Mike Friere - So, What Are Wins Above Replacment?


In an effort to make "all that is old, new again", I have resurrected an old series of articles that I put together in a previous "Mack's Mets" lifetime that focus on the new wave of statistical analysis that has shaped baseball scouting and player rankings.  Some would refer to them as "Sabermetrics" and others would argue that it isn't necessarily new anymore.

To keep things somewhat fresh, I will go over a new statistic each week and then I will attempt to relate that measure to our favorite team and one or more of our current players to see how we rate, so to speak. In the previous installment of this series we took a look at the Pythagorean Win Theorum and how it can be used to estimate a team's success based on run differential.  In this, the last installment of this series, let's focus on a comprehensive statistic that is commonly referred to as "wins above replacement" or WAR.

In short, WAR is a baseball statistic developed to capture a player's contributions to his team.  A player's WAR is the number of additional wins his team has achieved, compared to what would have occurred if the player in question were substituted for "replacement player".  Not to pick on anyone, but a player like Matt den Dekker is a reasonable example of a replacement level player.

Individual WAR values are calculated from the "estimated number of runs contributed by a player through offensive actions such as batting and base running, and runs denied to opposition teams by the player through defensive actions like fielding and pitching".   So, the statistic is useful for analyzing any ball player on a team's roster and it is also an effective comparison tool when discussing multiple players, etc.

Actually figuring out the WAR computation is extremely complex and it uses values derived from other statistics, such as wOBA and UZR.  In an effort to keep this article interesting, I will skip over the various computations and leave it up to each of you to research them on your own, if you prefer.

Skipping the math, the resulting WAR figure is expressed in relation to zero, with most players hovering within a few points (positive or negative) of that figure.  It has also become one of the more "mainstream" statistics and it is displayed on most statistical websites as readily as batting averages and the like.

Finding the figure is easy enough, but what does it really mean?   Like most things in life, it all comes back to the basics and in baseball terms, that means scoring more runs then your opponent.  As stated above, runs can be influenced in a positive manner and/or negative manner.  If you are a good hitter, but your defense and base running are below average due to a lack of speed, then you would expect positive value at the plate, but negative value elsewhere.   All of the different values are added together and the end result is expressed as WAR.

Additional runs contributed to a team lead to additional wins with 10 runs estimated to be equal to roughly one win. Therefore, a 1.0 WAR value for a player signifies a total contribution of roughly 10 more runs than a replacement level player over a specified period of time.

For example, in 2017, Andrelton Simmons (SS) contributed a season total of 7.14 WAR to the Angels cause, which was good enough for eighth in all of MLB.  Included in the impressive total was 4.17 WAR on defense alone, which was the best mark in baseball.  So, while he may have been a bit above average with the bat and on the base paths, his spectacular defensive abilities pushed his overall impact into the top ten players for 2017.

In case you were wondering, Jacob deGrom and Michael Conforto both had 4.4 WAR figures in 2017, with MC's generated in only 440 at bats (if he played a full season last year, his WAR would have been much higher).

For some additional perspective, Barry Bonds holds the all time record for a full season (in the modern era) with a whopping 12.36 WAR in 2001, which may or may not have been influenced by other factors.  Regardless, adding over 12 wins to a team's win total in one season is astounding. 

Going back a few more years, a pitcher named Pud Galvin (that's a fun name) in 1888 produced an other worldly 20.47 WAR, but the game was a bit different then.  Oh and the career leader for all time is none other then Babe Ruth who was worth 182.5 WAR to his respective teams, which is just insane.

In closing, it is helpful to know that WAR is a product of run creation and run suppression, with it's ultimate expression an attempt at relating run differential to team wins.  Obvious star caliber players are easy to identify, like Mike Trout who is routinely among the league leaders in most statistical categories, to include WAR.

However, were you surprised to see Andrelton Simmons' name in the Top 10?

In my opinion, the true value of WAR is that it captures a player's "all around" value, without placing too much focus on one area of the player's game.


Thomas Brennan said...

I love it in the movie Warrior when, just before each MMA bout in the movie started the ref would yell out to the fighters, "LET'S GO TO WAR!"

I wonder what the WAR of Steve Matz is? Of Zach Wheeler? Of Matt Harvey? The trio is the Nightmare Segment of the Dream Rotation.

Silver lining in Matz implosion: the impressive 4.2 innings of Corey Oswalt in relief in his MLB debut.

Perhaps the previously unthinkable happens and Matz or Zach get sent down and Oswalt stays in his place.

Mack Ade said...

O the current rotation...

1. the dream of the 'Dream Rotation' is over

2. the Mets will never win this if they only have two starters that can get past the first four innings.

3. I wish the Mets would return BOTH Lugo and Gsellman to the rotation and join Vargas there with Syndergaard and deGrom

4. I would option Wheeler... for the last time... to Vegas

5. Like Harvey, I would give up on Matz as a starter. Make him the second lefty out of the pen.

6. Keep Oswalt around and make him the long man

Reese Kaplan said...

Matz to the pen is not a bad idea. He's not good for long stints but for 1-2 innings he could be highly productive.

Wheeler is what he is -- good movement, no control. You fix him or you move on. Gone are the days of the continual trotting out of those who don't get it done...wait, Adrian Gonzalez is still playing.

Thomas Brennan said...

Reese, Gonzo does have 12 RBIs, so that is still propping him up. Plus, Dom Smith....well, I discuss 1B in an article later today.

Matz is a ture mystery - the guy won 11 of 12 to start his career. His stuff was there the first 2 innings.

But it is results that count - so I would not have a problem with Lugo and Giz moving to the rotation, and Matz to pen and Wheeler to Vegas (or the pen). I think having Harvey, Matz and Wheeler all stuck into the pen the same week would be a potential disaster, psychologically.

Mack Ade said...

Tom -

I do not think Harvey is long for this team.

His diva attitude is not going to play well for much longer. Now he REALLY has the press pissed at him. You can ignore the press but you can not curse at them.

Thomas Brennan said...

Mack, so Harvey thinks all he needs is a change of scenery? How about a change of repertoire?

Somewhere, Dillon Gee is thinking, "I can still do better"

Reese Kaplan said...

Somewhere Erik Goeddel, Josh Smoker and Sean Gilmartin are having the same thoughts.

Thomas Brennan said...

Dillon Gee actually did pretty well last year, besides having a better career record than Matt Harvey. Was he hurt? Surprised he stopped pitching, frankly. He was a fighter.

Mack Ade said...

Tom -

Dillon and I still follow each other.

He simply hung up the spikes.

Anonymous said...


Why did Gee give up so easily? I could never figure that out. I recall a particular interview where he was by his locker and he was trying to justify a bad outing he had had that day. He was frustrated sounding in explanation, if I recall correctly. The reporter kind of went a little NY'ish on him I think (you know, the "We expect perfection from all human beings other than ourselves.") From that day forward, I felt things changed with him. He never had the good traction anymore.

I think maybe Mets brass fell in love with the 98-100 mph fastball starters. Sounded good at the time, but look at it now. They all got hurt, or must of them did. Now, they cannot ramp it back up over 91-94 mph and MLB batters can hit that.

Maybe the better way would have been having an assortment of pitching styles and not just a 98-100 mph fastball. I have to admit though, I was supportive of the 98-100 mph starters myself, it sounded so awesome an approach. I just had no idea what could happen to them.

Anonymous said...

On Matt Harvey...

Here's what I do not get most with Matt. Matt has the perfect attitude to be a great reliever. Maybe set-up, but I believe he could by season end be closing out games. And doing that very well to a high success ratio too.

But he is mired in his own thinking and resentment because in his mind he believes that he could still be "The Dark Night" starter he was when he had first come up here.

If Mickey had a magic wand and could wave it to make Matt see this fact, then become content being a really great reliever, it would be such a monumental thing not just for Matt, the fans, but the whole NY Mets team. The bullpen is hurting right now. It has too many "long relievers" and not enough really good set-up and closers. It is struggling right now, although it will eventually right itself.

But Matt has to be able to see this, he is no dummy. But still, he wants to be a starter more than he does help his team be lights out later inning relief. He could be that man. It's in him 100%.

If I'm nearing 30 years old, and I could still be primal in MLB in anyway at all. I do it. It's either in you or it is not I think.

Now look at Andrew Miller. He was a decent enough starter awhile back, but someone saw a late-inning closer in him and the rest is history. Although Andrew is out hurt right now (bummer), I'd give anything for him to be in this NY Mets bullpen once well. And he is that perfect lefty reliever we have not had here since Myers and Franco.

Am I being spoiled here with this?

A: Of course I am. But could you imagine having a righted Familia and an Andrew Miller in the same one bullpen. Holy Macaroni man! It's the stuff baseball dreams are made of.

But in all honesty here, Matt Harvey could be right there with them, if he wanted to be. Then come the off season, Matt could write his own next contract too. I hope Matt can brush this off. Maybe it is not a demotion, but rather an opportunity to be great again. Take this opportunity would be my own advice to The Dark Knight. It rocks!

Mack's Mets © 2012