John Thorn Newsbeat
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
WAR tells a new story about baseball. Better, WAR shows that new story, because it embeds every part of the game within its formula. Consider shortstop David Eckstein. The mainstream story about Eckstein—he’s small and not technically very good, but boy does he have grit—was told through adjectives, not facts. At the media-criticism site Fire Joe Morgan, there was a David Eckstein category comprising 20 separate posts on Eckstein hagiographies. That’s nearly 12,000 (hysterical) words mocking the reporters who celebrated the plucky Eckstein despite his weak arm, punchless bat and general failure to be athletic.
Now, here’s the twist: David Eckstein was actually very valuable, and it had nothing to do with the adjectives. In 2002 Eckstein (WAR of 4.4, according to analytics-based website FanGraphs) was almost as good as Miguel Tejada (WAR of 4.7), who won the AL MVP award that year. Tejada hit 34 home runs and drove in 131. But Eckstein was nearly his equal while driving in 63 and taking a running start every time he threw to first. How? WAR, and the components that it comprises, tells us:
1. Eckstein let himself get hit by 27 pitches, giving him a better OBP than Tejada and blunting Tejada’s power advantage.
2 . Eckstein hit into a third as many double plays.
3. Eckstein was actually a good defensive shortstop with more range than Tejada and more success turning double plays.
A writer who wanted to praise Eckstein, then, could have made some assumptions about Eckstein based on his height, weight and skin color (white), collected some flattering athlete-cliche quotes from Eckstein’s teammates and flipped through his thesaurus looking for new words—thaumaturgical! leptosome!—to describe the little guy. Or he could have started with WAR and explained how David Eckstein, ballplayer, was good at playing ball.
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