Myles: WAR. It Is Good For… MVP Awards

I love WAR. No, not that “war.” I mean like WAR.

In my humble baseball opinion, WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is the most useful stat for showing the overall value of a player. That is its purpose, after all. For those unfamiliar, the WAR calculation is quite complex, but the idea is simple. Its goal is take a player’s overall contribution, and calculate how many wins that player is worth compared to a “replacement player” – or any old player you could pick up to fill a spot. (I very highly recommend clicking on the link above to check to out Fangraphs’ explanation.)

While WAR is my favorite sabermetric stat, I do need to clarify and say that I do not think it is the “best” stat. There is no “best” stat. You can’t judge a player based on one statistic alone. It would be irresponsible. But …

WAR is just soooo awesome. I’m actually giddy just discussing within my own brain at this very moment (shut up, you’re a nerd!). It shows you something other stats cannot. It shows you greatness throughout the whole game of baseball. Consider this: since the inception of the MVP award in 1931 to last year in 2013 (82 years) only 8 MVPs in the AL and 6 in the NL have finished outside of the top 10 players in WAR for their respective year. (How do I know this? I spent an entire Sunday afternoon compiling the chart below. Have a look for yourself).

That has to carry some weight, no? The best players from both leagues are typically finishing pretty high up there in WAR. The question of the “best” is always going to have controversy (for example why didn’t Mike Trout win the stupid MVP award last year? No one knows.), but WAR gets you in the ballpark (PUN) to start having that discussion.

Take a look at my chart and then read on for my own thoughts (please keep in mind that pitcher’s and hitter’s WAR are calculated differently. It’s hard to compare across the two. But you’ll see that typically if a pitcher/reliever won the MVP, they were pretty dominant in pitcher’s WAR. I don’t necessarily like it, but that’s how it is.).

My thoughts:

• Players that were screwed out of multiple MVP awards: Wade Boggs, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle.
• Tony Gwynn never winning a MVP is a travesty.
• What the hell was going with the Don Baylor and Juan Gonzalez years? Juan Gonzalez, it seems, tricked voters not once, but twice (I kid. But seriously).
• I don’t like when relievers win the MVP. Mariano Rivera, the best reliever in baseball history, had a career WAR of 39.9. He never won a MVP. The closest to him was Goose Gossage with a WAR of 27.8. Again no MVP. See what I’m getting at? (I know, I know. “Eye test. There’s more to baseball than numbers. He may have had a dominant year.”)

• Obviously The Hawk was a great player, but did he deserve the MVP in ’87?
• I forgot how good Andruw Jones and Grady Sizemore were.

I think, for the most part, throughout history it seems that (at least from a numbers perspective) we’ve gotten the MVP somewhat “right” most years. Of course my rationale here is based on WAR – but I think it’s for good reason. There are obviously many other factors that go into choosing the “best.” Sometimes those factors are outside of numbers and rely on eyes alone (old, cranky writer’s eyes). But this chart can work in 1 of 2 ways for those who view it. On one hand, you can say, “See? Players who are the ‘best’ sometimes don’t have the best numbers.” But, on the other hand, you can say, “See how dumb voters are in some years?”

I can’t say either is right or wrong. Maybe both are right. I can say, however, that it’s fascinating to me and I believe WAR is useful no matter what people say about sabermetrics, WAR, the MVP, or anything else. Again, it’s not the end-all be-all. But it’s the best “starting point” for any discussion on greatness/value that we have available right now.

What I’m saying here is that WAR is awesome. Long live sabermetrics. Long live WAR!