erik lundegaard

At War with WAR

Last week in the Hot Stove League, MLB gave out the hardware. It awarded its 2017 Rookies of the Year (Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, both unanimous), Managers of the Year (Paul Molitor and Torey Lovullo), Cy Youngs (Corey Kluber and Max Scherzer), and MVPs (Jose Altuve in a walk, Giancarlo Stanton in a squeaker).

I agree with almost all of these choices, with the possible exception of managers. I like Joey Poz's critique of that category, which he feels simply rewards managers of teams that defy expectations rather than, you know, resoundingly deliver on them.

But I was particularly happy that Altuve won the AL MVP. And not just because his main rival was Aaron Judge of the Yankees (and I'm not exactly a fan of the Yankees), and Altuve is short (and this is a short man's room). I also like the way Altuve plays, the enthusiasm he shows and how he's closed in ever so slowly on MVP over the years. This is where he's placed in the voting during the last four seasons:

  • 2014 (led league in hits, BA, SB): 13th
  • 2015 (led league in hits, SB, CS): 10th
  • 2016 (led league in hits, CS, BA): 3rd
  • 2017 (led league in hits, BA): 1st

It's like a cat following you: Every time you turn he's a little closer. Then he's on you.  

Altuve also hit much better in close and late situations than Judge. Here's Bill James on the subject

In the late innings of close games (100 plate appearances), Judge hit .216 with a .780 OPS. But when the Yankees were 4 or more runs ahead or 4 or more runs behind (112 plate appearances), he hit .382 with an OPS of 1.500.

In the late innings of close games, Jose Altuve hit .441 with a 1.190 OPS. When the Astros were 4 or more runs ahead or 4 or more runs behind, Altuve hit .313 with a .942 OPS.

In what Baseball Reference identifies as “high leverage” situations, Judge hit .219 with an .861 OPS. In medium leverage situations he improved to .297 with a 1.058 OPS, and in low leverage situations he hit .299 with a 1.115 OPS. Altuve hit .337-.377-.329 in those three situations.

James brings this up not to be a dick, nor to justify the MVP voting, but to pick a bone with WAR (Wins Above Replacement). 

I've been using WAR a lot lately as a measure of baseball greatness even though I don't know how to calculate it. Not even close. Look at the Wiki entry on it and try not to throw up your hands. 

For example, apparently WAR takes into account the performances of the team of each player when calculating the WAR for that player. I had no idea. And they don't do it based on the wins that team actually had; it's based on the wins that team should've had when you look at the runs they scored/gave up.

Here's James again:

The Yankees, by the normal and general relationship, should have won 102 games, when in fact they won only 91. That's a BIG gap. The Yankees played poorly in one-run games (18-26) and other close games, which is why they fell short of their expected wins. I am getting ahead of my argument in making this statement now, but it is not right to give the Yankee players credit for winning 102 games when in fact they won only 91 games. To give the Yankee players credit for winning 102 games when in fact they won only 91 games is what we would call an “error”. It is not a “choice”; it is not an “option”. It is an error.

Joey Poz steps into the fray, too, with his own thoughts on the problems with WAR.

Will be interesting to see where this battle lands. 

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Posted at 05:11 PM on Mon. Nov 20, 2017 in category Baseball  

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