A great article came out this morning on EPSN.com about WAR — Wins Above Replacement. Everyone should definitely go read it (follow the link!). Of all the Sabrmetrics in Sabr-land, this is one of the best metrics to measure a player by.
If you were going to make an argument to a friend as to why a certain player deserves the huge contract he just inked, what stats would you turn to? Most fans probably use the basics: batting average (BA), slugging percentage (SLG), runs batted in (RBI), and maybe on-base percentage (OBP). But do these stats really show how great a player actually is? Or do they show how great a player is in the situations they are presented with in plate appearances? And what about that player’s defense? Shouldn’t that factor in to his team worth and by default how much money he earns? How does looking at one stat, like RBIs or BA, take into account everything that player does — like say stealing bases?
The answer to all of these questions is No, Yes, What about it?, Yes, and It doesn’t. Thankfully there is a stat that does a much better job of calculating a player’s overall effect on a game, team, and season. It is very simply called WAR. WAR is a comprehensive look at every aspect of a player’s game, from fielding to base running and hitting, even capturing silly things like how many times a player gets beaned and if they hit into too many double plays.
Let’s start with a theory. At the base of the theory of Sabrmetrics is this idealistic thought — if every person in your lineup always gets on base, you never record an out, you score infinite runs, and you win the one game you are playing that never ends because you never put out three times in the first inning.
Relating that to WAR, if a player get on-base more he would score more runs, runs win baseball games, and that player would have earned his team more wins then the average player his GM could find to replace him. A player that gets on base and steals bases has an even higher WAR. A person that gets on base a lot, steals more bases, hits home runs often, doesn’t make errors in the field, and guns down runners at the plate from center field has a tremendous WAR. Some may say astronomical, even. Has the MLB ever seen this before? Yep. In fact we all as fans witnessed Mike Trout do this last year for the Angels, racking up a 10.7 WAR. That simply means that he was so valuable to his team, that if on April 2, 2012 Trout would have broken his leg and missed the season and they replaced him with an average player, the Angels would have had almost 11 less wins. That is phenomenal.
And as any baseball fan knows, the 2012 AL MVP race was between two players — Trout and Miguel Cabrera — with Miggy (rightfully, I still believe) winning. But who was the better overall ball player in 2012? Cabrera had a 6.9 WAR in 2012. So was he most valuable to his team? Yes. Was he the better player overall? No. But let’s not start that MVP argument all over again.
I love WAR. I understand that it is not a perfect metric by any means, but when you want to know how valuable a player is to your team WAR does the job and it does it well. And there is WAR for every player, pitcher or fielder, so it really can cover an “apples to apples” comparison. Thanks to FanGraphs.com for binning WAR levels with player potential. (Note: Pitching and Offensive WAR are calculated differently.)
Scrub 0-1 WAR
Role Player 1-2 WAR
Solid Starter 2-3 WAR
Good Player 3-4 WAR
All-Star 4-5 WAR
Superstar 5-6 WAR
MVP 6+ WAR
So then, how about we wrap this up by taking a look at some of our favorite Rockies, and see where they stack up using the WAR metric?
In the abysmal 2012 season, only one player would be viewed as a “Solid Starter” based on their WAR: Dexter Fowler (2.5 WAR). That maybe helps explain why the Rockies awarded him a multi-year contract in the offseason, yeah? A couple other players gave us a 1.9 WAR (Tyler Colvin, Wilin Rosario, Eric Young Jr) which is still respectable. Isn’t it great to think back and realize that even with all the strikeouts Dex succumbed to, he was still our most valuable player? And even with all his defensive woes behind the plate, Baby Bull was still a solid starter? What about our stars, Cargo and Tulo? They had 1.3 and 0.3 WAR, respectively. Now granted each were hurt and missed a lot of their potential for the year, but shouldn’t we as fans give them a pass? I say absolutely, without question. Carlos Gonzales has given the Rockies over 13 wins above replacement in only 5 seasons, while Troy Tulowitzki has earned over 25 wins above replacement in 7 seasons. These guys had a down year and I am sure they will bounce back to their normal production in 2013. As I say often, it really can’t be as bad as 2012, can it??
WAR is a fantastic metric to use in any argument you have either for or against a player. It is the only metric I have found that honors all of the aspects of a ball player and equals out things like what position you play or where on the lineup card the manager places you. However as with anything, use it with caution. Or you might end up trying to tell someone that David Eckstein was better than Miguel Tejada during Tejada’s 2002 MVP year. Then again, maybe that’s not such a bad thing….
If you want a simple WAR calculator, head over to our FanSided counterparts at Wahoos on First for some WAR education!