There’s a war going on in baseball. Did you know that? If you came of baseball age when a long game was 2:45, it was a failing of significant proportion for a starting pitcher not to go nine, all World Series games started at 1 p.m. local, and there was no such thing as a DH, you probably don’t know it. But if your surest sign that spring is coming soon is the appearance of “Baseball Prospectus” on your bookstore’s shelf, you are already a soldier in this skirmish. In your mind, you stand for progress and enlightenment. Speak to you not of “Triple Crowns.” You’d rather rhapsodize about BABIP.
I come from that quaint generation of yesteryear, but I do respect the New Math of baseball. This is no revisionist history, either. Check it out if you like. I nominated Bill James for baseball sainthood many, many years ago. He has influenced how we see the game and evaluate the participants (managers, too) more than any single individual in the last century.
...WAR is the stat de tutti stat for the baseball fans we affectionately refer to as “seamheads.” WAR is believed to be the ultimate rating measurement of a player, combining a variety of offensive and defensive computations (there are also pitching stats) and then coming up with a number that allegedly tells us all how many more wins per season said player is worth over, yeah . . . here’s the problem.
It’s how much more Player X is worth than a player that doesn’t exist!
I wish I were making this up. I’m not. Here is the explanation for WAR/WARP on page xiii of the 2013 “Baseball Prospectus”:
“WARP combines a player’s Batting Runs Above Average (derived from a player’s True Average), BRR (Baserunning Runs), FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average), an adjustment based upon position played, and a credit from plate appearances based upon the difference between the ‘replacement level’ (derived from looking at the quality of players added to a team’s roster after the start of the season) and the league average.”
Now, even if you are conversant with BRR and FRAA, there remains one little problem in accepting the notion that WAR is a relevant tool with which to evaluate and separate players.
It’s ultimately based on a judgment. It’s not a statistic!
...But it’s not because his WAR (9.1) was better than Cabrera’s (6.6). If I’m going to deal with a stat, I prefer a stat that is actually a stat, not a shaky opinion.
WAR is nonsense. I urge General James to get control of his troops.