Neyer: Why I’m retiring WAR (but not what it stands for)

From SABR member Rob Neyer at Baseball Nation on November 16, 2012:

I’m really serious about this. It’s time to retire WAR. Not the metric or the methodology, or even the overarching name: Wins Above Replacement. I think those are just too valuable and too ingrained to just dump. There was a war between Wins Above Replacement and Bill James’s Win Shares, and WAR won the war.

Which I think is sort of a shame. There were a lot of things to like about Win Shares. But it’s pointless to ignore the facts on the ground, and anyway Win Shares aren’t available anywhere even if we (read: I) wanted to use them.

So say hello (again) to Wins Above Replacement. We’re stuck with the methodology, and we’re stuck with the terminology, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The acronym has to go, however.

Bill James once described sabermetrics as “the search for objective knowledge about baseball”. And if the search is all you care about, you can use whatever terms you like. Whatever makes you happy. But if you also care about communicating with other people — whether you’re a sabermetrician, or simply believe that sabermetricians’ work is valuable — the terminology does matter. Words matter.

And WAR isn’t a good word.


Oh, and there’s another thing about Wins Above Replacement … the decimals are ridiculous. One of the great things about Win Shares is they’re whole numbers. It actually makes more sense to round off Win Shares (Shares) than Wins Above Replacement (Wins) because Shares tend to be larger numbers, so rounding leads to less imprecision. But the principle is the same: Decimals imply a precision that is neither real nor credible. According to FanGraphs, Cliff Lee finished last season with 4.9 Wins (or fWins), Wade Miley with 4.8 fWins. Does anyone really want to argue that that’s a meaningful distinction?

I would rather just look at all the pitchers who round to five fWins — and there are a lot of them, from Gio Gonzalez (5.4) to Cole Hamels (4.6) — and then get to cracking with the real research.

Which is what anybody’s serious is already doing.

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Originally published: November 16, 2012. Last Updated: November 16, 2012.