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Jonathan Lucroy and irksome truths: Are the Brewers better than the Cardinals?

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Recently Jonathan Lucroy was quoted as saying the Brewers are better than the Cardinals despite the sudden reversal of fortunes. Viva el Birdos (SB Nation's Cardinals site) offered their take on things. Now I'm offering mine.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Jonathan Lucroy is a Milwaukee Brewer. Would anyone really take issue with him saying his team is better than another? Certainly not, as what else could one expect the player of a team to say? This article from our friends at Viva El Birdos takes issue not with the sentiment, but the validity of such a statement. However, it is my assertion, with all due respect, that it's inadequate in tackling the stats involved.

The article approaches the question, "Which is the better team?" by comparing fWAR (that would be Fangraphs' version of the statistic). This I do not object to. What I object to is the limited scope of the article. You see, numbers never lie, but they can be manipulated (unintentionally or intentionally) to say what you want them to. As writers we have to be very careful we don't do that.

Viva el Birdos only compares 14 players. They also merely takes the best players at a given position. Unfortunately this has the unintended consequence of ignoring negative contributions which are just as meaningful as positive ones. Also, there are 25 players on a team at any given time. Then there are the injury replacements and mid-season call-ups. The actual number of contributors to a team's season is probably closer to 30. Before September call-ups that is.

Viva el Birdos reasoning in limiting the scope is "to keep the table as simple as possible" which, I assume, means for readability of the table he (ed. note: She! Sorry lil_scooter!) provides. I believe that's the truth, but the neat thing about Fangraphs is they provide you with a WAR total for each team. Here it is. Look how readable this table is:

Team Total fWAR
Cardinals 20.3
Brewers 19.2

Of course you'll notice the unfortunate truth that the Cardinals do have less than 1 full point of fWAR in their favor. What does this mean? Well, there's going to be a lot of MVP discussion soon. Those that use WAR are going to tell you that if two or more players are separated by 1 WAR or less then they're in the same basic range and are all worthy of inclusion in the MVP discussion. That's talking about just 1 player. We're talking about an entire team. That's 25 players plus all the injury replacements plus the mid-season call-ups plus whatever WAR impact the September call-ups have had so far. It's probably most fair to say since the teams are so close in fWAR there is not a meaningful difference in quality.

But hey, I'm okay with giving the slight edge to the Cardinals. And if someone wants to think that means the Cardinals are clearly the better team, that's fine. I don't really care. However, that same person should know that means they'll have to agree that the Brewers are the better team if they over take the Cardinals 0.9 lead in fWAR by the end of the season.