Saturday, February 2, 2013

The argument in favor of WAR

By Sean Gagnier
@SeanGagnier

When it came to the American League MVP race, the baseball world was split between two camps, those who supported the use of the words above replacement statistic and those who did not. Those who did support WAR were often ridiculed for using a stat that was too "high minded" or "too abstract."

While many WAR supporters did support Miguel Cabrera winning the AL MVP, there were others, such as myself, that believed that Mike Trout was more deserving of the award. Why? Because WAR accounts for much more than just three arbitrary stats that have been singled out as superior to others.

Yes, Cabrera did win the Triple Crown. But what exactly is the Triple Crown? It is when a player is atop the league in home runs, runs batted in and batting average, but who said that those are the three most important categories?

Leading the league in batting average, RBI and home runs is impressive, but it is akin to an accounting trick. No one thought what those stats meant when they were picked as the most important, they were just singled out and are now held higher than anything else.

But why? Those stats aren't nearly as good as people believe them to be. And just because they are easy to compute doesn't mean they are superior.

While home runs may be straightforward, one must take into account how each ballpark plays and look into whether a player is hitting balls out of Comerica Park or the bambox in the Bronx.That being said, it's hard to argue with the HR stat, it is what it is.

The RBI is perhaps the most overrated stat in all of baseball. Who said that getting other players to score is more important than scoring yourself? All an RBI means is that a player gets hits when someone else is on base, he didn't do the work of getting the runner on, he simply benefits from someone else being in position.

The Triple Crown completely ignores a player's contribution to the team defensively, as does most MVP voting, both of which leave out an incredibly important part of the game that can make or break a team. A player can be an offensive wizard, but if he is incapable of fielding then he will cost his team, and that is exactly what WAR attempts to account for.

Batting average, too, is a flawed stat in that it doesn't take into account each of a players plate appearances, only the ones in which they either got a hit or headed back to the dugout. While other stats take into account each time a player gets a hit, walks, gets hit by the pitch, flies out or strikes out. That is a more accurate picture of a players performance than batting average.

The only reason people understand the formula for batting average is because at-bats have adorned the back of baseball cards for a century. If Topps had printed Plate Appearances on baseball cards instead of At-Bats, this debate wouldn't be happening.

In WAR there are more complicated formulas, yes, but statisticians and computers do most of the calculations for the fan, which makes it very similar to the formula for batting average.

While there are flaws in WAR, it more accurately depicts a complete player than the Triple Crown categories. It attempts to level the playing field of "favored statistics" and factors in all factors of being a successful baseball player.

WAR is not, and should not, be the end all, be all stat. But it should be the starting point for any educated baseball fan. Any fan that dismisses WAR and then tries to say batting average, RBI and HR's mean something is a hypocrite.

3 comments:

  1. Where to start. Lets start where there are at least three different versions of the WAR stat. It does not near legitimacy until there is only one.

    MVP does not mean best overall player, it means most valuable to the team. Cabrera was more valuable to the Tigers than Trout to the Angels. Take Cabrera away and the Tigers don't win the division and get to the world series. Take Trout away and ... oh, they didn't make the playoffs did they? And there is a valid argument about the Angels being stuck in neutral until Pujols, not Trout showed up with his "A" game.

    Baseball is a sport rooted in tradition and statistics. The frequency of someone winning the Triple Crown illustrates how rare a feat it is. You have somewhat of an argument about HRs, RBI and batting average, when you look at them individually. But to lead the league in all three categories is really special.

    And if you want to look at things individually, Trouts stolen bases were a product of a physical trait that cannot be learned - speed. His defense is also a product of his speed.

    And you WAR supporters ignore the fact that Trout was just mediocre down the stretch and Cabrera excelled, driving the Tigers to the Divisonal Title.

    That is why Cabrera won MVP by a large margin. WAR is irrelevant.

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  2. And stating WAR "should be the starting point for any educated baseball fan" and that "any fan that dismisses WAR and then tries to say batting average, RBI and HR's mean something is a hypocrite." simply shows your arrogance.

    And I will pull one of your tricks - anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that WAR is simply a made up number derived from an inconsistent formula by people looking for attention, wanting to show people how smart they are. True baseball people have no real use for WAR, other than as another arbitrary measurement that cannot even be defined consistently.

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