WAR isn’t perfect. WAR is fun and quick and easy. It has weaknesses and it has strengths. Due to its “all in one” nature and growing influence among baseball fans and writers, WAR faces attacks from those seeking to poke holes in this magic stat.
It is important that the keepers and developers of WAR continue improving and moulding it, making better use of the available information. The internal composition of WAR might change but the basic idea — the core fundamental — show the versatility and value of WAR. The ability to compare against eras and competition is one thing.
There is more than one way to skin a cat and WAR is on it. This trait alone makes it a valuable tool.
Consider two very different baseball players: Pedro Alvarez and Brett Lawrie. In 2012, these third basemen were virtual opposites. In the American League, Brett Lawrie struggled offensively as his patient approach all but went out the window (on the bases, as well.) Lawrie redeems his value as a player by playing terrific defense at the hot corner, just two years after the Blue Jays moved him to the role.
Pedro Alvarez looks like a designated hitter. He strikes out a ton and hits for power and that’s about it. His defense at third is slightly below “passable” and he runs the bases about as well as you expect.
Using Fangraphs flavor of WAR, Brett Lawrie and Pedro Alvarez were equals in 2012. 2.9 fWAR apiece. But how?!
An overlooked component of WAR is it is a counting stat – it rewards playing time. It is in this department which Brett Lawrie stands to always struggle. Lawrie’s playing style costs him games as he nurses wounds from crashing headlong into just about everything.
It is also important to remember Pedro Alvarez hit 30 home runs in 2012. Thirty!
More playing time and much better offense (both in volume and rate) overcomes the difference between Lawrie’s defense and Alvarez’s statue impression. Does that mean we can expect these players to perform similarly in 2013?
In a word: no. There is nothing to suggest that Brett Lawrie will be as bad at the plate as he was in 2012. He is also three years younger and still without 1000 big league plate appearances. 2012 might represent the high water mark for Alvarez’s career before he brings his Three True Outcome skill set to its rightful home at first base. For posterity, ZiPS projects Alvarez at 2.7 fWAR versus 4.3 for Lawrie.
Two very different players with many possible outcomes in the future. When reflecting on the past season, WAR is a terrific tool for comparing two very different players and their respective contributions.