WAR Birds

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.

Name Batting Base Running Fielding Replacement Positional WAR
Matt Carpenter 14.4 0.9 3.9 7.3 0.7 2.9
Yadier Molina 10.7 -1.7 1.1 6.5 4.1 2.2
Carlos Beltran 10.8 -0.3 -5.8 6.2 -2.2 1
Matt Holliday 2.6 -0.4 2 6.7 -2.4 0.9
Allen Craig 7.8 -3.5 -1.3 6.9 -3.8 0.7
David Freese 2.4 0.3 -3.3 4.6 0.6 0.5
Pete Kozma -7.6 -0.1 3.2 6.2 2.5 0.5
Shane Robinson -1.6 0.7 3.5 1.6 -0.2 0.4
Matt Adams 3.2 -1 -2 1.9 -0.9 0.1
Daniel Descalso 0 0.4 -3.8 3.3 0.5 0
Jon Jay -4.7 -0.5 -6 6.8 0.8 -0.4


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?

  • Ben Chambers June 6, 2013, 12:36 pm

    WAR is probably my favorite sabermetric stat. I like it for all the reasons you stated. The main one being that it takes into account the whole part of the player. To me, if I had a vote in the MVP race, WAR would be one of the stats that I would definitely take a look at.

    This chart tells me alot of what I already know about the Cardinals: Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina have been playing AMAZING baseball this season. On top of that, 7 of our 8 starters have WAR of at least 0.5.

    The only thing that I am surprised about is that Jon Jay’s is negative. I knew it was going to be low, though. His fielding this year hasn’t been what it was last year, and his hitting has been in a slump over the last 10 games (as pointed out to me by Cardinal70), but I didn’t think it would dip into the negatives.

    • Steve Sommer June 6, 2013, 8:50 pm

      Yeah Jay’s an interesting case. Clearly his offense has plummeted recently, although I guess I’m reasonably optimistic that will turn around. I’m more concerned about his fielding numbers to be honest.

      • Ben Chambers June 7, 2013, 7:44 am

        I agree. It seemed for the first few games of the year that Jay just simply wasn’t fielding the balls that I remember him getting to last season. Last season, he was running hard, banging against the wall, making the hard, long catches. Early in the season, he was getting fooled off the bat more, not getting as good of a jump, or hesitating. I remember at least 1 hit that he gave up which he started to move in, but the ball ended up going over his head, and you just didn’t see that last year. I think it has gotten better as the season has progressed, though. He made a great diving catch in the 1st inning of last night’s game (6/6) to double up someone trying to advance, and it seems that in the last few weeks his range has gotten better.

        Disclaimer: I say that with no actual stats to back that up, except that in watching the games (I watch them all on mlb.tv) it seems to have gotten better.

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