Oh boy. Here we go again. This isn't on the level of, say, Mitch Albom's finest work. Still, it's a little disheartening to see ESPN.com's Jim Caple, my former co-worker and all-around good guy, resorting to this sort of argument. After listing the things he likes about Wins Above Replacement, Jim moves along to this ...
So yes, I like WAR as a statistical measure.
My issue is this: I don't like the increasing over-use of (and over-reliance on) WAR as THE definitive evaluation of a player's worth.
This was particularly true during the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP debate last fall. For instance, consider this headline on an ESPNLosAngeles.com story in late September: "Mike Trout Is Your MVP (WAR Says So).
That was just one of many stories focusing on WAR in the MVP race, where the stat became a big factor in analysis of the players, as Bleacher Report noted.
Now, Cabrera wound up winning the MVP by a wide margin, so WAR wasn't a decisive factor in the award vote. (I voted for Trout, though I did not base my ballot on WAR.) But I just found it tiresome to keep reading all the references to it, as if WAR was the only stat that should be considered, and leading a league in batting average and home runs and RBIs -- as Cabrera did in becoming the game's first Triple Crown winner since 1967 -- was somehow a mere accounting trick.
Wait a minute, I'm not straight on something ... According to Bleacher Report, WAR was a big factor ... but it wasn't a decisive factor? There's little evidence of the former, but plenty of the latter. Considering that Cabrera received 22 first-place votes for MVP, compared to only six for Trout (ironically, one of those came from Caple).
Caple, like most of the WAR skeptics before him, is reduced to fighting a straw man. The people who write about baseball for a living and believe that WAR is the only stat that should be considered are far, far outnumbered by the people who write about baseball and a) pay no attention to WAR at all, b) pay little attention to anything but Triple Crown statistics and the standings, or c) both.
Near the beginning of his column, Caple says that reliance on Wins Above Replacement is "widespread, threatening and serious."
One, it's just baseball. I've never yet felt threatened by anything related to baseball. Two, what's far worse than reliance on Wins+ (I hate WAR) is a stubborn refusal to consider the importance of defense and baserunning.
The funny thing is, Caple does consider those things; that's why he voted for Trout. Funny, because Wins+ does its level best to consider those same things. It's what we call a "shorthand". ERA is a short-hand measure for how well a pitcher pitched. Batting average is a short-hand measure for who well a hitter hit. Home runs are a shorthand for a hitter's power.
Jim's problem, I guess, is that Wins+ is too ambitious. It's a short-hand summarizing short-hands, and in the hands of nincompoops it can be mis-used.
Well. welcome to the wonderful world of baseball analysis. It's been like this for a hundred years. Except that baseball analysis is better today than it's ever been. Threatening? Gosh. This all seems pretty exciting to me.