Yesterday on Twitter, Buster Olney had some thoughts on WAR, and specifically, the way it values middle-of-the-diamond players compared to first baseman. A few selections from his comments:
#1: “Love advanced metrics,but anybody find something a little skewed to 2B/SS/CF? Ben Zobrist No. 6 overall, ahead of all first basemen, McCann?”
#2: “Zobrist, Victorino, Howie Kendrick and Yunel Escobar all ahead of Prince Fielder in WAR. You do wonder if positional adjustments too steep.”
#3: “If you asked 30 GMs who they would pay the most among these players–Victorino, Yunel, Kendrick, Fielder–off ’11 stats,30 would say Fielder.”
There were a few others sprinkled in there as well, but you get the general point. The common wisdom in baseball has been that run producers are the most valuable players in the game, and since WAR does not line up with that assessment, Buster is questioning whether WAR is wrong.
...I get where Buster’s confusion is coming from. For years, we’ve been told that power hitting first baseman are the creme de la creme of baseball players. WAR does not agree with that assessment, and it challenges long-held beliefs about how players have been valued. But that does not make it wrong by default. Challenging assumptions is something any good metric should do, and the fact that it’s shining a light on previously underrated stars like Zobrist is one of the reasons why WAR is so valuable to begin with.