WAR: What Is It Good For?

Miranda Remaklus
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Ever wonder about WAR and what it is and why it’s something the stats nerds look at? Well… I’m going to try to break it down for you.

What it is? 

According to FanGraphs, here is what you need to know about Wins Above Replacement. “Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.”

It’s a numbers based look at the value … or lack of value … a player brings to his team. The higher the value that player has on the team, the higher his WAR number.

For example. Matt Carpenter has a 3 WAR. Tony Cruz has a -1 WAR. Jhonny Peralta has a 5.8 WAR. Pete Kozma has a .2 WAR. Carpenter and Peralta? Both top caliber players for the Cardinals. Cruz stayed on the bench. Kozma coasted between the bench and the Memphis Redbirds all season. Yes, you can examine how they actually play the game. But this is just a number to consider.

Why? 

Per Fangraphs, “WAR offers an estimate to answer the question, “If this player got injured and their team had to replace them with a freely

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available minor leaguer or a AAAA player from their bench, how much value would the team be losing?” This value is expressed in a wins format, so we could say that Player X is worth +6.3 wins to their team while Player Y is only worth +3.5 wins, which means it is highly likely that Player X has been more valuable than Player Y.”

So for example, Yadier Molina is an awesome catcher. He has a WAR of 2.4. He got injured in mid-July. Tony Cruz stepped up from the bench and helped out. But Tony Cruz has a WAR of -1. A.J. Pierzynski, however, was available after being released by the Boston Red Sox. When he left Boston, he had a WAR of -0.3. A.J.’s WAR was technically better than Tony Cruz. Even though fans wanted the Cardinals to show loyalty to Tony and let him have the job. Stats wise, John Mozeliak wanted to see what else was out there. A.J. had a good WAR and had the veteran experience. So Boom. A.J. became a Cardinal.

What’s Its Use? 

Per Fangraphs, “WAR is not meant to be a perfectly precise indicator of a player’s contribution, but rather an estimate of their value to date.”

Basically, it helps those who make the big decisions in the front office of clubs, have an objective item to look at when deciding to make a move — trade, pay out a big contract or pick up as a free agent. While most fans enjoy considering what they see before them … the actual playing of the game … there are other things the front office guys must consider and WAR helps them do exactly that.

Remember that huge trade involving Allen Craig last summer? Want to know how it was justified using WAR? Here goes. Allen Craig has a WAR of -0.6. That’s rough. Matt Adams has a WAR of 2.3. Jon Jay has a WAR of  2.8. Randal Grichuk‘s WAR? 0.2. And Oscar Taveras? He had a WAR of -1.3.

Craig has a hefty five year contract worth $31 million. Jay is arbitration eligible and also plays a majority of his time at center field. Adams, Grichuk and Taveras are all pre-arbitration eligible.

The other part of that deal was Joe Kelly and John Lackey. Kelly had a .1 WAR. Lackey had a -.1 WAR. You can’t logically say the numbers cancel each other out. But you can factor in that John Mozeliak was looking for a guy with veteran experience in the post season. John Lackey is the very definition of veteran post season experience. Joe Kelly was coming back from a hamstring injury and not doing so hot either. It was a toss up for Mo and he chose experience.

It may seem like a fancy stat. I don’t necessarily understand it or how it is calculated … but objectivity is important. It is understandable why front offices use these numbers.

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