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Old 06-07-2019, 04:42 PM
Helmut Doork is offline
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Question about baseball WAR


I have read the Wikipedia page on this multiple times, and have come to the realization I may never quite fully understand how it works, specifically the part about the average replacement player. But it is safe to say, that unlike batterng average, ERA, WHIP, etc., that WAR is not 100% based on actual player stats, but at least has some element of hypothetical to it? Thanks!
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Old 06-07-2019, 06:28 PM
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Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is hypothetical in the sense that a pitcher whose team has lost literally every game that pitcher appeared in can nevertheless have positive numbers.

If the team lost every game, then there is no real-world possibility that the existence of that pitcher on the mound, hurling fastballs and fanning batters, could have contributed to that team winning, compared to a random replacement player from Triple-A, precisely because the team did not win. So... what is it trying to study?

The numbers from WAR come directly from game stats and player performance, so they're not hypothetical in that sense. But the numbers are then digested and regurgitated in a way that projects forward onto hypothesized future games, rather than just spitting out the actual "win-output" of what the player actually did. So if Madison Bumgarner pitches an extremely good game, giving up one earned run in eight innings, and then the Giants lose 1-0, then MadBum did not actually contribute to the team winning, because the team did not win. Some random Triple-A newb could've given up 6 runs in those same eight innings, and the giants would've lost 6-0 instead of 1-0. But they still would've lost. The ace did not contribute a win in that situation.

But WAR isn't designed to tell you the past, but rather to predict the future. Imagine a repeat of that particular pitching performance. If a magical fairy came down and told you if you start MadBum tonight, he'll deliver eight solid innings and give up only one run. Do you start him instead of Mr Replacement? Fuck yes, you do. Of course you do. The WAR is an attempt to be that sort of fairy, in a probabilistic sense: if you have the guy available for future games, and he gives similar performances in those future games, then how many more games do you expect you would win with the star pitcher?

If I'm a GM who's trying to project forward, then I want something like WAR as one tool (among others!) helping to guide my decisions for the future. Which is exactly why the stat is so popular.




The issue, though, comes up with things like MVP voting when people are comparing the WAR of various players.

What does it actually mean to the Most Valuable Player? Well, it should bloody well mean you actually added value. And what is "value"? Contributing to your team winning, obvs. So we had Aaron Judge recently comparing favorably with Altuve in the AL-MVP race based on WAR in 2017, but this was a bit ridiculous. The Yankees had great stats. If we did a rewind of that year, and started it again from Game 1 after making only random changes, then they almost certainly would've won a lot more games. Judge payed great, they just slipped on some banana peels. Do you want Aaron Judge on your team after that year? Hell yeah, you do. The high WAR was fully justified.

But was he nearly as valuable as Altuve based on the reality of that season? No. Fucking. Way. Not even close. Something like "Win Shares" developed by Bill James gives you a much better idea, after the fact, of how much value a player added. People really should be looking more in that direction when deciding things like the MVP awards. WAR in contrast is geared toward prediction, which is what GMs need. I think this is why it's applied, even in contexts when it arguably should not be.
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Old 06-07-2019, 07:28 PM
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And what is "value"? Contributing to your team winning, obvs.
No, not obvs. This is the annual debate when MVP voting comes up every year. I'm firmly in the other camp, where "value" isn't tied to a team statistic, or reliant upon his other teammates' abilities. A player who hits 100 home runs and hits .400, but is on a team that gives up 8 runs a game isn't "valuable" in your interpretation, because his team struggles to win 40 games a year.

If there were a hypothetical auction involving the top 25 players each year, the "most valuable" (i.e. the one receiving the most money) would most likely be the one with the highest WAR. If Bumgarner pitches 8 innings every outing and gives up 0 or 1 runs, he's absurdly valuable. I don't give a shit what the rest of his team does - MVP is an individual award, there's no reason to involve team stats in the decision.
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Old 06-07-2019, 08:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Munch View Post
No, not obvs. This is the annual debate when MVP voting comes up every year. I'm firmly in the other camp, where "value" isn't tied to a team statistic, or reliant upon his other teammates' abilities. A player who hits 100 home runs and hits .400, but is on a team that gives up 8 runs a game isn't "valuable" in your interpretation, because his team struggles to win 40 games a year.
Just to be clear, I'd give that guy the MVP. Fans show up to see a star player on a shit team, and that can be considered "value" as well, and rightfully so.

I wasn't trying to give a dogmatic treatise, just give a perspective that contrasted with the reasoning behind WAR.
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Old 06-07-2019, 09:15 PM
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Gotcha. I think you gave a really good explanation of WAR, to be honest. I just have a raw nerve when people start the meaning of valuable in MVP debate.

For the OP - a few years ago, I dug into the WAR equation, to see what it was doing under the hood a little. It's fun to set up a hypothetical player, and start fiddling with stats. For instance, when you start to drill down, and look at individual plays. How does WAR value a double versus a walk and a stolen base? Or a walk/SB versus a single and a stolen base? It does account for that - a double is worth more than a single/SB is worth more than a walk/SB. And for obvious reasons when you think about it - there's less risk of screwing up on the basepath for a double, and you're improving your odds of driving in a run with an extra base hit.

In fact, one other way of looking at it is as "win probability added". Hitting a homer may not contribute towards a win when you're down by 12 runs, but it certainly moves the needle towards the odds of winning. The Angels may have a 41% chance of winning a playoff game - but if they didn't have Mike Trout, those odds might be 29%.
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Old 06-08-2019, 12:49 AM
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thanks! Obviously the major league players actual stats go into his WAR, but who determines what the stats would be for a hypothetical replacement player, who didnt actually play and isnt real, so did not generate real game stats?

Last edited by Helmut Doork; 06-08-2019 at 12:49 AM.
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Old 06-08-2019, 01:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Helmut Doork View Post
thanks! Obviously the major league players actual stats go into his WAR, but who determines what the stats would be for a hypothetical replacement player, who didnt actually play and isnt real, so did not generate real game stats?
The more detailed discussions of WAR on Baseball-Reference.com indicate that they use the average offensive performance for each league, and each season, in order to figure out what an "average" player would be. They also note that they exclude the stats for pitchers batting in their calculations.

So, for example, to calculate Mike Trout's WAR for 2018, they would be comparing against the average performance for American League batters in 2018.

Details: https://www.baseball-reference.com/a...position.shtml

Last edited by kenobi 65; 06-08-2019 at 01:16 AM.
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Old 06-08-2019, 07:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Helmut Doork View Post
thanks! Obviously the major league players actual stats go into his WAR, but who determines what the stats would be for a hypothetical replacement player, who didnt actually play and isnt real, so did not generate real game stats?
It's set at an arbitrary number.

The Baseball Reference default for the "Replacement Player" is that a team full of those guys should only win about 30% of their games. They don't look at minor league talent or anything like that, they just arbitrarily say 30%, and then try to measure what sorts of stats (from real players) would average out to winning less than a third of your games.

But the whole "didn't actually play and isn't real" thing is, theoretically, not quite fair. Good players do get injured, sent to the IL, and ballclubs pull up replacements on the 40-man squad from Triple-A. If you wanted, you could actually try to measure the average quality of this sort of player, who is sent back down just as soon as the regular player is healed. I mean... they don't actually do that. They just flatly state a certain quality level and then stick to it. But they could. Replacement-level players are a real thing. It'd just get messy trying to do that, because different clubs have much different depth in the minors, different rates of injuries, etc., so it would create a bit of variance which would be more accurate to the literal meaning of WAR for a given year, but very volatile from year to year, all of that without adding much insight. Better to move beyond the literal, and aim for year-over-year consistency and insight instead.

So a team full of WAR=0 players should win about 30% of their games. That's how the stat is calibrated.



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Originally Posted by kenobi 65 View Post
The more detailed discussions of WAR on Baseball-Reference.com indicate that they use the average offensive performance for each league, and each season, in order to figure out what an "average" player would be. They also note that they exclude the stats for pitchers batting in their calculations.

So, for example, to calculate Mike Trout's WAR for 2018, they would be comparing against the average performance for American League batters in 2018.

Details: https://www.baseball-reference.com/a...position.shtml
I think you've slightly misread that. Or else I'm slightly misreading your post.

Look at the beginning of that cite's explanation:
Quote:
WAR for position players has six components:
  • Batting Runs
  • Baserunning Runs
  • Runs added or lost due to Grounding into Double Plays in DP situations
  • Fielding Runs
  • Positional Adjustment Runs
  • Replacement level Runs (based on playing time)
The first five measurements are all compared against league average, so a value of zero will equate to a league average player.
You get a score of 0 within each of those first five (out of six) categories for being average. However, if you actually get that average score for every category, you'll absolutely have positive WAR. Summing a bunch of zeroes gives a positive number, in this case.

A team full of average players should be 0.500, that is to say, they should win about 81 games in a typical season. But a team full of "replacement players" should win only about 30% of their games, or about 48 games.
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Replacement level is something of a touchy subject with non-sabermetricians, and probably the least understood of the ideas here.

Currently, we set replacement level at .294 winning percentage (changed from .320 in March 2013) for the major leagues, which means there are 30*162*(.500-.294) = 1,000 Wins above replacement in the major leagues as a whole.
A team full of players who are achieving average statistics in all of those categories (meaning they're getting a score of 0 on the first five of six of those categories) should have (on average) about 33 more wins than a team full of "replacements". That's 33 WAR to be divided among the players of the team. A player who literally is average on every quality is going to have a WAR over 1.0 pretty easily. Being average is valuable. It sure beats being below average, which about half the players are.

Last edited by Hellestal; 06-08-2019 at 07:39 AM.
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Old 06-08-2019, 10:04 AM
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Of course, in some sense it doesn't really matter where you're setting the baseline for "replacement players", as long as you're consistent: Stats like WAR don't mean anything by themselves; you're always comparing one player's stats to another's.

Has the formula for WAR ever been revised? Perhaps at some point, the sabremetricians discovered that some stat that they previously overlooked was a decent predictor for wins?
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Old 06-08-2019, 10:59 AM
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I think you've slightly misread that. Or else I'm slightly misreading your post.
Possibly both.

I did scratch my head a bit at the "based on the average offensive output for that league and season," too, because, I agree, that would seem to yield replacements which would finish at about .500. But, the BR posts seemed to be pretty clear that their calculation for an individual player's WAR for a particular year is done using their offensive averages for the league and year in which that player played, which was mostly the point I was (inelegantly) trying to make.

My educated guess is that the WAR formula uses the league averages for the year in question, and then adjusts those averages downward (which is, I expect, done in a somewhat arbitrary fashion) to yield the level of "replacement player" you note (in which a team of them would only be expected to win 30% of their games).

Last edited by kenobi 65; 06-08-2019 at 11:01 AM.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:28 AM
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But WAR isn't designed to tell you the past, but rather to predict the future.
That's not true, no. WAR is a measure of value in the past. When the stats tell you Mookie Betts was worth 10.8 WAR in 2018, that means he was worth 10.8 in 2018, not that he will be worth that in the future. It is a resonably predictive (e.g. consistently remains good or bad for the same player) stat, but a lot of stats are. Home runs are very predictive, too.

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What does it actually mean to the Most Valuable Player? Well, it should bloody well mean you actually added value. And what is "value"? Contributing to your team winning, obvs. So we had Aaron Judge recently comparing favorably with Altuve in the AL-MVP race based on WAR in 2017, but this was a bit ridiculous. The Yankees had great stats. If we did a rewind of that year, and started it again from Game 1 after making only random changes, then they almost certainly would've won a lot more games. Judge payed great, they just slipped on some banana peels. Do you want Aaron Judge on your team after that year? Hell yeah, you do. The high WAR was fully justified.
It wasn't, no. Judge's WAR was clearly too high, at least based on how Baseball Reference and Fangraphs do it, because they base a player's value on the team's Pythagorean record, NOT its actual record. bWAR and fWAR are, with due respect to the great work those folks do, incoherent; they neither predict the future nor accurately describe the past (in cases where a team misses its Pythagorean.) Had the Yankee figures been adjusted correctly, the way Win Shares are, Judge would have been significantly below Altuve.

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It sure beats being below average, which about half the players are
Most players are below average, if you think about it. The average player at any given point in time in a baseball game in progress is average, but most players in MLB are below average. Above average players play more; guys like Christian Yelich play every day, and guys like Justin Verlander get regular innings. Guys like Joe Shlabotnik get cups of coffee. MLB is made of a small number of average and above average players who get the lion's share of playing time, and many, many below average players who get the scraps. That's why a guy who's average is actually really valuable.
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Old 06-09-2019, 10:34 AM
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No, not obvs. This is the annual debate when MVP voting comes up every year. I'm firmly in the other camp, where "value" isn't tied to a team statistic, or reliant upon his other teammates' abilities. A player who hits 100 home runs and hits .400, but is on a team that gives up 8 runs a game isn't "valuable" in your interpretation, because his team struggles to win 40 games a year.
But that player can still help his team win games. If his shit team went 40-122, but without that guy would have gone 22-140, he was worth 18 wins (which would make him the greatest player who ever lived.)

No team actually wins NO games. All teams in modern baseball win games; you cannot find a single example of an exceptional player on a bad team who created no wins. Last year Jacob DeGrom was worth at least 8-10 additional wins to the Mets. They were bad but would have been WAY worse without him; just look at his game log and it's plainly obvious he won them a lot of ballgames they would otherwise have lost. That is value.
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Old 06-09-2019, 12:11 PM
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Is "number of increased wins" even linear? Like, at least theoretically, if you swapped out one player for a new one with a WAR that was 5 greater than the old one, you'd expect (to within the limits of random variation) to win about 5 more games the next season. But if you swap out five players for a player with a WAR 5 greater, would you expect to win 25 games more? More than that, or less? Likewise, would you expect that player to add 5 wins to a team that's otherwise very good, as well as to a team that's otherwise very bad? Are there positions that are synergistic with each other, where having both be good is more than twice as good as only one of them being good?
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Old 06-10-2019, 01:26 PM
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No, not obvs. This is the annual debate when MVP voting comes up every year. I'm firmly in the other camp, where "value" isn't tied to a team statistic, or reliant upon his other teammates' abilities. A player who hits 100 home runs and hits .400, but is on a team that gives up 8 runs a game isn't "valuable" in your interpretation, because his team struggles to win 40 games a year.
That is the reasoning that kept getting Randy Johnson screwed out of the Cy Young Award. Great pitching plus bad offense = mediocre win/loss.
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Old 06-10-2019, 02:08 PM
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A team full of average players should be 0.500, that is to say, they should win about 81 games in a typical season. But a team full of "replacement players" should win only about 30% of their games, or about 48 games.A team full of players who are achieving average statistics in all of those categories (meaning they're getting a score of 0 on the first five of six of those categories) should have (on average) about 33 more wins than a team full of "replacements".
I don't think this is accurate. Imagine a team that scores 2 runs every game and a team that scores 0 runs 80% of the time and 10 runs 20% of the time. Same averages, but one team wins 80% of the games. Mean stats does not imply mean wins.

Or imagine a team gets 1 hit every single inning, it'll be unlikely to score many runs, while a team that average 9 hits a game, but clusters them up will score more runs.
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Old 06-10-2019, 02:51 PM
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But are there actually any teams that consistently cluster their statistics in that way? What would the mechanisms be that would cause that? Sure, there are probably some that historically have happened to be clustered, but would you expect them to continue to be clustered in the future?
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Old 06-10-2019, 03:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Hellestal
But WAR isn't designed to tell you the past, but rather to predict the future.
That's not true, no. WAR is a measure of value in the past. When the stats tell you Mookie Betts was worth 10.8 WAR in 2018, that means he was worth 10.8 in 2018, not that he will be worth that in the future.
This is exactly the point I was trying to make here, which you elided:
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Originally Posted by Hellestal View Post
if you have the guy available for future games, and he gives similar performances in those future games, then how many more games do you expect you would win with the star pitcher?
Underline added. I tried to explicitly specify what kind of "prediction" WAR is intending to make.

The problem here is that the English language isn't exactly designed to describe the extremely weird, counterfactual, rewind-history kind of philosophy that WAR embodies. Part of the reason for this is that the idea behind WAR itself is a sort of rarefied exemplar of a certain kind of statistical philosophy, taken to the absolute extreme. That extreme can be seen as very strange, even if the philosophy behind it is not.

And really, the philosophy behind it also strikes many as strange, even tho it honestly shouldn't. From here we get into those underpinnings of stats stuff that bores a lot of people, but that I find fascinating. I'd go so far as to say it's intellectually fundamental. Baseball is actually a great place to talk about it. There's a reason Nate Silver started as a sports statistician. But that's a huge discussion.

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It wasn't, no. Judge's WAR was clearly too high, at least based on how Baseball Reference and Fangraphs do it, because they base a player's value on the team's Pythagorean record, NOT its actual record.
The philosophy behind WAR is to judge based on idealized record, rather than actual record.

For anyone who accepts the premise behind it (which you don't seem to and don't have to), they should probably also accept the result that Judge's WAR in 2017 was in the right neighborhood.

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bWAR and fWAR are, with due respect to the great work those folks do, incoherent; they neither predict the future nor accurately describe the past (in cases where a team misses its Pythagorean.) Had the Yankee figures been adjusted correctly, the way Win Shares are, Judge would have been significantly below Altuve.
This is the same sort of thing.

I'm not out to defend WAR itself, because I haven't personally gotten my hands dirty with the data. Maybe I'd disagree with choices they'd made. But if they're "not adjusting correctly", as you style it, that's because they fundamentally disagree about what's the correct way to adjust. That's where the issue is. Why they disagree is a huge issue, because it cuts to the heart of what statistical analysis is supposed to be. But that would take quite a lot of discussion.




I actually starting writing up some of those ideas, and I got to fifteen hundred words of gobblygook that I might be able to salvage in a few days. Suffice it to say that I think WAR represents a sort of lofty statistical ideal that's abstruse enough to rub people the wrong way. It serves a very particular purpose that not everyone cares about.

That does not mean it's "incorrectly adjusted". They adjust it as they do quite deliberately in order to meet that ideal.
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Old 06-10-2019, 03:11 PM
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But are there actually any teams that consistently cluster their statistics in that way? What would the mechanisms be that would cause that? Sure, there are probably some that historically have happened to be clustered, but would you expect them to continue to be clustered in the future?
Batting averages are not uniformly distributed on a team. Consider a team that has every player with a 0.250 batting average. Consider a second team that has 3 players at the top of the order that bat 0.750 and the rest with 0.000. The latter will have hits clustered around where the top of the order is at bat vs the first team.

I haven't done a simulation, but it seems to me that a team with outlier players in both the good and bad direction would tend to beat a team with mean stats.
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Old 06-10-2019, 04:18 PM
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To put it simply: What you really want is a prediction of who will win games. But you can't get that. The best you can do is an estimate based on the information you have, which is what happened in previous games. Prior outcomes do not guarantee future results, but they're still the best you can do. WAR is a way of combining past statistics to most accurately (or so the statisticians believe and hope) predict the outcomes of future games.
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Old 06-10-2019, 05:28 PM
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Question, and no offense to anyone- if WAR does cause such friction among stat lovers, due to the number of variables, the obtuseness, and the fact it is based on a hypothetical baseline (which yes is irrelevant because that base, even if you don't agree, serves as the base for everyone and therefore fair)- why not stick to actual measurable stats?

Point being, WAR says Mike Trout is a god, but ANY stat like WAR, if based solely on the real stat history of the player, as long as it is a reasonable mixture of positives minus negatives, whatever it is (doubles, plus homers, plus batting average minus strikeouts, minus GIDP's. etc. etc.) I am sure would end up showing Trout is among the best ever, and all other players with high WAR would look just as good- IOW, WAR doesn't seem to provide any deep insight other type stats don't- its not like WAR has revealed instead of being average, that Doug Decinces is actually the best player in the modern ERA.

So I guess why make the stat so difficult, when simpler ones give you the same results- best and worst players, just maybe a slight difference in order? I mean, is WAR really a better indicator as to how good is pitcher is than WHIP, or ERA? Every pitcher with a WHIP under one or close is HOF material, A bad pitcher with a WHIP under one does not exist.

Does WAR as it is produce something other stats don't, other than its title, wins above replacement? I get that its fun and interesting, but seems odd to have all that effort to show Trout Rules, when OPS and other (easier to figure) show the same thing?

Last edited by Helmut Doork; 06-10-2019 at 05:28 PM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:45 PM
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I suspect that part of the popularity of WAR is that it's an all-in-one statistic. For everyday players, WAR attempts to take into account various aspects of both offense and defense, and give the statistician (and the baseball fan) a way to make a comparison across players at different positions, and across different eras.

Whether it does that *well* or not, and whether it's wound up being used for purposes which its developers did not intend, are completely different questions.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:52 PM
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Too late to edit: an example is early-career Ozzie Smith. During the first half-dozen years of his career, Smith wasn't a particularly good hitter -- his batting average was typically .230 or so, and his OBP was usually just above .300. But, at that time, he was already widely considered to be one of the (if not THE) best shortstops in the game.

Looking at his WAR for those years (roughly '78 to '83), his WAR rating (Baseball Reference) was typically in the 3.0 - 5.0 range, and primarily driven by his defensive WAR.

So, offensive numbers alone (like OPS) told you little about how valuable even a weak-hitting player at a defensive position actually was.

Last edited by kenobi 65; 06-10-2019 at 06:52 PM.
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Old 06-10-2019, 06:59 PM
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There's a specific recent example - the MVP race between Judge and Altuve. While there were some things that Altuve was better at, Judge was clearly the more productive offensive player, but on the other hand Altuve was a very good hitter at a much more important defensive position. Without an all-in-one stat like WAR, you just end up squinting and wondering; as it stood, they came out very nearly equal in WAR, which left other factors (such as Altuve's better clutch numbers) as the deciding edge.
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Old 06-11-2019, 07:56 AM
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... why not stick to actual measurable stats?
Well, because no measureable stat tells you which player is better. that's the whole point; baseball fans (fans of all sports) love to argue over who is better. Joe Carter hit more home runs than Rickey Henderson, but that doesn't mean he was BETTER, does it? Dave Magadan had a higher on base percentage than Roberto Clemente. Who's better; Lou Whitaker or Dwight Evans? Should the Blue Jays trade Marcus Stroman to get Jimmy and Ernesto the prospects? No one measurable stat will explain that.

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Point being, WAR says Mike Trout is a god, but ANY stat like WAR, if based solely on the real stat history of the player, as long as it is a reasonable mixture of positives minus negatives, whatever it is (doubles, plus homers, plus batting average minus strikeouts, minus GIDP's. etc. etc.) I am sure would end up showing Trout is among the best ever, and all other players with high WAR would look just as good- IOW, WAR doesn't seem to provide any deep insight other type stats don't- its not like WAR has revealed instead of being average, that Doug Decinces is actually the best player in the modern ERA.
Well, first of all, your basic point is right. There are no players in baseball history with really high WAR totals who aren't great players. There is no great player with a career WAR total of 4. A list of the top WAR players is an obvious list of outstanding players. I don't think it will come as much of a surprise to most people that Babe Ruth is the all-time WAR leader, and the top twenty doesn't include anyone like Omar Moreno. You might be surprised at some of the rankings, though. I know it catches my eye that WAR feels Al Kaline is one of the fifty best players of all time and Vladimir Guerrero barely makes the top 200, or that Sammy Sosa and John Olerud are pretty much the same. Of course it's not going to tell you Sammy Sosa is worse than Sam Horn; everyone around 60 WAR was a really good player. But it's more accurate than just guessing.

WAR is just the latest attempt at a single adjusted estimate, that's all, and has become the most popular one because it's easy to grasp. If I tell you Bill was worth three wins more than a replacement player, that's easy to comprehend and goes to what baseball is about. If I tell you Bill is worth 27.4 VORP, it's not clear what the hell that means. If I say he's worth 11 Win Shares, again, what the hell does that mean? Is it good? Bad?

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Every pitcher with a WHIP under one or close is HOF material, A bad pitcher with a WHIP under one does not exist.
Of course, but we aren't talking about extremes. You don't need advanced analytics to tell you Clayton Kershaw is a great pitcher. But it helps to truly understand value on the margins.
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