The metric, according to Fangraphs, is an “attempt by the sabermetric community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.” Sean Forman, the founder of baseball-reference.com, has called it “a framework ... an estimate of a player’s overall value.”
WAR estimates the number of wins that a player provides over a minor league or waiver-wire “replacement,” taking into account offense, defense and baserunning. The defensive measure is adjusted according to the difficulty of the position. Zobrist’s durability — he has played in an average of 154 games the past four seasons — also helps his value.
So, while Zobrist might not hit like Cabrera or Albert Pujols, WAR reflects the strength of his all-around game.
“It’s a common thing across all sports: Players who do one thing very well are valued a lot more highly than players who do a lot of things pretty well,” Forman says. “Really for Zobrist, it’s that he does everything pretty well.
“A lot of his offensive value is based off walks, which are generally undervalued. He runs the bases very well. He rarely grounds into double plays. And pretty much all the defensive metrics agree that he’s a fantastic fielder. He can play shortstop in a pinch, but plays all over the field otherwise and generally does a very good job of it.”
“Add that all together, and it makes for a pretty valuable player.”
But is Zobrist the best player in the game since 2009? More valuable than Cabrera and Pujols during that time, not to mention Ryan Braun, Joey Votto and Robinson Cano?
“I think you’re undervaluing consistency and a broad ability, a broad list of talents that the player has,” Forman says. “It’s a lot easier to see a guy who had a couple of tremendous, superstar seasons and maybe dropped off further than Zobrist did in an off year, and figure, ‘Well, that player is better. If I’m picking a team, I want that guy playing for me because he had a superstar season.’ People undervalue Zobrist’s consistency year after year and just don’t give that the value that it deserves.”