Reading through Derrick Goold’s chat on stltoday earlier this week the following answer jumped out at me
I see all stats as part of a larger picture. I don’t think there is one stat that tells me everything. Wins for starting pitchers have value because they make a starting pitcher accessible and we know by reading that he won the game that two things happened a) he pitched five innings and b) he left with his team in the lead. RBIs tell me about the hitter and the situations that he’s hitting in. WAR tells me a bit about how the player fits into the larger scheme of his team. Yes, it’s flawed. And one of its biggest flaws is its not accessible, it’s not readily available or tangible or easy to understand for most fans. That bothers me. But I try to explain how it works and how it fits into the larger puzzle of a team’s success and I hope that helps some readers use it in context. That’s key. Every start needs context.
There are definitely things in there I agree with (context is important) and some I disagree with (WAR not being accessible), but either way I thought it would be a good jumping off point to discuss a few things WAR related. On to a few bullet points
- As with any stat it’s important to first identify the question you are trying to answer and then finding the best stat to apply to that question. For example, if you’re trying to identify the batter that is best at getting a baser hits independent of how many bases he may get in that at-bat the batting average is your stat. If you’re trying to identify the best at getting on base independent of how far he gets then on base percentage is your stat. If you’re trying to determine who is the best player then the WAR framework is your best option. I think this is part of what Derrick was getting at.
- Note the second to last sentence above. WAR is a framework, a construct if you will, that has varying specific implementations (Fangraphs and Baseball Reference for example). At its essence WAR is a framework that combines offense, defense (both how you perform relative to you position and how difficult your position is), and base running using the currency of baseball (runs and wins). How can you really argue with that? Sure you can gripe about the individual components, but you’re more than welcome to substitute your own (just make sure you do it across the board). Don’t like UZR or DRS, then input your own defensive values somehow.
- Once you pick your implementation you can consistently apply WAR across players within a season or even across eras. This is one of the beauties of WAR, it adjust for the run environment of the era. Sure you can tell me that player X hit 20 HRs in year Y, but then I also need to know about the run scoring environment in year Y to know how good that was. WAR handles that inherently.
- Be careful with decimals. There are error bars in WAR (especially the defensive numbers) so you probably don’t want to vehemently argue that a player with WAR of 2.5 has definitively been better than someone with a WAR of 2.3. We should probably just round to the nearest integer or nearest 0.5 and call it a day.
With those thoughts on WAR in the bag, let’s look at how the Cards position players are doing so far this year.
Apologies for the table, I’ll get that cleaned up for future posts, but let’s just take a row and walk through it. Kozma seems like a fine example. Pete is decently below average offensively (-7.6 runs), about an average baserunner, and a plus fielder (when compared to other shortstops). On top of that he gets 6.2 runs for basically being on the field and 2.5 runs for the difficulty of the position he plays. Add that all up and he’s been worth ~0.5 WAR. Seems to pass the smell test for whatever that’s worth. What do you, the reader, think? Which Cards WAR seem out of line with your gut?