You Can Teach An Old Dog New Tricks
Dear Mr. Caple, I have nothing but respect for you and your writing. You do very good work — and I appreciate said work, as it brings a well connected voice to the masses. On the other hand, there are times when player evaluations — specifically your recent WAR article — comes along and is something that I feel compelled to respond to.
I feel as though I should come clean to you Mr. Caple, as I’m sure you don’t know of me: I write not only here, but also at RotoGraphs, which is the fantasy wing of FanGraphs. I will be as unbiased and objective as possible, but I merely wanted to be up front about where I spend time building my baseball knowledge tool box.
Let me preface things by saying that I adore you for voting Mike Trout for AL MVP last year. I also appreciate your ability to see that WAR does in fact have some redeeming qualities, notably the defensive component, the cross generation comparisons and what not. Furthermore, let me tell you that I don’t disagree with you one iota when you say:
“My issue is this: I don’t like the increasing over-use of (and over-reliance on) WAR as THE definitive evaluation of a player’s worth.”
Perfectly said. I couldn’t agree more. WAR (be it fWAR, rWAR, or WARP), has its uses, that much we both agree on. What I would like to point out is that while we disagree, I don’t think we disagree as much as you think we do. Personally, I prefer an amalgamation of offensive and defensive statistics of my own choosing for position players, and for pitchers I rely on a myriad of statistics from K% to FIP. Just because we don’t see eye-to-eye on every baseball term doesn’t mean that I am not willing to try and help you clear up a few things. I hope the following serves to illustrate that this isn’t a “writer vs blogger” take down piece, but more of a point to point examination. Now, onto your three primary points on what you dislike about WAR.
I could be misreading the situation entirely, but it appears as though you think of WAR as some very convoluted and shadowy statistic. I won’t lie, it is a complicated formula. There are a lot of factors and variables at work. Let us examine a much easier — and I presume most people are familiar with — statistic in RBIs. How does one calculate something as simple as one of the Triple Crown statistics? Let’s go to the Major League Baseball rule book, shall we?
10.04 Runs Batted In A run batted in is a statistic credited to a batter whose action at bat causes one or more runs to score, as set forth in this Rule 10.04.(a) The official scorer shall credit the batter with a run batted in for every run that scores (1) unaided by an error and as part of a play begun by the batter’s safe hit (including the batters home run), sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, infield out or fielder’s choice, unless Rule 10.04(b) applies; (2) by reason of the batter becoming a runner with the bases full (because of a base on balls, an award of first base for being touched by a pitched ball or for interference or obstruction); or(3) when, before two are out, an error is made on a play on which a runner from third base ordinarily would score.(b) The official scorer shall not credit a run batted in(1) when the batter grounds into a force double play or a reverse-force double play; or(2) when a fielder is charged with an error because the fielder muffs a throw at first base that would have completed a force double play.(c) The official scorer’s judgment must determine whether a run batted in shall be credited for a run that scores when a fielder holds the ball or throws to a wrong base. Ordinarily, if the runner keeps going, the official scorer should credit a run batted in; if the runner stops and takes off again when the runner notices the misplay, the official scorer should credit the run as scored on a fielder’s choice.
Well that seemed a bit difficult, didn’t it? That is 264 words on what does and does not constitute a run batted in. We could also take a look at something as “simple” as ERA, however that would require us to read about the difference between earned and unearned runs. From there we would have to jump face first into what exactly is an error, and why it is so subjective (read: a matter of the official scorer’s opinion). I don’t need to copy and paste the rule book at you, it is freely available to view here.
As for your dislike and confusion surrounding which WAR(P) is best, I first have a question. I understand that there are several types of all encompassing value statistics, enough that you may not be able to count them on one hand anymore. That makes it hard to keep track of things, no? You seem to claim that not only the number of options there are for WAR, but also how they are calculated is difficult to understand. My question to you is this: what did you have for lunch today? Did you go with Subway, or maybe Panera? I almost went with Five Guys myself, until work had lunch catered. The point is, there are dozens of eateries for my personal choosing, all wanting my attention and time. When it comes to lunch, there is no right choice, nor is there a wrong choice: there are just choices — and a lot of them. The exact same thing happens with WAR. With so many various factions of baseball nerdom all vying for page views and attention, it is hard to keep pace with everything. Different websites post different formulas because there is no perfect fit. With competing formulas all attempting to fully encapsulate a player, it keeps driving each separate WAR formula to be constantly improving.
Yes, even the formula’s themselves change on a year to year basis. Now, some people prefer Runs Allowed instead of FIP for pitchers. That is totally fine. FIP has a seasonal constant in the formula that changes every year (counter-intuitive to say that a constant changes each year, but I digress), due to the fact that that the run environment changes every year. A statistic like wOBA (weighted on-base average) also has a constant that changes every year. The key offensive component in fWAR is wOBA, as it is used to create wRAA (weighted runs above average) in order to estimate offensive contributions.
I understand that you are a busy man; I am as well. Even with everything that goes on, I still find time to think about what I’d like for lunch. Tomorrow I think I’ll have Malaysian food for lunch. A local place makes an out of this world spicy chicken chili. They have examined and improved on their recipe until it just the perfect amount of heat and flavor; just like how WAR is constantly changing and evolving. As much as I love their spicy chicken chili, I couldn’t have it every day. Eventually, I’ll decide on something else, maybe something new. I just hope that you’ll embrace something new as well.