Cameron: On context, or evaluating hitters and pitchers differently

From Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on September 3, 2013:

Here at FanGarphs, our pitching WAR is built around Fielding Independent Pitching, which focuses solely on a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. Because it ignores the results of balls in play and the order in which results occur, there are occasionally big differences between a pitcher’s FIP and his ERA. This divide often leads to some consternation when a pitcher with a high ERA posts a decent WAR, or in reverse, when our WAR doesn’t grade out a pitcher with a very low ERA that highly.

A significant number of people — including a good chunk of our own readers, and noted sabermetric evangelists like Brian Kenny — prefer to evaluate pitchers by runs allowed because, as I’ve heard repeatedly over the last few years, that measures “what actually happened”. And that’s one of the reasons we have RA9-WAR here on the site, as we know that a sizable amount of people prefer to evaluate pitchers in that way.

I believe there are valid points on both sides, and I see the argument using a FIP-based WAR and a RA9-based WAR when evaluating a pitcher’s past performance. However, I find it interesting that this debate has not carried over to position players, where there seems to be broad consensus* that context-neutral is the way to go.

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Originally published: September 3, 2013. Last Updated: September 3, 2013.