Tuesday, February 19, 2013

WAR: The Theory of Total Bullshit

I like writing about baseball, how it ties into history and current events around the game. But, as I've mentioned before, I don't want this to become an anti-WAR blog.  If everything I write is some screed dismissing WAR as bullshit, then I become just as annoying as the WAR trolls.

One slight problem, though: The WAR trolls are everywhere.

That's the latest ESPN: The Magazine cover -- so WAR trolls have now invaded my reading time when I'm layed up at the doctor's office.  Fuckers.  And if you thought their sanctimonious tripe had reached its peak, oh, you have no idea.  
But science rarely gets it right the first time; it gets it right over time. Wins Above Replacement -- an all-encompassing measure of a player's value developed through decades of data and debate by baseball's army of amateur analysts -- gets it right. [...]
We live in a world of disagreement on epochal issues that we can't resolve even when the science is unambiguous: evolution, vaccines and climate change among them. These issues are daunting. Relying on science that's hard to understand can be scary. So the tendency is to cling to the comforts of ideology and tradition -- even when those ideologies are wrong, even when the traditions are outdated.
You hear that, dinosaur baseball fans that dismiss WAR?  Sabermetrics and WAR is a science!  Not only that, but it's as rock solid as the Theory of Evolution!  And the research proving that greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide and methane, when released into the atmosphere, have the effect of heating up the planet!  WAR is hard science!  But you fucking dinosaurs who think that RBIs mean something are just so fucking stubborn that you might as well just call yourself creationists!  WAR is here.  WAR is proven.  WAR is right.  WAR will cure cancer.  WAR will give everyone a pony.  WAR will suck your cock, if you have a cock -- and if you don't, then don't worry because WAR with tickle your clit with it's legendary 10.7 rated tongue.  In fact, the pony that WAR gives you will nuzzle it's head into your clit and, 9 months later, you'll give birth to a unicorn.  WAR is godhead.  If you disagree, just STFU and go vote for Joe the Plumber, you freak.

Just look at the SCIENTIFIC PROOF!
In 2002 Eckstein (WAR of 4.4, according to analytics-based website FanGraphs) was almost as good as Miguel Tejada (WAR of 4.7), who won the AL MVP award that year. Tejada hit 34 home runs and drove in 131. But Eckstein was nearly his equal while driving in 63 and taking a running start every time he threw to first. How? WAR, and the components that it comprises, tells us:
1. Eckstein let himself get hit by 27 pitches, giving him a better OBP than Tejada and blunting Tejada's power advantage.
2 . Eckstein hit into a third as many double plays.
3. Eckstein was actually a good defensive shortstop with more range than Tejada and more success turning double plays.
Let's analyze these points in a little more detail:

1. Eckstein's OBP in 2002 was .363, and Tejada's was .354.  I'm not sure on what planet this difference of nine-hundreds of a percent "blunt[ed] Tejada's power advantage", since Tejada hit 34 homers and Eckstein hit, uh, 8.  To put that in percentage terms, Tejada hit 225% more homers than Eckstein.  And, even though I didn't major in statistics, I would figure that 225.000 of an advantage in getting actual runs would be better than a 000.009 advantage in a player's ability to get on base.  But hey, I'm a fucking baseball dinosaur who denies the existence of WAR and thinks Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, so what the fuck do I know?  Who am I to question baseball scientists?!

2. Eckstein was a leadoff hitter, so he had less at-bats with the chance to move baserunners forward.  Additionally, power hitters like Tejada have more breaking balls pitched to them.  Does this mean that they'll ground into double plays?  Yes, but their job is to swing the fucking bat to produce fucking runs.  Fucking duh.  Would you rather have a power hitter leave his bat on his shoulder, afraid to swing?  No!  They're positioned to step to the plate with runners in scoring position because we want them to swing!  Why?  Because they often hit fucking homers when they fucking swing!  Sluggers also improve the hitters in front of them because pitchers will try not to let those hitters on-base -- since a slugger could hit a home run and get a fucking RBI from a fucking baserunner; which is otherwise known as basic fucking baseball -- so those hitters will see more fastballs.  This helps improves a leadoff hitter's OBP, sometimes by .009 percentage points -- which is, apparently worth more than 26 home runs.  Jumping Jesus on a fucking pogo stick, I can't believe I have to explain this shit.

3. Eckstein's fielding percentage with .977, with 14 errors and 91 double plays turned in 397 attempts.  Tejada's had a .975 fielding percentage with 19 errors and 106 double plays turned in 504 attempts.  Tejada also played in 162 games to Eckstein's 147 games at shortstop.  But if the Napoli discussions we had over the offseason are any indication, durability isn't a factor in WAR.  Either way, Eckstein's defensive stats do not blow Tejada out of the water.

I didn't bother to read the rest of the article.

If the WAR heads were honest about Sabermetrics -- which means discussing how they created stats that intentionally ignore baseball strategy and undervalue any player considered to be a power hitter -- I'd be fine with their trolling.  At least their stats would come with honesty.  But for WAR heads to constantly insult and talk down to baseball fans who dare to not agree with them, to the point of comparing their bullshit statistics to being as scientifically valid as the Theory of Evolution, is ridiculous.  I'm sick of seeing these pieces on every site I visit to read about baseball.  It's just getting fucking stupid.


  1. Can't argue. WAR sucks for more reasons:
    - who the mythical replacement player is always changes; say you played in 1999 and had a great year as an OF; say you had EXACTLY the same stats in 2011, same home park, everything; your WAR in 2011 would be higher than in 1999. Why? Steroid monsters raised the level of what the mythical replacement player might do, so a 1999 WAR of 5.5 is equal to a 9.4 WAR today
    - say you had those same stats, OF, playing for the Angels, in 2005 and again in 2011; your WAR would be higher in 2011 because WAR now says Angel's Stadium is a pitchers' park, unlike the EXACT SAME park in 2005, WAR goes up from 5.5 to 7.3
    - say your pitching staff gave up 38% of batted balls as fly balls in 2001, and 55% of batted balls were fly balls in 2011; guess what, your WAR goes up dramatically as an OF due to your 'improved defence' due to all those fly balls, from 3.1 to 5.0
    - say that when you came to bat in 2004 you faced pitchers pitching from the stretch 18% of the time, but in 2005 you faced pitchers pitching from the stretch 50% of the time; amazingly your WAR went up a lot due to the fact pitchers don't have as many weapons when in the stretch and through more fastballs; WAR is up from 4.2 to 8.1
    - say the guy hitting 5th strikes out 200 times a year, you hit 4th; next year he's gone and the guy batting fifth only strikes out 67 times; amazingly, your WAR goes up dramatically! From 5.1 to 7.3
    - say you have exactly the same stats in 2008 as in 2009, but in 2008 your leadoff hitter had an OBP of .327 and in 2009 it was .401; amazingly, even though your stats are exactly equal, your WAR went down two points!
    - say you put together a great year, in RF; then next year you have exactly the same stats but are in LF; amazingly your WAR falls from 7.5 to 5.8
    - and on and on and on......

    1. You're just making up numbers. You have no idea how WAR is actually calculated. So way to attack a straw man.

    2. Jackson, that's one problem with the WAR, in my opinion. It's almost impossible to figure out how it's computed. The process is explained online, but good luck in understanding it. That doesn't mean it's bad, of course, but it's hard for me to put so much stock into something I can't even begin to get my arms around.

    3. Most sabr guys don't realize WAR has several different formulae so

  2. WAR is the only statistic ever devised where you get an automatic 2-point bump for being named Mike Trout.

  3. Just to be precise: Ekstein had to hit 325% more homers than he did to equal Tejada's production, who only had to better his average by a 2.24% to equal Ekstein's. The formula to be used is that of percentage increase.

  4. WAR is at best a work in progress, but in its current form it is about as useless as a one-legged-man in an ass kicking contest.

  5. You literally get WAR points based on your name. Mike Trout and Babe Ruth come to mind.

    I did a project for an analytics class, comparing WAR to straightforward progression analysis. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The main problem I have with WAR is that practically no one knows how it's actually computed. Try to track down the info from FanGraphs or somewhere and try to compute one yourself and you'll see what I mean.

  6. Oh crap, I've now posted the same Mike Trout gag twice. What a tool.