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Debating WAR

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#1 DocBauer

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 12:03 AM

I'd love to invite debate and explanation of WAR and it's impact and reality.

I'm no expert on advanced metrics, and I admit this freely.

I think they have their place...at least to some degree...especially in a sport that is long established/obsessed with statistics to quantify performance and success. Is there anything in baseball that isn't measured? Forget the obvious such as BA, OB, or power numbers, RBI's, or situational hitting for positional players, or ERA or SO to BB percentages...we now measure everything from BABIP % to road/home and day/night BA. Now we try to interpret the rule book for the strike zone...which is NOT followed...vs pitching performance vs umpire strike calling vs catchers framing an obscure and poorly interpreted strike zone for each umpire to create a measurable statistic.

(Shaking head)

I think we sometimes hear or read certain modern age statistics and just nod our heads without regarding the very nature of said statistics. WAR, for instance. Someone prints/says/claims a player is plus or minus WAR and we just go "ooh" or "ahh". Once in a while we might even exclaim, "ah-ha!"

I just read an article on another web site about Danny Santana. You know, the top 20/10 prospect, depending on who's prospect list you read, who is loaded with athletic talent and potential who needs to harness his ability on a consistent basis to amount to anything, but who has real potential. He's the speedy, talented SS with flashes of pop/power with range and good arm who began his first ever season at AAA to begin the 2014 season. Lack of OF/CF depth, brought about by some FO mismanagement, thrust him in to a mostly unfamiliar role of player CF AT THE ML LEVEL.

And while everyone was surprised, enthralled, but certain of almost immediate regression/failure...the kid hit, and hit, and then hit some more. He bunted, stole bases, got extra base hits, and generally sparked a mundane lineup. When he went on the DL, I think most of us thought the magic carpet ride was probably over. Except, he came back playing and hitting as well as ever.

Now, I don't pretend to have a crystal ball to tell Santana's future, but said statistical experts claim he is worth 1.9 games above WAR. So here is where I get confused. Despite making mistakes, he has largely been mostly OK in CF and gotten better as the season progresses. He has continued to be a huge spark for the Twins somewhat limited offense. And I don't think I'm the only one who noticed a dip in production when he was out. And the Twins overall record notwithstanding, experts state that the this surprising spark plug player has given the Twins roughly TWO more wins than any other ML average player could provide. Am I missing something here?

I'm really interested if someone can explain a measurable of this nature. I hate to sound naive, because I'm not. And at the end of the day, baseball is still a team game. And a roster wins and loses together. But have statistics grown to an absurd level where a single player can be measured to the point of actually predicting wins and loses for a team?

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#2 USAFChief

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 01:22 AM

If you're interested in learning how WAR is calculated, go to Fangraphs and read the explanation:

 

http://www.fangraphs...brary/misc/war/

 

Baseball Reference does WAR a bit differently:

 

 

http://www.baseball-...explained.shtml

 

If it's a debate about its value, you might google it...there are dozens of articles out there discussing the subject.

 

If it's opinions from TD'ers you're looking for, my personal opinion is WAR is so flawed as to be worthless.  I am probably in the minority with that opinion.

 

One minor point about the question you pose in your last sentence...WAR isn't intended to be predictive, it's intended to be a record of what happened.  

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#3 kab21

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 04:55 AM

WAR is a good quick and dirty way to value a player.

 

There are many flaws for it to be used as a definitive value.For one it's very difficult to put defensive value, offensive value, positional value and pitching value onto the same scale.Inevitably when these are combined they result in a questionable answer.

 

Another big issue is that WAR is often used with too small of sample sizes.Santana has only played 62 games so far.Offensive stats need 1+ seasons of data to be useful.Defensive stats needs 3x (ballpark number) to be close to be useful.

 

One thing that I find odd is that pitching tries to eliminate luck from the equation by using Fielding Independent Pitching (at fangraphs) while offensive WAR doesn't care if someone has had a historically lucky season.For example Santana currently has a .395 BAPIP.Joe Mauer has one of the highest active career BAPIP's at .348 so it's safe to assume that Santana's BAPIP is going to drop a lot.His WAR looks good when he has .840 OPS but if/when his BAPIP drops to .320ish his OPS is going to drop below .700.Still a valuable player but not great like his current WAR says.

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#4 TheLeviathan

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 05:21 AM

It's a cute little stat to look at, but defensive value is so subjective I'd much rather consult other stats to judge value.

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#5 jay

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:05 AM

To clarify one thing from the original post, it's 2 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) level... NOT above ML average. That's a big difference. Plenty of articles out there on how replacement level is defined.

The concept is great -- combine all of the contributions a player makes in different aspects of the game and give it a value. It's relatively easy to understand. It's one number to tell you how good a player was. It's not perfect, but certainly a massive improvement over gawd-awful stats like RBIs and saves to value a player.
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#6 notoriousgod71

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:28 AM

Well according to FAngraphs Alex Gordon is the second highest poisition player in WAR this season even though no GM would ever draft him second. Jason Heyward is tenth. Ben Zobrist 11.

 

Just when you begin to think the only thing that matters in WAR is defense you get to Yan Gomes at 24 who throws every other ball into center field.

 

All of these guys are rated higher than Miguel Cabrera.

 

My other least favorite statisticisxFIP.

 

Some uppity fangrapsh writer dared to call me an idiot for not agreeing with him that Strasburg was having the best season of any pitcher this season (at the time he was leading in xFIP. At no point during this season has Strasburg been close to the best pitcher in baseball when you have Kershaw, Wainwright, Cueto, Hernandez, and now Kluber joining the party.

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#7 kab21

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:49 AM

I rather like xFIP for forward projection.It's not perfect for a season in review but ERA is pretty bad also.Strasburg has had a much better season than his 3.50 ERA suggests.Saying that he has had a better season than Felix or Kershaw is silly though.

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#8 TheLeviathan

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 07:32 AM

I rather like xFIP for forward projection.It's not perfect for a season in review but ERA is pretty bad also.Strasburg has had a much better season than his 3.50 ERA suggests.Saying that he has had a better season than Felix or Kershaw is silly though.

 

WAR is a good example of the kind of stat that becomes it's own worst enemy when people use it in too heavy-handed a manner.  Just like xFIP in this instance.  


#9 Thrylos

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 07:42 AM

There are a lot of advanced statistical measurements out there and most of them have been built for a particular reason, but a whole bunch of them are used incorrectly on many occasions.  Chief's links about WAR are a great reading.

 

There are 2 main categories of stats:Rate stats & Cumulative stats.Think Batting Average & ERA vs Home Runs and Strikeouts.

 

WAR is a cumulative stat and best used in retrospect (and best in comparison with contemporaries, even-though it was meant to be era neutral) to provide some light for discussions like whether someone belongs to the Hall ofFame, who should be the MVP, who was the best player overall for a particular team etc.And about as much predictive value as HRs, RBIs, & Es.

 

As a cumulative stat, if a player played 62 games (like Santana) it is very likely that his WAR will be less that someone who played 117 games (like Dozier.)And comparing WARs in this manner, does not make much sense, because that is not what the measurement was deviced to do...  

 

Same with comparisons (even though are really really enticing) between position players and pitchers based of WAR.Pitcher WAR and Position player WAR are based on totally different individual components so they are not equivalent.It is like having a discussion about what car is the most powerful and comparing HorsePower numbers with Torque numbers. 

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#10 Mike Sixel

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 08:20 AM

My favorite part of this is the belief that people that watch a few games know more about defensive value than people that watch every single play, chart every play, analyze every play, and score every play. The defensive stats are not precise, but they are better than any other option we have.

WAR is cumulative, and backward looking........
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#11 TheLeviathan

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 10:51 AM

My favorite part of this is the belief that people that watch a few games know more about defensive value than people that watch every single play, chart every play, analyze every play, and score every play. The defensive stats are not precise, but they are better than any other option we have.

WAR is cumulative, and backward looking........

 

"Not precise" is not the issue.  It's largely subjective.  I prefer stats, cumulative or rate, that are objective.  


#12 clone52

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 11:25 AM

I may be wrong, but 1.9 WAR is NOT 2 wins above an average MLB player.Its 2 wins above a replacement level player.Its 2 wins above the average AAA player that could take his spot.In theory anyway.


#13 jorgenswest

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 12:10 PM

In partial season samples, the rate stats are meaningful. Strike out rate, walk rate, ground ball rate and fly ball rate. For batters, ISO also becomes meaningful by 200 plate appearances. WAR describes the past but is not that useful in projecting the future.

When comparing Suzuki's rates in those areas to his career norms, a change in pattern can be seen. His change in performance is not just due to luck. Strikeout rate is a career low and walk rate a career high. Fly ball rate and isolated power are career lows. He has become a different hitter. His rate stats do a much better job of projecting as well as describing than WAR, but it is much harder to translate into a value. I would be surprised if WAR has much consideration in any teams analytics department. The basic rate stats play a key role in data analysis.

#14 jay

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 05:12 PM

Well according to FAngraphs Alex Gordon is the second highest poisition player in WAR this season even though no GM would ever draft him second. Jason Heyward is tenth. Ben Zobrist 11.
 
Just when you begin to think the only thing that matters in WAR is defense you get to Yan Gomes at 24 who throws every other ball into center field.
 
All of these guys are rated higher than Miguel Cabrera.
 


This is exactly how NOT to use WAR, if you ask me... So-n-so has 4.24 WAR this year and This-Guy has 4.21 WAR so So-n-so is better at baseball and that's really dumb cause everyone I know thinks This-Guy is better at baseball.

Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

#15 USAFChief

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 05:30 PM

This is exactly how NOT to use WAR, if you ask me... So-n-so has 4.24 WAR this year and This-Guy has 4.21 WAR so So-n-so is better at baseball and that's really dumb cause everyone I know thinks This-Guy is better at baseball.

Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

If I shouldn't use it to compare players, which is what it's designed to do, and which the designers say it does, what should it be used for?

 

And why should I pay any attention to it?

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#16 drjim

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:22 PM

To me WAR represents a quick and dirty snapshot of how a player performed relative to his position and taking into account other contexts like ballpark. I also think it can provide a nice look at players across eras. A nice tool, but like most stats needs a lot of other information to say anything definitive.

 

I am especially skeptical of the defensive metrics and quantifying them in the same way offensive counting numbers are quantified. This, and the definition of replacement player and how it distorts some positional values (especially in small sample sizes), strike me as the biggest weaknesses of the stat.

 

The other key thing, in my mind, is to not pay too much attention to the tenths place. It is better to think of it as a range and not as a completely accurate order.

 

All that said, I very rarely look at WAR.

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#17 TheLeviathan

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:25 PM

If you don't mind drjim, the next time I disagree with someone about the value of WAR....I'm using your post.  It's spot on.

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#18 jay

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 06:44 PM

If I shouldn't use it to compare players, which is what it's designed to do, and which the designers say it does, what should it be used for?
 
And why should I pay any attention to it?


My comment is more related to the finite level it is commonly used. I think that comes from the tradition of ranking players by the traditional counting stats (ie leading the league in RBIs). If the main complaint is accuracy, why insist on saying the SS ranked 11th by WAR was definitively better than the SS ranked 12th? I think it is accurate enough to see the range where a player's output across the full game fits, which is a massive improvement over simply looking at standard offensive counting stats.

Also, comparing quite commonly actually means predicting. The comment about who would get drafted where is a perfect example. Alex Gordon being 2nd in WAR this season among position players is a view of his performance this season. It is not saying GMs would predict him to do that going forward and hence draft him 2nd in some mythical all-player draft.
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#19 DocBauer

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 07:27 PM

If I shouldn't use it to compare players, which is what it's designed to do, and which the designers say it does, what should it be used for?
 
And why should I pay any attention to it?


Kind of my point I guess

"Nice catch Hayes...don't ever f*****g do it again."

 

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#20 USAFChief

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Posted 16 August 2014 - 07:31 PM

My comment is more related to the finite level it is commonly used. I think that comes from the tradition of ranking players by the traditional counting stats (ie leading the league in RBIs). If the main complaint is accuracy, why insist on saying the SS ranked 11th by WAR was definitively better than the SS ranked 12th? I think it is accurate enough to see the range where a player's output across the full game fits, which is a massive improvement over simply looking at standard offensive counting stats.

Also, comparing quite commonly actually means predicting. The comment about who would get drafted where is a perfect example. Alex Gordon being 2nd in WAR this season among position players is a view of his performance this season. It is not saying GMs would predict him to do that going forward and hence draft him 2nd in some mythical all-player draft.

Fair enough.  My bad.

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