Cleat Geeks

Saber-Metric Sunday: A History of WAR

Baseball fans are always arguing over who is better than who, more times than less position players. A number of stats are thrown around in classic baseball debates such as home runs, batting average, RBIs and on-base percentage.

Scoreboard Cubs WinThe “triple-crown line” (batting average, home runs, RBIs) was pretty much the standard stat line used to evaluate players since the live ball era began. However today, the concept of WAR (Wins Above Replacement) has become a more household statistic in evaluating how good a player is. People understand that batting average can be misleading on how good a player is at hitting the ball and home run hitting is not valued quite as much as it was say, twenty years ago.

WAR is a statistic of analyzing how a player contributes to a baseball team, in other words how many wins that player is worth to a team. Evaluating the stats is pretty simple; if a player posts a positive WAR then they are worth the number of wins it shows. For example, “Player ______ is worth a +2.5 War, that means he is worth 2.5 wins.” If a player posts a WAR that is a negative number, it means his poor play is costing more wins than he is contributing to wins. WAR is a key statistic in determining who the league MVP is rather than just looking at individual stats like in the past.

We have explained the “Wins” part of the title. As for the “Above Replacement” part of the title, a player who is considered a “Replacement” value has a value of 0. The “Replacement” value is neither positive nor negative. A “Replacement” player is viewed as a player who does not hurt or help his team, he is an average player is the true definition of the word, or to look at that player mathematically, the player is the mean value. Therefore, a positive WAR value is how much a player is worth to a team above the average player and thus a negative WAR is how much he is worth below an average player.

WAR calculation for a position player is as follows:

WAR = (Batting Runs + Base Running Runs +Fielding Runs + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment +Replacement Runs) / (Runs Per Win)

 

Is the statistic perfect? No, but it is close enough to estimate how much a player contributes to team wins. There is no coincidence that the best players in the league year in and year out post high, positive WAR numbers. So for fun instead of looking at the current WAR players in baseball, why not look at the ALL TIME WAR leaders? Here are the top 10 WAR leaders in baseball history

*NOTE: These WAR stats are cumulative over their entire MLB careers.

babe-ruth-in-color-yankees-wallpaper-4Babe Ruth                   +183.6

Cy Young                     +168.4

Walter Johnson           +165.6

Barry Bonds                +162.4

Willie Mays                 +156.2

Ty Cobb                       +151.1

Hank Aaron                 +142.6

Roger Clemens           +140.3

Tris Speaker                +133.7

Honus Wagner            +131.0

(Source: baseball-reference.com)

 

That is the basic understanding of WAR. There are countless other ways of breaking down WAR and using other WAR stats for further evaluation. Those will be elaborated on in other articles. But when someone brings up WAR, this should give you the essential understanding of what it means and how it is evaluated.

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