Radical Baseball: war on WAR.

Winston Churchill Contemplating WAR: http://lb.vg/5I281

Former Prime Minister (1940-1945, 1951-1955) of England Winston Churchill: Better jaw, jaw, jaw than waw, waw, waw.

Former President (1933-1945) Franklin Delano Roosevelt: I hate war.

Obviously these two statesmen were way ahead of their times when it comes to baseball.  Their views on Wins Above Replacement (WAR) are interesting juxtapositions.

I lean towards Mr. Churchill who does not completely dismiss the concept but encourages continued debate.  Maybe having a British father and an American mother gave him additional insight.  Maybe it was his native game of cricket that provided some special understanding.

I’m a smart guy.  I understand baseball and really enjoy the numbers, even those on the uniforms.  I like playing with the numbers.  However, my math skills are largely confined to arithmetic.  I am not a statistician or operations research person.  Those are the really smart guys who have come up with the new stuff in recent years.  So declaring war on them or their concepts is useless for me.  I need to confine my concerns to common sense things.

There are two things about WAR for non-pitchers that should be examined:

1. WAR is a total, not an average

2. defensive WAR, more properly called fielding WAR, is suspect.  The more the really smart guys delve into fielding stats in general the more they see a need to develop more methods of measurement.

Let’s look just at batting numbers.  It seems to me the cartoon view of how baseball fans judged batters goes something like this: first there were hit totals, then batting average (BA).  BA became dominant and continues to hold more influence than many care to admit.  The league leader in BA is called the batting champ, the leader in hitting, etc.

Then came on base percentage (average) OBP.  That was cool.  Slugging average (SLG) was hanging around, too.  Then the breakthrough, which gave us smart guys a simple but pretty reliable way to judge batters by re-using two basic and understandable stats: OBP and SLG, combined to produce OPS: OBP + SLG.

So just when we smart guys were getting pretty full of ourselves, the really smart guys came up with WAR based on linear weights, which may have become the new orthodoxy and as such suspect.

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/

The first item listed is WAR.

Notice, we’ve come full cycle: from hits, a total, to BA, OPS, OPS+ (all averages) to WAR, another total.

Using a total will generally give an advantage to longevity, possibly at the expense of quality.  Pete Rose becomes a better hitter than Ty Cobb using the original stat, hits.  Rafael Palmeiro becomes a better home run hitter than Mickey Mantle.  You can see the problem but I’ve heard really smart guys simply state that player A was/is better than player B because A had more Wins Above Replacement and therefore helped his team more.

Then there’s Defensive Wins Above Replacement (dWAR).

I recently heard Brian Kenny on his MLB network Clubhouse Confidential TV program (apparently only an off season program) describe multiple defensive metrics that come to opposing conclusions about Yankee center fielder (CF) Curtis Granderson.

Here’s an historical puzzle for me – Willie Mays dWAR, Plate Appearances (PA) and home park:

1954 2.1 641 NY Polo Grounds
1955 0.7 670 NY Polo Grounds
1956 1.3 651 NY Polo Grounds
1957 0.6 669 NY Polo Grounds
1958 1.7 685 SF Seals Stadium
1959 0.4 649 SF Seals Stadium

During his physical prime the pattern for Mays is up, down, up, down, up, down.  Why?  PA suggest that he was not injured in these seasons.

Starting in 1960 Candlestick Park was Willie’s home park.

1960-1966 (age 35) dWAR for Willie Mays is between 1.3 (1963) and 2.0 (1962).

Did the fielding of Willie Mays improve with age?  How likely is that?  Stuff like this make me suspicious of fielding stats.

Here’s an interesting link:

http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/WAR_def_top_ten.shtml

Year-by-Year Top-Ten Leaders & Records for Defensive WAR

Request to baseball-reference.com: include the player’s position.

There’s a pretty cool matrix.  Number one in 2011: Yankee left fielder (LF) Brett Gardner (3.2), a CF playing out of position.  Compared to other LF Garner should look a lot better.  This introduces another bias: position.

OK, that’s enough.  You really smart guys need to educate the rest of us.

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Tags:

Topics: Brett Gardner, Brian Kenny, Churchill, Curtis Granderson, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose, Rafael Palmeiro, Roosevelt, Ty Cobb, WAR, Willie Mays

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