Jason Heyward after signing an 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Cubs. Photo by Yahoo Sports.
The mysterious stat known as Wins Above Replacement or WAR as it is more commonly referred to. You hear about it more and more every day in baseball circles as another way of determining a player’s value or impact to the teams win total. MLB sabermetric supporters, writers and analyst are using this stat to judge players more so it seems then using the traditional statistics that have been around since the first pitch was thrown in the 1800’s. I have been trying to understand the relevancy of this “new” statistic for quite some time now and I still have a hard time judging a player using this method. First let’s all get on the same page with a short and not so simple definition of what WAR is.
WAR – “A single number that represents the number of wins a player added to a team above what a replacement player would add.” I will use Jayson Heyward as my example since he was my inspiration for writing this article. Heyward had a WAR of 6.5 in 2015. He was 10th in MLB and Bryce Harper was 1st with a 9.9 WAR. Keep in mind that Kevin Kiermaier had a 7.3 WAR ( good for 7th in the majors ) in 2015 and he hit .260 with 10 HR’s and 40 RBI’s. The caveat here is that the replacement player would be a minor leaguer not a free agent that hit 40 homers or won 20 games last year. It is a player that would replace the player “at minimal cost or effort.” A more detailed explanation of WAR can be found by going to the Baseball-Reference.com website www.baseballreference.com/about/war_explained.shtml
The calculation of WAR is where the fuzzy math starts to kick in for me. I am a firm believer in a player having more value than what his traditional stats are. Some players provide significant contributions in many areas where we, the fans, just can’t go on line and look at a stat for it. The best that I can figure out about WAR is that the stat revolves around runs produced on offense by a position player and runs prevented on defense for the same player combined. More emphasis is placed on defensive play at key defensive positions such as catcher vs. first basemen. In the case of a pitcher it would be more about runs prevented obviously. Sounds great, the problem is that the calculation methods look more like rocket science to me. You or I would not be able to take out our IPhone and use the calculator to figure out a player’s WAR while sitting at the ballpark on a Sunday afternoon. We can figure out a players batting average pretty quickly and sometimes without a calculator. If you want some mind numbing formulas to look at then here is the link to the Wikipedia page where they “clearly” show you how some of the calculations are arrived at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wins_Above_Replacement
How does all this relate to Jayson Heyward? Heyward recently signed an astounding 8 yr. / $184 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. While I was watching the analyst on MLB Network break down the contract one of them indicated that Heyward’s WAR stat may have played a role in the Cubs being so high on him. Let me just say I have no issue with Jayson Heyward’s career or play thus far in baseball. He is a nice player but his stats are not exactly eye popping. He has played 6 seasons in the majors and has averaged .268 with 16 HR’s and 58 RBI’s. He has never driven in over 90 runs in a season. He has only hit over 20 homers in a season one time. He does not score a lot of runs and has only exceeded 90 runs scored once. He does have a .350 career on base percentage and steals around 20 bases a year while playing good defense. His WAR average is 5.18 over the 6 seasons which puts him in the “All-Star” category for the WAR statistic. The WAR status categories are as follows: 8+ is “MVP”, 5+ is “All-Star” and 2+ is “Starter” and 0-2 is “Sub”. Freddie Freeman came up in Atlanta about 1 year behind Heyward and both players will turn 26 in 2016. Freeman averages .285 with 21 HR’s and 85 RBI’s per season with an On Base % of .366 while playing a good first base. He signed an 8 yr. / $135 million contract prior to the 2014 season. His WAR average per season is 3.14. Hmmm, that is only “Starter” status. Could this be the difference in the $50 million gap between the two players? I tell you what I think. I think I would rather have signed the Freddie Freeman deal. He is a better contributor in the key categories and it is far less risk and a lot less money. Keep your wins above replacement I will take the additional HR’s and RBI’s at a big discount thank you so much.
Yoenis Cespedes is a free agent and has yet to sign with a club. The Cuban defector is 29 and has played 4 seasons in the majors. His average seasons look like this: .271 with 26 HR’s and 92 RBI’s. He has driven in 100 runs two times and is widely considered a major force in any lineup. He single handedly changed the Mets offense this past summer. He has an incredible arm in the outfield as well so he contributes on defense also. However, his WAR is only 3.95 which is “Starter” status and not the “All-Star” status that Heyward has. It looks like Cespedes will sign a deal for much less than Heyward did age notwithstanding. There are a few questions that you have to ask yourself. Which player do you think would have more of an impact in your lineup between Heyward and Cespedes? Which player has the ability to carry a team for a few weeks? Which player changes the way the others are pitched to around him? For me this is a no brainer. I will take the big bat of Cespedes and the traditional stats he produces over the Wins Above Replacement that Heyward produces every time. So what is WAR good for? Absolutely nothing in my mind.