Build a Better WAR Metric: Timing Buckets

On September 1, 2015, the Nationals and Cardinals played a game where the Nationals took a big lead, only to give most of it back almost immediately. The Nationals kept trying to hold on, until the end, when the Cardinals won the game on a 3-run HR.

Source: FanGraphs

Let’s look at that ninth inning. First up was Jason Heyward. He grounded out. That context-neutral run value of making an out is -0.25 runs (or -.027 wins). Making an out to start the inning with the bases empty is only worth -0.225 runs (or -.024 wins). Therefore, the base-out timing value of the out is +.025 runs (or +.003 wins). It looks like this:

-.027 wins: Heyward’s out
+.003 wins: low impact timing of out with bases empty

But we know more information. It was a 5-5 game to start the bottom of the 9th. This is a higher leverage situation than random. Heyward’s out actually reduced the chance of winning by .050 wins, not .024 wins. That is, the impact is felt twice as much as a random leadoff situation. So, there’s yet another .026 wins to account for. This is what it looks like:

-.027 wins: Heyward’s out
+.003 wins: low impact timing of out with bases empty
-.026 wins: high impact timing of out in 9th inning of tied game

The question to ask yourself (not to me, but to yourself), is how much do you want to credit Heyward for making an out in this situation: do you want to just credit him with a random out, because he was just plucked into this situation, or do you want to credit him with making an out as the leverage was lower impact (bases empty) or even high impact (9th inning of a tied game)? Is an out an out, or does the out depend on the situation?

Let’s continue. Yadier Molina also got an out. Going through the above machinations gives us this:

-.027 wins: Molina’s out
+.010 wins: low impact timing of out with bases empty
-.019 wins: high impact timing of out in 9th inning of tied game

Now the fun begins. Cody Stanley doubled.

+.081 wins: Stanley’s double
-.056 wins: low impact timing of double with two outs
+.043 wins: high impact timing of double in 9th inning of tied game

So, in a random situation, a double with two outs is not that valuable. It’s less valuable than a random walk. That’s why we have a huge -.056 win value to account for its low impact. But at the same time, this puts the winning run on base in the bottom of the 9th. This is enormously high impact. How you approach valuation will decide how you want to credit Stanley and his double.

Tommy Pham walked with first base open and winning runner already on base.

+.032 wins: Pham’s walk
-.020 wins: low impact timing of walk with 1st base open
-.009 wins: low impact timing of walk (run is useless)

Let’s pause here. The double put the winning run on base, and left 1B open. The walk is in fact practically useless. The win value changed by +.003 wins, which is pretty close to zero. The batter and pitcher know this, which is why we see a NEGATIVE impact of the walk in the 9th inning of a tied game, even though we are in a high leverage situation. This is unlike the double which had a huge POSITIVE impact. The entire sequencing of the situation matters. Given that the batter and pitcher are aware of the situations as they develop, the entire timing values noted above make perfect sense.

Finally, the HR by Brandon Moss.

+.150 wins: Moss’s HR
+.137 wins: high impact timing of HR with 2 runners on
+.114 wins: high impact timing of HR to win the game

In the end, the Cardinals went from a 61.4% chance of winning to 100%, adding +0.386 wins. Adding up the above, and we get:

+.209 wins: all the events in a random situation
+.074 wins: high/low impact timing for base-out situations
+.103 wins: high impact timing of inning/score (except walk)

So, how do you, the reader, want to evaluate each of these plays? How much do you want to assign to the batter (and pitcher) and how much do you just want to have some general “timing” buckets, not linked to any particular player?

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6 years ago

I think WAR and leverage, at least for hitters should generally be separate. I don’t think someone’s WAR should be reduced further because he got an out in the 9th as opposed to the 6th. If I want to know how someone did in a specific leverage situation, I’ll look for that. When I use WAR I want to know how a player performed, not how he performed in a given scenario.

6 years ago
Reply to  Twitchy

I like this because it gets to the heart of the issue – WAR can either measure context or not, but can’t do both. And as much as “one number to rule them all” is nice, it’s plenty fine to analtze players with multiple numbers.

I like “WAR” for raw talent and something like “Clutch” for situational context and the more story-telling aspects. Story-telling being “how did the talent (WAR) result in a winning or losing game (Clutch).

Two parts of a grand whole that is baseball.