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Understanding dFAWARP: A Primer

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With the GM Meetings still quiet I want to spend a little more time on something I attempted to remove, yesterday, from my conception of Brendan Ryan's value. That is, that he's a fun player to watch, whereas watching Skip Schumaker does absolutely nothing for me. (If you're looking for more Hot Stove-y talk, SB Nation St. Louis is currently running a Top Five that could be relevant to your interests.)

A player's relative funness is a difficult concept to measure, in part because it's not a real concept but also because a team can accumulate fun-points—hereafter Fun-ness Above Wins Above A Replacement Player, or FAWARP—and still end up being a terrible team to watch. To a certain extent, as with Brendan Ryan, I'm willing to trade wins because I'm watching baseball to enjoy it, and he makes baseball more enjoyable to watch.

So long as the team maintains a balance of fun and time-in-contention—I call this the Major League zone—all that FAWARP is being put to good use. Brendan Ryan is a lot of fun on a team that's winning. But fall too far out of contention—I call this the Major League: Back to the Minors zone—and all that FAWARP will only make you angry. Brendan Ryan will be one Joe Mather Bro Talk away from jumping from the top of the team hotel.

With that caveat in mind, here are my own FAWARP calculations—you can call this dFAWARP; fFAWARP is more concerned with how much fun a player should be, given his peripherals—for the 2011 Cardinals as they exist now. Going around the horn:

C Yadier Molina: 1.5 dFAWARP. What's not to like about Yadier Molina? He seems really happy to be playing baseball about 95% of the time, and the other five percent of the time he is incredibly pissed off at Brandon Phillips, which is also good. He's the master of the pick-off play, one of the most exciting plays in baseball, he likes to steal bases despite being really slow, which is another positive, and he's defused the most common flaw of the ostensibly fun-to-watch catcher by also becoming a competent hitter.

His upside is limited by his propensity to hit into the double play, but he's definitely one of the most enjoyable catchers in the National League.

1B Albert Pujols: 6.0 dFAWARP. This is definitely a case where dFAWARP and fFAWARP diverge. fFAWARP sees a funny accent, which is a plus, as well as the fearless baserunning and his Musialian aura of good-guyness, but docks him for the angst-inducing injury concerns and the coming decline questions and contract negotiations. I understand all those, and once his peripherals even out Pujols might be in for a major FAWARP drop.

But for the moment, Albert Pujols is so fun to watch entirely because he's so good. When he declines he could go negative in a hurry, because nobody likes to watch as superstars turn into stars, or stars into regulars. If he leaves for New York or Boston, he might cause everybody's FAWARP to crater, and I'll have to quit here and start making Harry Potter references on a Harry Potter website, instead, which would be disorienting. 

2B Skip Schumaker: -0.5 dFAWARP. I'm told his wFAWARP is much higher.

Schumaker peaked around 1.0 dFAWARP, when he made that novel transition from the outfield to second base, but as a second baseman who hit an empty .270 and couldn't really play defense he got unappealing in a hurry.

Schumaker's tlrFAWARP is extremely high, which showcases a fundamental difference in the way our systems handle grittiness and a can-do attitude. Analysts who value that kind of low-key, blue-collar heroism in players find Schumaker's move to be an inspiring case of doing the right thing, and while I admire the work he's put in... it's great that this dog has learned how to talk, but last year he wasn't very good at it.

I've noticed of late that his increasing tlrFAWARP has had negative effects on his vebFAWARP; more research is necessary.

3B David Freese: 0.0 dFAWARP. David Freese exemplifies what Dave and Bustermetricians call Funplacement Level. His star turn in those local Sonic commercials is balanced by the concern that his leg might explode at any moment.

SS Brendan Ryan: 2.0 dFAWARP. Definitely the top mortal in the Cardinals clubhouse, Brendan Ryan exemplifies all the qualities that can raise one's dFAWARP. He's instantly recognizable and unique on the field, having sported, variously, a mustache and high-socks and played Gold Glove defense in a way that's not only competent but especially exciting. He's starred in webisodes that weren't awkward and is always prepared to give an unexpectedly entertaining post-game interview.

There's always the concern, however, that the desire to maintain his dFAWARP might negatively impact it. When he struggles, and his interviews turn sullen and worried, his dFAWARP falls precipitously; when partner-in-webisodes Joe Mather is traded the team's collective Pythagorean Fun Differential is sapped in a way it wouldn't be if Brendan Ryan were just Adam Everett.

LF Matt Holliday: 0.5 dFAWARP. Researchers at the Post-Dispatch's Cards Talk forum drew our attention, last May, to what they understood to be massive amounts of negative-fun radiating from left field, but the sabermetric community has condemned these findings as insubstantial. The peer-reviewed Small Sample Size journal concluded that,

"Definitely a small sample size."

(I'd like to apologize to the Small Sample Size journal for reprinting the entirety of that article.) Holliday's positive dFAWARP stems from the way in which he is surprisingly good at everything. He's a surprisingly graceful baserunner; he's a surprisingly solid defensive outfielder, for the most part; and despite his vicious, almost unhinged swing he's a line-drive hitter, and not a swinger-for-the-fences.

CF Colby Rasmus: -0.5 dFAWARP. I love that Colby Rasmus is a member of the Cardinals, but at this moment there's so much uncertainty that the projections can't drawn an accurate picture of his likely fun-production. He's had vague and worrisome injury problems for a youngster, which are always a drag on enjoyability, and his status as the MacGuffin in a long-standing, team-threatening tug of war between the field management, the business management, and certain would-be muckrakers at the Post-Dispatch makes him, at times, exhausting to watch.

A number of fun coaches have suggested, in addition, that he learn to sell it; I would agree with their conclusions. 

RF: Jon Jay (0.5 dFAWARP) and Allen Craig (1.0 dFAWARP). If I were a gambling man, and this were something people gambled on, I would sell high on Allen Craig's dFAWARP, as much as I plan to enjoy watching him as the short end of a platoon in right field. Craig is so exciting to watch precisely because it's taken so long for us to be able to watch him. Once he's off the milk carton—and provided he doesn't go off for yet another .900 OPS season at a new level—he's just a nice, cheap, unassuming hitter with defensive problems. 

Okay, until David Freese's leg explodes.