Miller: Why WAR is MLB’s next big, all-encompassing stat

From Sam Miller at on February 19, 2013, with mention of SABR members John Thorn and Bill James:

Forty-nine years ago, Sports Illustrated profiled an engineering professor with jolting theories about baseball. Earnshaw Cook, author of the then-unreleased Percentage Baseball, claimed that advanced math and objective analysis could turn any team into a pennant winner. He didn’t call it sabermetrics and he didn’t call it Moneyball, but that’s essentially what Cook was proposing.

Also 49 years ago, a man in Wilmington, Del., named Herb Groh wrote a letter to the magazine in response. “Thank goodness the game of baseball can never be reduced to adding-machine accuracy,” he wrote. “It’s much more fun this way.”

Groh’s letter speaks for many, especially today. Cook’s book, meanwhile, speaks for almost nobody: Many of his findings turned out to be wrong and would have actually cost teams wins. But science rarely gets it right the first time; it gets it right over time. Wins Above Replacement — an all-encompassing measure of a player’s value developed through decades of data and debate by baseball’s army of amateur analysts — gets it right.

In 2012 WAR took on a co-headlining role in the American League’s MVP race. For Mike Trout supporters, WAR was simple and unimpeachable evidence of a perfect player performing at a nearly unprecedented level. For Miguel Cabrera supporters, WAR was the joyless and inscrutable tool of eggheads, trolls, all of us who never played the game. Cabrera vs. Trout was often reduced to a referendum on the value of data. “This WAR statistic is another way of declaring, ‘Nerds win!'” best-selling author Mitch Albom wrote in defense of Cabrera.

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Related link: Bill James is a featured speaker at the 2013 SABR Analytics Conference; learn more at

Originally published: February 19, 2013. Last Updated: February 19, 2013.