MLB has widely adopted Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, as the go-to stat to evaluate a player’s contribution to his team.
It combines offense, defense, and baserunning to come up with a single number and, in the case of pitchers, it uses Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) instead of ERA.
WAR allows us to see who had a more sizable impact on his organization’s success.
These three players surprisingly led their teams in WAR and were among the league’s best.
3. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants
To be completely honest, Brandon Crawford looked like toast for years: he wasn’t an above-average hitter since 2016.
But the San Francisco Giants’ organization, for a couple of years now, made it a priority to rejuvenate some of their veterans and help them get the best of their abilities: in short, they focused on player development rather than trying to acquire stars from other organizations.
Crawford’s bat started to revive in 2020, when he slashed .256/.326/.465 with eight homers in 54 games.
With work and dedication, his transformation carried into 2021, and he had the best offensive season of his career.
Brandon Crawford is hands down the biggest surprise of the 2021 MLB Season. Everyone (including myself) wrote this dude off. And he came in firing on all cylinders. The best year of his career (so far) at the age of 34. pic.twitter.com/sqzyMVq9m6
— Quash (@QuashTagGaming) August 15, 2021
Last season, at 34 years old, he hit .298/.373/.522 with 24 home runs, 79 runs, 90 RBI, and 11 steals.
It was a truly impressive performance.
2. Cedric Mullins, Baltimore Orioles
Among each team’s WAR leaders, Cedric Mullins was perhaps the most shocking one.
The Baltimore Orioles center fielder had never played like he did in 2021.
He was lousy in 2018 and 2019, and was only decent in 2020 (.271/.315/.407).
He gave up switch-hitting, focused on batting left, and took off.
In 2021, the dynamic talent hit .291/.360/.518, with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases.
He was actually the only member of the 30-30 club in 2021.
Cedric Mullins, the only MLB player to go 30/30 in 2021, is a Silver Slugger Award finalist. pic.twitter.com/CcxPDVYt50
— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) October 25, 2021
He also scored 91 runs in the O’s lineup and played adequate defense in center field, making him one of the most valuable players in baseball.
His 5.3 WAR led the Orioles, with some difference.
It remains to be seen if he can sustain that kind of level, but Mullins’ breakout was one of the nicest stories of 2021.
1. Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox had an excellent rotation last year, but Rodon is now an MLB free agent.
Will he return?
It remains to be seen, but he is going to have plenty of post-lockout suitors because he is one of the few good pitchers available.
In just 24 starts, he managed to best all of his rotation mates in WAR: he had a tiny 2.37 ERA in 132.2 innings, striking out 12.55 hitters per nine frames and walking only 2.44.
Both of those numbers were career-bests: a velocity bump and improved stuff overall helped him increase his whiffs and cut the bases on balls.
Rodon was a solid pitcher in 2021, placing eighth in MLB in pitching WAR, and will likely be a rich man once his signs his next contract.
He earned it.