Bill James on Fielding, Part 14 (WAR Special)
Okay, so this one’s not really about fielding at all. But I started this series and by God I’m going to keep it going.
Anyway, from Bill’s latest article from what I’m assuming will be his next book (although I’ve got no real word on that):
Look, I’m not knocking WAR … WAR is a useful concept; it is not a perfect concept. One of many reasons it is not a perfect concept is that it compresses Wins and Losses into one unit, and when you compress Wins and Losses into one unit, that results in distorted comparisons. Suggesting that Eddie Bressoud in 1966 has value equal to Ted Williams in 1953 is one result of that compression distortion. It’s not true; it’s not accurate. It’s not reasonable. It’s ridiculous. That’s not value.Article continues below ...
When we produced data, in the 1970s, showing that run support for different starting pitchers does not even out over the course of a season, and therefore won-lost records for starting pitchers often had nothing to do with how well the pitcher pitched, there were lots and lots and lots of people who had lots of reasons why it couldn’t be true. We tried to talk to those people, for a month or so, and then we said, "OK, we’re moving on now; if you get it, you get it, and if you don’t you donât." And that’s where we are now: This is not a debatable point; this is obvious. WAR is not value. If you get it, you get it, and if you don’t, you don’t, but I’m moving on now.
I guess I don’t get it, then. Seems to me that if merely apply Bill’s criteria, nothing is value. Granted, I’ve skipped to the very end of his essay, which includes all sorts of interesting notions about one-dimensional and two-dimensional metrics, and I’m guessing we could find something three-dimensional if we looked hard enough. And yes, I do understand that there’s a sort of false equivalency when we look at Ted Williams’ 2 Wins Above Replacement in 1953 (110 plate appearances) and Eddie Bressoud’s 2 WAR in 1966 (464 PA). But if there’s anything I’ve learned from Bill, it’s that even the best metrics can seem absurd at the extremes. And Ted Williams hitting .400 in a month is pretty extreme.
I think WAR can tell us a great deal about value, as can WPA, as can Bill’s Win Shares and Loss Shares. None of them are perfect, which is why we continue to have these discussions and always will.
And if you really want to get into the weeds, yourself, I recommend subscribing to Bill James Online and reading every single word Bill’s been writing, along with the ultra-high level of comments below his words. This is Baseball for Dummies Who Want to Be Geniuses.