Thoughts of A Seamhead: WHIPping Boy

Vaughn
In April of 2011 I received my first assignment as a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports. I had a been a die-hard fan of baseball since I was approximately twelve so this was a joy, especially when I was being asked to write about my hometown Texas Rangers. For as long as I had watched the game I ignored advanced statistics. To me all that mattered was a hitter’s average, home runs and RBI while I judged a pitcher on wins/losses, ERA and strikeouts. Man was I ever behind the times.
I had created a Twitter account in order to connect with other fans and writers and to share my articles. What I soon found were people discussing FIP, BABIP, WHIP and OPS to go along with a number of other terms that I had never heard of before nor did I want to know. I soon realized that if I wanted to go anywhere with this new career that I would have to do some studying and accept sabermetrics. I spent several days reading and researching the internet mainly using the glossary at fangraphs.com to educate me. Wow, were my eyes ever opened. I couldn’t believe there were so many ways to evaluate a player and predict his future performance.

I began writing with more confidence knowing that I had more stats than ever to back up my opinions. I would even explain the advanced stats in my writings so that the average fan would understand what I was talking about. Sure, I felt smarter but I also felt the need to educate along the way. I did find, however, that arguing a player’s ability at a bar using sabermertrics usually didn’t work. The average drunk person feels as though their opinion is right and I’m an idiot. Meh, at least I knew I was right.

That brings me to WAR.

WAR. Wins Above Replacement. No other advanced statistic causes as much debate as this one. It basically measures how many wins a player is worth above a minor leaguer or bench replacement player.

The legendary Bill James was the first to use a similar stat when he developed win shares and published the “Bill James Baseball Historical Abstract” in the mid-eighties. His formula was somewhere near a hundred pages long (or so it seemed) but was not without its flaws. Some people even questioned his rankings. According to his data Yogi Berra was the greatest catcher of all time. This greatly upset the thousands, possibly millions, of Johnny Bench fans who believed Bench was the best. Was Honus Wagner really the greatest shortstop ever? Don’t tell that to Cal Ripken Jr. fans. Especially when you find that Ripken is ranked as the third greatest shortstop behind Arky Vaughan. The problem with such rankings lies in the memories of the fans. Yes Ripken fans will claim he was the best ever but I don’t think any of them ever saw Wagner or Vaughan play.

While I like WAR, it shouldn’t be the “be all end all” stat. You’re not going to win an argument based on WAR alone so make sure you know some other stats to go along with it. I tried using WAR to prove that Mike Trout was a better baseball player in 2013 than MVP winner Miguel Cabrera. The majority of sports writers were sold on Cabrera due mainly to the fact that he won the Triple Crown and led his team to the World Series. Here’s where things got dicey as I argued with friends: Trout turned the Angels around and led them to more wins than the Tigers though they finished in third place in what was a stronger division (AL West versus AL Central). Trout had a higher WAR and was clearly a better run producer and more valuable to his team than Cabrera was to the Tigers. However, the Tigers did make it to the playoffs and Trout did not have that great of a September so you could say that people on both sides of the Trout/Cabrera fence had valid points.

I’ll still say Trout was better (sticks tongue out).

James Holland is a Senior Columnist for Shutdown Inning. He can be reached at James.Holland@shutdowninning.com or @SDIJamesHolland on Twitter.
James Holland

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