Apr 16, 2014, 9:45 AM EDT
Here’s an Op-Ed railing against the Wins Above Replacement stat. One could spend many years consciously attempting to miss a point and not miss a point so badly:
Yogi Berra is, bar none, the winningest baseball player in history. He played 17 seasons, and the Yankees won 14 pennants and 10 World Series. His manager, Casey Stengel, called him his manager on the field. His position, catcher, is critical, touching the ball on every pitch. He won three MVP awards and made 15 All-Star teams . . . According to WAR, Berra is the 97th best player of all time. 97th! By comparison, Jeff Bagwell is rated 35th. Bagwell played 15 seasons, winning one pennant and no World Series. He made four All-Star games and won one MVP. But he is 62 places better than Berra, the winningest player of all time . . . how could a player who contributed to so much more winning be rated so much lower? No offense to Bagwell, who I liked, but does anyone believe he is more valuable than Berra?
WAR is certainly not immune from criticism. It’s got a number of flaws and a number of blind spots. Anyone who doesn’t question stats like WAR or anything else for that matter is abdicating their critical thinking. But it seems like one must actually understand what the hell WAR is trying to explain before bashing it like this. Saying WAR stinks because Berra’s Yankees won more than Bagwell’s Astros is like saying batting average is flawed because it measures above average players too.
I’m not personally a stats guy. I’m a fellow-traveler. A member of the liberal arts wing of the stat people, as it were. I am totally unqualified to do any seriously heavy lifting when it comes to statistical analysis. But I do at least attempt to grok what statistics attempt to explain. To criticize them, to the extent I ever do, on their own terms, not on some invented terms I make up. Why people never seem to do this with sabermetric statistics is beyond me.
If a reporter wrote this ignorantly about economics or general science they’d be fired. Why we allow this sort of thing in sports is beyond me.
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