WAR: What is it good for?

Why Wins Above Replacement is an irreplaceable measure of a player's value

Originally Published: January 26, 2010
By Matt Klaassen and Dave Cameron |
Ben ZobristAP Photo/Chris O'MearaBen Zobrist led all MLB players last season in WAR.

Editor's note: Hot Stove U. is a six-week course devoted to higher learning, a series consisting of 30 need-to-know topics for 2010. On Monday, Jim Caple examined the value of the run as a bottom-line stat, which elicited a strong response from Insiders. But every U. fosters different points of view, right? On Tuesday, FanGraphs goes to WAR.

The Setup

It's generally pretty easy to tell who is good at baseball. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Joe Mauer's .365 batting average last year was tremendous, especially for a catcher. Likewise, pretty much anyone can recognize greatness in Prince Fielder's 46 home runs, Zack Greinke's 2.16 ERA or Tim Lincecum's 261 strikeouts.

However, as baseball fans, we were born with the desire to argue over whether one player is better than another, and these numbers do not lend themselves to easy comparison. Mauer doesn't have an ERA, because he's not a pitcher. The Giants don't care that Lincecum failed to hit a home run last year. Even comparing offensive players to other hitters can be a problem; Fielder would be a disaster at shortstop, so stacking his numbers up against Troy Tulowitzki's is comparing a massively large apple to oranges.

Thankfully, we now have a metric that allows for comparison among players across positions, and even between pitchers and hitters, totaling up all the things each does to help a team win, no matter what his particular skill is. Hitters, defenders, pitchers -- everyone is graded on the same scale. This is why we love Wins Above Replacement.