More on WAR

Many of you don’t seem to understand the problems I have with WAR.  Without further ado, let me make them clear.

First, let me say that I do not have a problem with the numbers involved in WAR.  I wholeheartedly agree that it is a valuable statistic, and although it is not perfect, it is probably the best method of determining a player’s overall value.  My problem is not with the numbers, but with the way they are presented.  

The main problem I have with WAR is with the name.  Wins Above Replacement, to me, isn’t really what WAR is calculating.  A better name, in my opinion, would be “Effectiveness Above Replacement,” or “Value Above Replacement.”  The number given by WAR does not – and should not – represent the number of wins a player actually contributes to a team.  It represents how important a player is to a team – in other words, his win share.  However, I believe that rather than call the statistic WAR, using the actual Win Share (% of team WAR) generated would be a better representation of how important a player is to his team.

The second problem that I have with WAR is really just a different solution to the first one.  As I said, right now WAR is probably the best way to quantify value, but it’s not perfect, and it doesn’t really represent wins.  That being said, to calculate true WAR, one would need to create a formula that is actually calculating wins – not just calculating effectiveness or importance.  For example, a pitcher pitching a complete game shutout would get +1 to his WAR total.  A hitter creating more runs than the entire opposing team would get +1 to his WAR total.  

The best example that I can think of as to how this new system would be different involves situational hitting.  WAR, despite being a new kind of statistic, is still based on traditional stats – see this page for details.  Therefore, just like regular statistics, it does not take situational hitting into account.  If your team is down by one run, and you get a hit that drives in two and wins the game, you get no more credit than you would if you drove in two runs during an 11 run inning for your team.  However, the first hit was clearly more important for two reasons – it represents a greater percentage of your team’s runs, and it ended the game, leaving no chance that your team would not win.  In traditional statistics and WAR, these two hits are no different – 1B, 2 RBI – but clearly, one hit was more important to a win than the other.  Therefore, a true Wins Above Replacement statistic should take that into account.

These two solutions would both be acceptable to me.  Really, there’s only one problem.  WAR is not really WAR.  It’s just importance.  Therefore, there are two solutions: change the name to reflect what the statistic means, or change the statistic to reflect what the name means.  In no way do I disrespect WAR – it is an extremely valuable statistic.  However, because the meaning is so unclear, there are times when it appears to some as incorrect or useless.  WAR is not going away – it’s a perfectly legitimate statistic – but until its name more accurately reflects what it is a measurement of, there will always be people who disregard it as senseless.  I am not one of those people – as I’ve said, I respect the numbers – but WAR does not really measure actual wins, and it should not be portrayed as doing so.

   

2 Comments

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Holy smokes, you just don’t get it. It DOES measure wins. Above the replacement level. That’s why it’s called “Wins Above Replacement”.

A team full of replacement-level players would be expected to win 46-50 games, give-or-take, depending on the year. It’s pretty simple to check this (all numbers via Baseball-Reference’s WAR):

- The 2012 Mets — Batters WAR: 10.5, Pitchers WAR: 9.4… Total: 19.9… The team won 74 games, or 14-18 above that 46-50 number. Pretty close.
- The 2012 Astros — Batters WAR: 2.1, Pitchers WAR: 5.4… Total: 7.5… The team won 55 games, or 5-9 above that 46-50 number. 7.5 is exactly the middle of that range; dead on.
- The 2012 Tigers — Batters WAR: 13.7, Pitchers WAR: 23.2… Total: 36.9… The team won 88 games, or 38-42 above that 46-50 number. Pretty close.
- The 2012 Nationals — Batters WAR: 20.6, Pitchers WAR: 20.2… Total: 40.8… The team won 98 games, or 48-52 above that 46-50 number. A little off, but the Nats were above .500 in one-run games and way above .500 in extra-inning games so, not that crazy.

I could do this all day, and a vast, VAST majority would be at least in the ballpark (pun very much intended). You know why it doesn’t match up perfectly? Because WAR isn’t perfect (though not at all for the reasons you say it isn’t). Shocker! It is, however, one of the better tools we have to get a one-number snapshot of a player.

Just because YOU think shutouts and clutch-factor, gritty-time hitting (which isn’t a thing) are more valuable than they actually are, doesn’t mean you’re right. It actually means you’re wrong. Please be educated on how things work before you dismiss them.

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