Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

ESPN: WAR is the answer

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.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:15 AM | 22 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: bj upton, david eckstein, john thorn, miguel cabrera, miguel tejada, mike trout, mitch albom, war

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:22 PM (#4372671)
Seems like we've heard this story before: WAR is useful because it causes you to look at things like GIDPs and HBPs. My question is, why don't you just look at GIDPs and HBPs in the first place?
   2. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:36 PM (#4372681)
Seems like we've heard this story before: WAR is useful because it causes you to look at things like GIDPs and HBPs. My question is, why don't you just look at GIDPs and HBPs in the first place?


Ultimately because it isn't easy to scale it into a value model without some math to back it up. I mean why do park adjusted numbers (like era+ or ops+) when you can just look at the different parks?

Mind you I don't think war is the necessary tool for everything, but it's a very good starting point, and is useful to attempt to back up any of your own personal adjustments.

On top of that, it doesn't just make you look at gidp and hbp, but baserunning(including non-sb) defense, properly weighing obp/slg aspect of the ops equation etc. Does it have flaws, of course(I've complained about basing defense and baserunning on average in the past, it underrates playing time for above replacement level, but below average players at those skills---most notably Cabrera in the MVP discussion etc) but still it's better than what we have had in the past.
   3. smileyy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 01:49 PM (#4372692)
I feel like the Eckstein story only makes half of a point. Sure, it gives quantity to Eckstein's value to that season. But in comparing him to the MVP, it falls short in pointing out what a terrible choice Tejada was for MVP that year.
   4. dr. scott Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4372736)
Smileyy, this is true, but its decent length article focussing on a bunch of issues, so its not too surprising he does not go into depth, and given that the guy with the best WAR that season in the AL admitted to being on Roids at the time... maybe he just decided to skip it.

All in all its a good read.

interestingly just looking at WAR leaders from 2001 to 2004 i found out lots of things I did not know. for instance even though Giambi has a better WAR than Arod in 2001, Arod had a better offensive WAR, which to me seems to say that Giambi was a decent amount better than Arod at the non hitting aspects of the game, which I found surprising. (they were both worse than average at those parts of the game that year)... oh yea, and Erstad was even better than Eckstein in 2002. No wonder the Angels won...
   5. Randomly Fluctuating Defensive Metric Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:45 PM (#4372755)
Too much emphasis placed on unreliable defensive statistics.
   6. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 02:55 PM (#4372769)
Arod had a better offensive WAR, which to me seems to say that Giambi was a decent amount better than Arod at the non hitting aspects of the game, which I found surprising.


Offensive WAR includes position adjustment. It does ignore defensive play, but since A-Rod is a shortstop and Giambi a 1B, A-Rod starts with an 18 run advantage in OWAR. Just on batting runs alone, Giambi wins 78-58. (A-Rod picks up 6 runs in baserunning as well).
   7. Shredder Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:01 PM (#4372777)
I feel like the Eckstein story only makes half of a point. Sure, it gives quantity to Eckstein's value to that season. But in comparing him to the MVP, it falls short in pointing out what a terrible choice Tejada was for MVP that year.
Depends on how you want to interpret it. You could read it as "Eckstein was almost as good as the eventual AL MVP!" or you could read it as "The guy the writers gave the MVP to was barely more valuable than Eckstein."
   8. smileyy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 03:30 PM (#4372805)
[7] I felt like it made a weak argument that's too easily dismissed by a reader. "This WAR thing is crap...there's no way David Eckstein was nearly as valuable as Miguel Tejada..."
   9. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:10 PM (#4372844)
Almost half of Eckstein's bWAR came in his first two seasons. After that he had just one above-average season. Still a perfectly cromulent player but not somebody to wax poetic about.

My question is, why don't you just look at GIDPs and HBPs in the first place?

CFB gives the big answer -- sometimes of course it is useful to try to break down the components as well. But the writer's HBP point was sort of silly as HBP is in OBP and nobody had an excuse to not consider OBP in MVP discussions in 2002 -- it was a major component.

Another valuable thing in WAR is that it's tracking all those league averages and opportunities and such. Did the guy who grounded into 18 DP cost his team runs relative to the guy who grounded into 14? Well, that depends on opportunity which means to properly assess GDP (or RBI or going from 1st to 3rd or ...) you've got to track the opportunities as well.

So you're not only asking somebody to mentally balance 8 different aspects of performance, you're also asking them to compare those to 8 different expected outcomes for each individual player. I'm happy to let somebody else do all that heavy lifting.

And finally, if you want to break it down into tiny pieces rather than use WAR but don't, then you're just being lazy. Both b-r and fangraphs have a ton of extra information.
   10. John Northey Posted: February 20, 2013 at 04:33 PM (#4372869)
I think a big plus of WAR is to get discussions going on players like Eckstein. Many felt he was the 'scrappy white player' and nothing more, but WAR said otherwise for a couple of his years and that forces one to dig in and see the details. If the defensive measures are off you can normally see it, or if the baserunning is over/underestimating a guy, but it also makes one go 'maybe I was wrong' with a players defensive or baserunning skills.

Of course, then you get those who would just say player X is worth 5.1 and Y is worth 5.0 and that is the end of that.
   11. DCA Posted: February 20, 2013 at 05:12 PM (#4372909)
B-R has Tejada up 5.3 to 5.0 in WAR. However, 2002 is Tejada's worst defensive stat season between 1999 and 2005, using the average season over that period (exactly league average) to attenuate the noise in defensive stats would up his value by 6 runs to about 5.9 WAR.

Eckstein, on the other hand, had by far his career best defensive season in 2002. Neither Eckstein nor Tejada made an atypical number of errors in 2002, so this is all in the range calculations. Adjusting him to league average fielding (also one's best guess based on surrounding seasons) drops 10 runs from his value, to about 4.0 WAR.

So my best guess is that, in 2002, Tejada was worth about 2 wins more than Eckstein - the closeness in the data are due to fielding stats, but based on a larger sample both players were approximately average fielders until dropping off in their 30's, and of equivalent value on that side of the ball.
   12. AROM Posted: February 20, 2013 at 06:20 PM (#4372964)
Still a perfectly cromulent player but not somebody to wax poetic about.


He is if you're an Angels fan.
   13. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 20, 2013 at 07:30 PM (#4373017)
I think a big plus of WAR is to get discussions going on players like Eckstein. Many felt he was the 'scrappy white player' and nothing more, but WAR said otherwise for a couple of his years and that forces one to dig in and see the details.


OK, I guess I can see that, and what Walt and cardsfanboy were saying. But on the other hand, people at the time thought Eckstein was a pretty good player. TFA makes it sound like nobody had any idea how good Eckstein was in 2002 - yet he finished 11th overall in the MVP voting. He was fourth in ROY voting the year before, and made the All-Star team a couple other seasons. His recognition at the time seems pretty much of a piece of his evaluation via WAR.

I think you underrate the extent to which people could evaluate player seasons before WAR came around. It wasn't that hard! David Eckstein in 2002 was a good defensive shortstop with a .363 OBP and 107 runs scored for a World Champion - everyone can see that's a valuable player, even before you start to call him "scrappy."
   14. vivaelpujols Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:54 PM (#4373067)
Seems like we've heard this story before: WAR is useful because it causes you to look at things like GIDPs and HBPs. My question is, why don't you just look at GIDPs and HBPs in the first place?


Cardsfanboy has it right. I don't understand why there is an aversion to actually quantifying numbers and comparing them on the same units (runs). Obviously it's possible to look at a players OPS, position and games played and come up with a guess of roughly how valuable he was relative to other players, but that's going to introduce a shitload of error and the less similar two players are the tougher it will be to get. WAR already handles offense + baserunning + position + playing time about as good as you could hope for (context neutrally of course), the only issue is defense. But there's no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater, just adjust the defensive component to what you think is reasonable.
   15. vivaelpujols Posted: February 20, 2013 at 08:58 PM (#4373072)
So my best guess is that, in 2002, Tejada was worth about 2 wins more than Eckstein - the closeness in the data are due to fielding stats, but based on a larger sample both players were approximately average fielders until dropping off in their 30's, and of equivalent value on that side of the ball.


I don't think you should completely ignore the single year ratings for players, because obviously there can be variation in fielding performance. I would just regress them to his surrounding seasons, which would make the advantage 1-1.5 WAR.

Edit: nitpicking obviously, your general point is correct
   16. Tom Nawrocki Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:36 PM (#4373118)
I don't understand why there is an aversion to actually quantifying numbers and comparing them on the same units (runs).


1. Because the more you process and formulate and massage these numbers, the less accurate they get.

2. Because unless you're an MVP voter, there's no practical purpose to WAR.
   17. SoSH U at work Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:45 PM (#4373120)
I think a big plus of WAR is to get discussions going on players like Eckstein. Many felt he was the 'scrappy white player' and nothing more, but WAR said otherwise for a couple of his years and that forces one to dig in and see the details. If the defensive measures are off you can normally see it, or if the baserunning is over/underestimating a guy, but it also makes one go 'maybe I was wrong' with a players defensive or baserunning skills.


Yet it's odd that the overwhelming majority of references to Eckstein on this site are not about what a useful little ballplayer he was, as demonstrated by WAR, but snarky comments that refer to the MSM's love of his grit and scrappiness.
   18. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:54 PM (#4373128)
I think you underrate the extent to which people could evaluate player seasons before WAR came around. It wasn't that hard! David Eckstein in 2002 was a good defensive shortstop with a .363 OBP and 107 runs scored for a World Champion - everyone can see that's a valuable player, even before you start to call him "scrappy."
Sure. There is no baseball player in the world whose value went entirely unrecognized until WAR came along. On the other hand, I remember 2002, I remember being in the stathead community. A large percentage of people didn't see Eckstein's value and jokes about him were very common. Having a more totalizing method to help confirm what indeed could be seen without that method, it's useful.
   19. Matt Clement of Alexandria Posted: February 20, 2013 at 10:58 PM (#4373131)
1. Because the more you process and formulate and massage these numbers, the less accurate they get.
I have no idea what this means. Surely the numbers are more accurate when you formulate a better method of evaluating baserunning, right? And they're more accurate when you determine park factors via a better process. What you want is good process instead of bad process. I see no reason to believe that the WAR methodology is an example of the latter at the expense of the former.
2. Because unless you're an MVP voter, there's no practical purpose to WAR.
Well, there's no "practical purpose" to any baseball stats. They're just about baseball!

But as a guy who likes to think about baseball and then talk about it on the internet, I often like to compare players who have divergent skill sets. And it's useful to have a coherent methodology for doing that.
   20. cardsfanboy Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:04 PM (#4373139)
2. Because unless you're an MVP voter, there's no practical purpose to WAR.


What is the practical purpose of batting average, rbi's, runs, homeruns etc?

edit: coke to Matt Clement of Alexandria

I don't get the complaint. War is a great tool that does a lot of little, painstaking math for you and puts it into a frame of reference to reflect on the quality of season that a player had. On top of that, the same place you get war from, has the the components broken down, so that you can see how the player accumulated the value and do your own mental calculations/adjustments if you don't agree with the final result. (example in the Cabrera vs Trout argument, I feel that war underrates Cabreras defensive value and playing time, so I make a mental adjustment, I feel it overstates the park differences so I make another mental adjustment...it still doesn't make Cabrera having a better season than Trout, but it does make it a lot closer)

   21. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:10 PM (#4373141)
Yet it's odd that the overwhelming majority of references to Eckstein on this site are not about what a useful little ballplayer he was, as demonstrated by WAR, but snarky comments that refer to the MSM's love of his grit and scrappiness.

Especially as he recedes into the mists of history and our image of him becomes merged with that of the similarly monickered Darin Erstad.
   22. Walt Davis Posted: February 20, 2013 at 11:12 PM (#4373142)
Yep, some statheads -- not me, certainly not me, never me, I challenge anybody to find a single instance -- were known to snark about Eckstein ... as the excerpt notes.

1. Because the more you process and formulate and massage these numbers, the less accurate they get.

But the point is that for you as an individual to come to a decision on the question of value, you have to come up with some way to "process and formulate and massage" those numbers into an overall assessment. WAR is going to do that a hell of a lot better (the vast majority of the time) than an individual human being will. So it is in fact far, far more accurate than what you (or I) could do because it's based on tons and tons of data.

A bad way to do it, one possibly worse than a regular human being, is the old Elias (or was it Stats) formula for FA value which just added up ranks across many different categories. That's the sort of thing that happens if you don't convert these things to a similar scale and if you don't account for the fact that a HR is worth a lot more than a SB.

Give it a go Tom. You've got Tejada and Eckstein's b-r pages right there. Show us how you'd value them without using WAR ... and, remember, your mission here is to determine who was better and by how much. Now repeat for Trout and Cabrera 2012. :-)

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
danielj
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogThe Players' Tribune: Jeter: The Clean Up
(2 - 4:23am, Oct 31)
Last: zachtoma

NewsblogSend Alex Gordon! | FiveThirtyEight
(83 - 4:02am, Oct 31)
Last: Maxwn

NewsblogNo, Alex Gordon wouldn't have scored an inside the park home run
(135 - 3:35am, Oct 31)
Last: baxter

NewsblogFull Count » Red Sox sign Koji Uehara to 2-year contract
(10 - 2:49am, Oct 31)
Last: Dan

NewsblogNewest Hall of Fame Candidates Announced
(52 - 2:35am, Oct 31)
Last: Sunday silence

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - October 2014
(630 - 2:05am, Oct 31)
Last: madvillain

NewsblogOT: NBC.news: Valve isn’t making one gaming console, but multiple ‘Steam machines’
(1021 - 1:53am, Oct 31)
Last: The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott)

NewsblogJoe Maddon is to become Cubs manager, sources say
(108 - 1:49am, Oct 31)
Last: Sunday silence

NewsblogOT: Politics, October 2014: Sunshine, Baseball, and Etch A Sketch: How Politicians Use Analogies
(4785 - 12:40am, Oct 31)
Last: Joe Kehoskie

NewsblogAngell: The Best
(17 - 12:33am, Oct 31)
Last: odds are meatwad is drunk

NewsblogThings we learned from the 2014 playoffs
(11 - 12:17am, Oct 31)
Last: bobm

NewsblogMadison Bumgarner, World Series legend - McCovey Chronicles
(103 - 12:15am, Oct 31)
Last: SoSHially Unacceptable

NewsblogFielding Bible
(2 - 11:24pm, Oct 30)
Last: Russlan is fond of Dillon Gee

NewsblogOT:  October 2014 - College Football thread
(544 - 11:11pm, Oct 30)
Last: Lance Reddick! Lance him!

Hall of MeritMost Meritorious Player: 1960 Discussion
(9 - 10:22pm, Oct 30)
Last: Chris Fluit

Page rendered in 0.2565 seconds
53 querie(s) executed