated/ overrated and who maximized / minimized their talent


If we compare the Pre-season WAR rank to the Actual WAR rank in the table above, we can get the overrated and underrated teams.


Overrated- Yankees, Mets, White Sox, Padres, Red Sox, and Angels

Underrated- Cubs, Mariners, Orioles, Reds, and Rangers

There was a gap between their preseason WAR rank and their actual WAR delivered.


If we compare the Actual WAR rank to the Actual win rank in the table above, we can get the minimized and maximized teams.

Minimized- Cardinals, Padres

Maximized- Orioles, Marlins, Brewers

There was a gap between their actual WAR delivered and the wins that WAR produced


With the Orioles underrated and maximized is it any wonder they won 12 more games than we thought?


With the Padres overrated and minimized is it any wonder they lost 10 more games than we thought?


The conclusion for our Astros is this. While some players excelled more than expected and others were significantly worse, the team was very much who we thought they would be. This is critical in understanding where they are headed in 2024.


Well, there you have it. The full 2023 WAR data breakdown is now complete. I hope something here piqued your interest for how the data will roll out now for 2024. We will use the same ranking analysis we did last year VERY soon and update it on our journey to opening day.


Read the 2024 Preview here!



Whisper- I think you might like what the initial data says. Stay tuned.


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