The List: WAR What Is It Good For?

In the grand estimation of Mike Napoli's impact on the 2016 Cleveland Indians, our approximations can only be flawed. As #PartyatNapolis becomes ingrained in the Cleveland mythos, Napoli continues to collect the counting statistics that are popular with the yeoman fan. Sixteen home runs, fifty-two RBI's, talk about a right handed bat!

Yet, WAR has found Mike Napoli's performance to date to be relatively unimpressive, with Fangraphs WAR placing him at 0.3 WAR. Which leaves us asking, as Tolstoy once did, WAR what is it good for?*

This is where I make a smooth transition to the man shouting "get off my lawn". You see, one of the conversations we have all too rarely when throwing WAR around like knives is that it merely serves as an estimator. 

1. WAR as an estimator. WAR is a reference point, it is not a place where the conversation ends but rather it is the place where the conversation begins. As we are flooded by more and more visual data which overwhelms us with its depth and insight, WAR is merely a building block upon which context must be added. You know what else adds to the complete picture? Your eyes. What do your eyes tell you? Your eyes can educate WAR the reference point and WAR the reference point can educate your eyes. As WPA, wRC+, DRS, and a million other tools are dragged in, context around WAR can begin to grow. All to say that WAR should not bind you to a conclusion but merely guide it at times.

2. Mike Napoli> his WAR. Napoli is a domino, a mousetrap that set off a whole train of mousetraps. Any time you can add a .780 OPS to your lineup, it is an upgrade. Napoli leads all of MLB in pitches per plate appearance with 4.60. The next closest is at 4.37. His ISO is .227, is basically his career average, which is an impressive performance at age 34. But more he has had a moments, a lot of them. He stretches relievers in the late innings, he places himself in advantageous counts and he puts thump in a lineup that can use some nitro in the tank.

3. All the moments. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Napoli has a .951 OPS.  When the Indians are + or - two runs, Napoli has an OPS of .847. Of course, as sample sizes grow this can shift but what Napoli has banked is a fantastic season with a collection of great late/impactful moments. Indeed, Napoli's patience and poise late in games sets the tone. His consistent ability to have long, productive at bats late in the game is in some ways contagious. The Indians have had numerous comeback wins in 2016, and a lot of that rests on the quality of at bats the Indians have produced in high leverage situations.

4. Actual leadership. In 2015, a portion of the Indians core signed an "accountability contract" which is not particularly encouraging when trying to contend. Further, the Indians core was led by guys like Kluber, Brantley, Kipnis, Gomes, a group of talented players who have never made it to the division series. In spring training, Kipnis commented on the fact that this spring was more professional, more focused, less apathetic. People in the clubhouse talk about the fact that Francona isn't an in your face guy, he likes to be hands off and let players lead. The Indians may have lacked someone to stabilize that room but I don't think they do now. Be it Napoli or Uribe, the tenor of this team has changed. 

I do not wish to overvalue locker room chemistry, or such things that cannot be measured but also these things cannot be ignored. 

I do not know what Napoli has added to this team but what I see with my eyes, what this lineup looks like with him in it, tells me the number is not 0.3 WAR.

* If you do not get this Seinfeld reference grab some popcorn and plan your weekend around a binge.

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Writer's note: 
As my summer begins to slow in the next few weeks, expect a lot more depth and analysis to come your way, I apologize for the recent brevity.
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