WAR in baseball stands for Wins Above Replacement. This metric measures how much better (or worse) a player is against a typical average player regarding how many wins they won for your team during 162 games. Essentially, WAR takes a complete look at a baseball player, and uses a formula to calculate how valuable they are with hitting, defense, and more. The higher the WAR for a player, the more valuable they are because that means they won more games for your team than a regular player playing their position that season. You might also hear WARP, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Player, since it means the same thing.
So, how do you calculate WAR for baseball hitters? How do you calculate the WAR formula for MLB pitchers? What tends to be a good WAR value for players in the league? Who has some of the highest WAR numbers in baseball history? What are the pros and cons of using this formula to evaluate players on a team?
Here is the complete guide to what WAR is in baseball.
Calculating WAR in Baseball for Hitters
Hitter WAR Metric = (Batting Runs (RBI) + Fielding Runs Above Average + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment + Base running runs) + Runs Added or Lost Due to Grounding into Double Plays / Runs Per Win
So how exactly do you measure a player’s war according to that formula above? The above formula WAR metric takes hitting, baserunning, fielding, and pitching into consideration when measuring a player’s value against their plate appearances. To make the metric even granular, you can update the formula to measure the era and ballpark someone plays games.
Since WAR applies to measure a shortstop vs. a shortstop, you are getting a true comparison of a replacement. Unlike measuring a player’s batting average vs. another position, you focus on players playing the same position. That means a catcher’s WAR should measure differently than a shortstop, for example.
Calculating WAR in Baseball for Pitchers
Pitching WAR Metric (FIP)= (Homeruns) + (BB + HBP ) + (K + IFFB))) / IP
Pitchers have a slightly different formula when you compare that against a position player. FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures a pitcher’s quality against the number of runs they give up. One note is that FIP takes an infield fly and calculates that as a strikeout. Another thing to remember is that FIP takes the quality of outs against how many innings a pitcher pitches.
What is a Good WAR Value in Baseball?
Sometimes it is best to put a bracket around a WAR number to help fans understand just how good a player is. To truly understand WAR, you should use zero as the league average to better explain a player’s value against that average. Below is a list of brackets to illustrate a player’s value if they have a certain number.
- <0 means that they are replaceable
- 0-2 means that they should be a backup
- 2.1-4.9 means that they (player) should regularly start most games in the season
- 5 – 7.9 means that this player is going to be an All-Star or All-Star candidate during the season
- 8+ means that this player is having an MVP baseball season
Who Has the Highest WAR in Baseball?
Since the WAR metric can go back to the beginning of baseball, we can calculate the best players according to this stat. Below are the top ten highest WAR leads as of 2023.
- Barry Bonds (162.8)
- Babe Ruth (162.1)
- Willie Mays (156.25)
- Ty Cobby (151)
- Henry Aaron (143)
- Tris Speaker (134.3)
- Honus Wagner (130.9)
- Stan Musial (128.3)
- Rogers Hornsby (127.1)
- Eddie Collins (123.9)
Why is the WAR Stat Great in Baseball?
WAR is an excellent way to measure any baseball player and calculate their team’s value in wins. For example, Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers had a 7.2 WAR in 2014. That means that the Dodgers won seven more games for that season than expected for an average pitcher. Using the WAR model, a player’s contribution of seven additional wins is directly impactful to a team’s success.
We can also use WAR to measure a baseball hitter like Mike Trout. Mike Trout is a terrific fielder out in the outfield, hits home runs, has a high batting average, picks up stolen bases, has a high OPS, and gets on base. Since baseball teams calculate these measurements into consideration, Mike Trout has had 7 WAR seasons over 8. Having over an 8 WAR is impressive when you consider how bad the Los Angeles Angels as a team have been for the past decade.
How Does WAR Impact a Free Agent?
Just like any baseball stat, having a strong WAR can lead to a better deal for a free agent looking for a new team. However, having a low WAR like something at zero or less can negatively impact your chances of signing with a new team. At the same time, WAR is just one metric to consider, but teams trying to make the playoffs may focus on getting wins from a player vs. another stat.
Defensive Runs Saved Importance
Just like how hitters and pitchers have a unique formula, so does defense. The defensive runs saved (DFS) calculates the probability of a catch or play made against that defender’s action. For example, a first baseman has a hard-hit ball to their left and makes a play. The calculation said that the play had a 40% chance of being made by similar players, so that defensive player gains .6 bonus points on making that play.
If you are looking for an in-depth breakdown of this, you can visit Fielding Bible.
What are the Flaws of Using WAR to Measure a Baseball Player?
One flaw of relying solely on the WAR statistic is that it doesn’t factor in baseball stadium dimensions like wRC+. For instance, a player hitting at Coors Field for half their games will have more offensive production than one playing half their games at Comerica Park. Therefore, when you compare some players against each other, you must remember that ballpark dimensions can impact a player’s results more than another.
Another flaw of the WAR model is that it gives the same weight to a run saved and a run earned. For example, hitting a meaningless home run in the 8th inning when your team is up 14-1 doesn’t matter. However, the WAR formula will give value to that homerun since that player helped produce a run (and therefore helped them win), which isn’t exactly the case.
Finally, WAR does not measure a player’s leadership and value to a clubhouse. For instance, a veteran player who now spends most of their time on the bench might drive in a different value at the plate (or on the field) due to their age. If you only went off stats, you might not see value in what they bring to the clubhouse. However, what WAR does not measure is this player is helping the younger players understand the game, go over pitch selection for hitters, and overall be a positive contributor to everyone’s morale in the dugout and clubhouse, which helps everyone do better at the
Conclusion: What is WAR in Baseball?
In summary, WAR stands for Wins Against Replacement in baseball. The concept behind the formula to add up the value a player means for a team and showcases how many wins they earned (or lost) for your team over the season. The idea behind the formula is to look at the complete picture, and measure things like defense, hitting, running, and more into one stat.
One thing to keep in mind about WAR is that it measures a single-season and a major league player’s career. For example, Mookie Betts of the Los Angles Dodgers has a career of 45.4 WAR after playing from 2014 – 2020. His best year, according to WAR, took place in 2018 with the Boston Red Sox, where he had a 10.6 rating. With that 10.6 ratings, he was an All-Star, MVP Winner, Gold Glove, and Silver Slugger, winner.
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