Boston Red Sox: Was Mookie Betts stiffed by WAR?

Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts was simply a victim of the worship of metrics – particularly WAR – over the concept of common sense.

I take war seriously especially after watching “Hacksaw Ridge” recently, but baseball WAR? Please! I have read and somehow attempted to translate the various mathematical concepts of WAR via remedial classes at M.I.T. I have even watched endless reruns of “Big Bang Theory” where the only idea is to glean some type of understanding of the workings that may define the enigma of WAR.

What I have discovered is there are actually two WAR’s – one is fWAR and the other is rWAR – a competitive imbalance between Fangraphs and Baseball Reference. This is quite amusing since it is the same as debating that two plus two equals either three or five. Just the idea that there are two has relegated this one metric into my own dust bin until it is fixed.

Now for all the seamheads who worship at the altar of WAR, I actually happen to enjoy metrics. The concepts are informative and enlightening and have worked their way into general use. For those of you of another age – say post-1980 – are you aware that metrics is nothing new.

Take a look at my first exposure to metrics and it was called Power Average. Today it has been defined as ISO or Isolated Power. This little metric nugget was devised by Branch Rickey in the 1950’s. If there was any way to get a competitive edge than Rickey would find it.

Mookie Betts got screwed – simple as that. Place me firmly in the camp of the Red Sox faithful who consider any slight against one of our players a reason to start a real war, as in the social media type. Betts was clearly and indisputably the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in the American League.

The first time I realized that baseball writers were not seer’s of great knowledge and understanding was in 1958 and centered around the Chicago Cubs and Ernie Banks. The Cubs were the Cubs that season with a 72-82 record, but Banks became the MVP. What? My teenage mind could not come to intellectual grips with that. It didn’t stop there.

In 1959 the Cubs improved to a remarkable 74-80 and Banks won the award again. How can you be most valuable when your team does little? The Sporting News would have an award each season called “Player of the Year” and that certainly described Banks or Mike Trout, but valuable? No way. Doesn’t fit.

Does that mean that an MVP must come from a winning team – as into the playoffs? Of course not, but a player should not be rewarded if his team played well under .500. That is not even close to bringing your squad into a competitive position.

Looking at the statistical debate for 2016 season both Trout and Betts had similar numbers – very similar. What apparently appears to be the deciding formula is WAR – I have no idea what writers consider the “official” WAR. My assumption is they simply look one up quickly.

The sports department at newspapers was and often is referred to as the “Toy Department.” That is a slight directed at those who populate that area of the newsroom. If you can’t do anything else become a sportswriter and maybe they’ll move you up to obituaries?

Carl Yastrzemski did everything possible to lead the Red Sox to a championship in 1967, yet Yaz was not a unanimous pick for MVP. Why? One “writer” voted for utility man Cesar Tovar. Ted Williams also faced the idiocy that can be everything MVP. In 1947 the Splendid Splinter” would have won, but one writer left Williams off the ballot. Then there is the recent Cy Young Award where the second place finisher was left off two ballots.

There are examples that surface over the entire process of award selections in the hands of writers and most do what is expected and examine the merits of the candidates, but the 2016 award was a misstep since Trout’s team finished 74-88. By the end of June, the Angels were 32-47 – was Trout turning around this team? The Angels did recover – slightly – and finish 42-41 and in fourth place in a five-team division.

Without Trout, the Angels would have sunk further and without Betts, the Red Sox would have never been in the playoffs and possibly even finished under .500. Betts was clearly and indisputably the MVP, but if you want the “best” player in the league I’ll go with Trout. After all, his fWar is 9.4 or is it the rWAR of 10.6?

Sources: Fangraphs/Baseball-reference

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