How the Blue Jays Are Pushing the Definition of Replacement Level

USA TODAY Sports

They've already used more players than the average team did for all of 2012. This is not what the 'R' in WAR was meant to represent.

A team full of replacement-level players would cost just $10M. They’d only win about 43 games, but they’d be cheap nonetheless.

The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, have $27M worth of players on the disabled list right now. The Jays haven’t been as bad as a 43-119 team (more like a 71-90 team), not even close, but they’ve spent significantly more money to get to that point.

It looked great to start the year, with many people predicting the Jays to make the playoffs or win the AL East outright. But we’ve discussed all of this before--what’s gone wrong, who’s to blame, how to value each element, and more. Yawn, right?

Now, you may be familiar with "replacement level," especially as it pertains to a player evaluating metric known as Wins Above Replacement (WAR). That stat has become shorthand for summating a player’s contributions, detailing how many wins they’ve added over a replacement-level player, a player readily available from Triple-A or the waiver bin.

And that leads us to today’s topic. The Jays have basically been the waiver wire this season. They are the danger. They are the one who DFAs. The opening day roster had 12 hitters, 13 pitchers and Brett Lawrie and Dustin McGowan on the 15-day disabled list. Let’s call those 27 the "opening day roster." That makes everyone else players who have been used as "replacement players," even though some, like Anthony Gose, don’t really fit the definition since they were in the longer-term plans.

A team should hope for a WAR of 0.0 from the replacement level players they use. Any higher is a bonus, any lower is either some bad luck or an indictment on organizational depth.

Opening Day Roster
Player IP/Gms WAR
Dickey 88 0.4
Buehrle 80 0.4
Morrow 54.1 -0.1
Rogers 35 0.3
Loup 34.2 0.3
Cecil 34 0.9
Delabar 33 0.6
Happ 33 0.4
Johnson 31.2 0.3
Janssen 20.2 0.8
Oliver 18 -0.1
Santos 4.1 0
McGowan 1.1 -0.2
Jeffress 1 -0.1
PITCHERS 469 3.9
Encarnacion 64 1.6
Cabrera 64 0.2
Rasmus 61 1.6
Arencibia 59 0
Bautista 57 2.5
Bonifacio 55 -0.6
Izturis 51 -1.4
Lind 51 1.5
DeRosa 38 0.1
Lawrie 37 0.3
Davis 31 0.6
Blanco 15 -0.1
Reyes 10 0.6
HITTERS 593 6.9
TOTAL 10.8


Well, at least the opening day roster has been above replacement level, contributing 10.8 WAR (you’ll remember from this piece that while adding WAR doesn’t give you wins, it’s a decent approximation).

But this is about the replacement guys! And boy, have there been replacement guys! The Jays have used 29 different pitches, 12 different starters, and 17 position players have seen plate appearances. That’s a total of 46 players for the math-challenged, or nearly twice the size of an active roster. That’s five more players to see the field than the Marlins, who come in second with 41. The average team has used 35. Last year, the league average for the entire season was only 43 players used. So, needless to say, replacement players have been of far more importance to the Jays than the average team.

Replacement Roster
Player IP/Gms WAR
Ortiz 25.1 -0.5
Lincoln 21.2 -0.2
Jenkins 15 0.2
Perez 8.1 0.6
Wagner 8 0.1
Gonzalez 8 -0.2
Wang 7.1 -0.1
Redmond 4.2 -0.1
Romero 4.1 -0.1
Weber 4 -0.1
Storey 3.2 0.1
Bush 3 -0.2
Laffey 2.2 -0.1
Germano 2 0
Nolin 1.1 -0.1
PITCHERS 119.1 -0.7
Kawasaki 49 0.4
Gose 13 0.2
Thole 3 -0.1
LaRoche 1 -0.1
HITTERS 66 0.4
TOTAL -0.3


Surprisingly, these replacement players haven’t killed the Jays. To call on 19 guys who weren’t on either the opening day roster or the opening day disabled list, and have them barely be below replacement level, is either lucky or good, or parts of both. Yes, you’d like that to be a 0.0 to denote true "replacement level," but I don’t think replacement level was developed to represent "guys who would be available if you suddenly decided to field two teams from within your organization."

It’s not tough to see how the Jays could have been even a little bit better if they hadn’t had to go so far down the depth chart. If they had used only a league average 35 players (18 pitchers and 17 hitters), the Jays could have replaced nearly 50 innings of replacement level (totalling -0.8 WAR) with innings from their pencilled-in pitchers (based on average WAR/IP, that’d be another 0.4 WAR), netting them an extra 1.2 WAR and perhaps another win or two in the standings.

Again, WAR doesn’t work that way, but it goes to show that even some simple math shows that the Jays haven’t just been bad, they’ve also had some pretty bum luck. This doesn’t change their record or improve their chances of making the playoffs, but it highlights how important organizational depth and active roster health can be for a playoff hopeful.

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