Remington: Using WAR to remember forgotten greats

From Alex Remington at The Hardball Times on December 23, 2015:

This year, rated by FanGraphs WAR, Manny Machado was the sixth-best player in baseball, at 6.8 wins. Machado is certainly well-known among Hardball Times readers, but outside of Charm City and the sabermetric blogosphere, he’s not quite a household name.

Fame is a tricky thing. For the first century and change of organized baseball in America — let’s say from the 1870s to the 1990s — the main barometers of individual player success were baseball card stats like wins and losses and ERA, batting average and RBIs. Those are the kind of numbers, not to put too fine a point on it, that in the sabermetric era give numbers a bad name. Of course, the best players of all time tend to have good baseball card stats as well as good modern stats, because they were incredibly good. Just look at Lou Gehrig‘s RBI numbers. Then look at his WAR numbers. They’re equally pornographic.

But a lot of players get left behind in that analysis. Eddie Stanky never drove in more than 53 runs in a season, but he was a three-time All-Star who led his league in walks three times and finished with an incredible .268/.410/.348 triple slash and 37.7 career WAR. That’s despite the fact that he played only 11 seasons and had more than 400 plate appearances in only seven of them. He’s a classic sabermetric hero, the kind of guy traditional statistics didn’t value nearly as much as modern stats do. (His peers valued him plenty, though, as evidenced by his All-Star selections and his third-place finish in the 1954 MVP race.) Applying WAR retroactively, we can find a lot more guys who deserve to be remembered much more than they have been.

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Originally published: December 23, 2015. Last Updated: December 23, 2015.