Here’s an Op-Ed railing against the Wins Above Replacement stat. One could spend many years consciously attempting to miss a point and not miss a point so badly:
Yogi Berra is, bar none, the winningest baseball player in history. He played 17 seasons, and the Yankees won 14 pennants and 10 World Series. His manager, Casey Stengel, called him his manager on the field. His position, catcher, is critical, touching the ball on every pitch. He won three MVP awards and made 15 All-Star teams . . . According to WAR, Berra is the 97th best player of all time. 97th! By comparison, Jeff Bagwell is rated 35th. Bagwell played 15 seasons, winning one pennant and no World Series. He made four All-Star games and won one MVP. But he is 62 places better than Berra, the winningest player of all time . . . how could a player who contributed to so much more winning be rated so much lower? No offense to Bagwell, who I liked, but does anyone believe he is more valuable than Berra?
WAR is certainly not immune from criticism. It’s got a number of flaws and a number of blind spots. Anyone who doesn’t question stats like WAR or anything else for that matter is abdicating their critical thinking. But it seems like one must actually understand what the hell WAR is trying to explain before bashing it like this. Saying WAR stinks because Berra’s Yankees won more than Bagwell’s Astros is like saying batting average is flawed because it measures above average players too.
I’m not personally a stats guy. I’m a fellow-traveler. A member of the liberal arts wing of the stat people, as it were. I am totally unqualified to do any seriously heavy lifting when it comes to statistical analysis. But I do at least attempt to grok what statistics attempt to explain. To criticize them, to the extent I ever do, on their own terms, not on some invented terms I make up. Why people never seem to do this with sabermetric statistics is beyond me.
If a reporter wrote this ignorantly about economics or general science they’d be fired. Why we allow this sort of thing in sports is beyond me.
(link via Baseball Think Factory)
In 2016, Red Sox starter Rick Porcello narrowly and controversially eked ahead of then-Tigers starter Justin Verlander in Cy Young Award balloting, winning on points 137 to 132. Verlander was not included at all in the top-five of two ballots, both coincidentally belonging to writers from the Tampa Bay chapter, MLB.com’s Bill Chastain and Fred Goodall of the Associated Press. Verlander had more first-place votes than Porcello, but being left out of the top-five on two ballots was the difference maker.
In the aftermath, Verlander’s then-fiancée Kate Upton fired off some angry tweets, as did Justin’s brother Ben.
Verlander was again in the running for the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He again finished in second place, this time behind Blake Snell of the Rays. Snell had 17 first-place votes and 169 total points to Verlander’s 13 and 154. There weren’t any ballots that made a big difference like in 2016, but there were two odd ballots from the Tampa Bay chapter again.
If a chapter doesn’t have enough eligible voters, a voter from another chapter is chosen to represent that city. This year, Bill Madden of the New York Daily News was a replacement voter along with Mark Didtler, a freelancer for the Associated Press. Both writers voted for Snell in first place, reasonably. But neither writer put Verlander second, less reasonably, putting Corey Kluber there instead. Madden actually had Verlander fourth behind Athletics reliever Blake Treinen. Didtler had Treinen in fifth place. Two other writers had Verlander in third place: George A. King III of the New York Post and Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune. The other 26 had Verlander in first or second place.
Voting Kluber ahead of Verlander doesn’t make any sense, especially we finally live in a world where a pitcher’s win-loss record isn’t valued highly. Kluber had 20 wins to Verlander’s 16 and pitched one more inning. In every other area, Verlander was better. ERA? Verlander led 2.52 to 2.89. Strikeouts? Verlander led 290 to 222. Strikeout rate? Verlander led 34.8% to 26.4%. Opponent batting average? Verlander led .198 to .222. FIP and xFIP? Verlander led both 2.78 and 3.03 to 3.12 and 3.08, respectively. And while Treinen had an excellent year, Verlander pitched 134 more innings, which is significant.
Upton had another tweet for the occasion: