Building a Better WAR Metric

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) has as its genesis Bill James, even if Bill might not necessarily take the credit (or blame based on some readers) for it. But make no mistake, Bill provided the plumbing for it. For those interested, you can read Brandon Heipp’s account on that backstory.

When you put all the plumbing together, you can create a framework. And that’s what WAR is, a framework to provide an estimate. Wins Above Replacement is an estimate of… something. What that something is is different for every person. While the currency is wins, it’s not clear what those wins represent. There are reasonable choices you can make along the way. And for every fork in the road you take, you may diverge yourself from the next guy. This is why WAR can never be one thing.

As a framework, WAR leaves little room for discussion. Whether it’s what you see at Baseball Reference or at FanGraphs or openWAR or (to some extent) at Baseball Prospectus, they have as their framework the WAR that was championed on my old blog, which culminated with this article. But a framework is not the same as an implementation. 95% of the cars on the road all follow the same core design. That’s the framework. But a Chevy is different from a Lexus. Those are implementations. And there are as many implementations of WAR as there are baseball fans. Whereas Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and the others provide a consistent, systematic implementation, most fans have their own personal mish-mash of arbitrary, biased, and capricious combination of stats, which can change as their mood fits.

This series of articles, of which there may be a dozen(*) is an effort to try to come up with a WAR metric that will satisfy the Straight Arrow readers.

(*) I have no idea. This is the first one I’ve written.


I’ll ask you a series of questions, starting now. The openWAR guys talk about “preservation of runs”. That is a good starting point, and a great way to describe the concept. So, the question centers around whether we want to make sure that everything adds up at the play level. If you get a bases-loaded walk, do we want to make sure that exactly one run is accounted for or not?

If you care about “talent”, you just want to account for around +.30 runs for offense (and -.30 runs for defense), because you don’t want to be concerned with the specific base-out state. (We’ll talk about “preservation of wins” in a later question.) Similarly, is a bases-empty walk and bases-empty single the same thing or not? And if you want to preserve runs, are you ready to accept a bases-loaded walk and a solo HR as being the exact same thing?

So, have a discussion, and then answer this poll question:

There are plenty of other discussion points that go into building an implementation of WAR, and we’ll get to those in the future. For this post, I’m interested to hear what you guys think about this issue specifically.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments