What is WAR in Baseball?


What Is The Baseball Stat WAR?

Baseball organizations use sabermetrics to make decisions from the farm system through the Major League level.  Numerous metrics are used to evaluate player performance, one of the most popular being WAR, a measure against an average player.

What does it stand for? What is a good number to have? Is it a single value or a combination of metrics? We’ll examine all this and more. Let’s take a deeper look.

What Does The Stat WAR Mean in Baseball?

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement. This value compares that player and an average player, which would have a value of 0. Understanding this metric aids teams in putting the best players on the field at all times to maximize their chances of winning games.

It’s worth noting that you might see a metric called WARP, which stands for Wins Above Replacement Player, which is the same. It’s basically just comparing a player’s value against a replacement player for the position. Both terms are valid when discussing this among other baseball fans.

Pitchers: Calculating WAR

The metric for a pitcher is different and far less complex than that for a position player. The formula is as follows:

FIP = (home runs + base on balls + hit by pitch + strikeouts + IFFB)/ IP

Note that FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, which reflects pitching qualify versus the number of runs allowed. A side note is that FIP records an infield fly as a strikeout. The measure essentially takes the quality of outs compared to innings pitched.

Hitters: Calculating WAR

The formula may look complicated, but it involves crucial factors that help determine a player’s overall value. The hitter WAR metric is as follows:

(Batting Runs (RBI) + fielding runs above average + positional adjustment + league adjustment + base running runs) + runs added or lost due to grounding into double plays/runs per win.

A closer look at the formula shows that the WAR considers pitching, fielding, baserunning, and hitting to determine a player’s value with respect to plate appearances.  The formula can also be adjusted to reflect the era and ballpark effects.

The WAR is a great measure since it compares players’ position versus position. This means that an outfielder’s WAR should measure differently than a second baseman’s.

What is a Good WAR in Baseball?

To really understand WAR, the value of 0 is the league average to gauge a player’s value versus that of an average or replacement player at the same position. We’ll take a look at some numbers and approximate player values.

Anything below 0 means that the player can be replaced. A value of 0-1 is a bench player. Those in the 2-4 ranges can be everyday starters. A player between 4-5 is an All-Star, while 5-6 is in the superstar category. Anyone with a WAR above six is having an MVP-caliber season.

Who Has the Highest WAR in Baseball History?

Although the WAR metric was introduced relatively quickly, it can calculate the best players from all eras. Here are the top ten highest career WAR since the beginning of the 2022 season.

Barry Bonds – 162.8

Babe Ruth – 162.1

Willie Mays – 156.25

Ty Cobb – 151

Hank Aaron – 143

Tris Speaker – 134.3

Honus Wagner – 130.9

Stan Musial – 128.3

Rogers Hornsby – 127.1

Eddie Collins – 123.9

Why is WAR a Great Stat In Baseball?

WAR is great because it’s a phenomenal way to measure a baseball player relative to a replacement and calculate their team value in wins. For example, Steve Carlton had a WAR of 9.3 for a Phillies team in 1972 that won only 59 games.

Imagine a replacement player in there, and the Phillies likely wouldn’t have reached even 50 wins. It is a great gauge of a player’s value to his team and is a good measure to use when voting for NL and AL MVP.

We can also use WAR to measure a baseball hitter. Let’s take Mike Trout, arguably the best all-around player in Major League Baseball today. He hits for average, has power, can steal bases, and has a high on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. 

Trout arguably could have seven MVP trophies with seven seasons with a WAR over 8. This shows Trout’s importance to his team, considering that the Angels have been quite poor over the last several seasons.

The Importance Of Defensive Runs Saved

How is defensive effectiveness rated? Several statistics can be used, such as fielding percentage and range factor, but one metric is the saved defensive runs. The DRS computes the probability that a player makes a catch on a ball hit.

DRS used Baseball Info Solutions data to determine that a ball hit in a similar way will get caught a certain percentage of the time. Suppose that rate is 40 percent. If the player makes the catch, he gains 0.6 bonus points for difficulty but loses 0.4 points if he doesn’t make the play. A player’s overall score gets adjusted to the average across the league and again for how many runs that score is worth.

Does WAR Impact Baseball Free Agents?

If teams use various metrics to measure a player’s effectiveness, it is likely that something such as WAR will be used highly with regard to free agents. A player with a high WAR going into free agency likely will get more attention and command a larger salary than a player with a lower or negative WAR.

One thing to consider is that it doesn’t tell the entire story, but teams looking to bolster their roster through free agency will want a player that can add wins versus one that cannot.

Conclusion: WAR In Baseball

WAR is a nice overall metric to determine the effectiveness of a player. Be aware that it measures single-season value and overall career value. Some players have a high number for a couple of seasons, but their overall number doesn’t put them near the top of the league.

Others have WAR consistent with a starting player over the course of a career but never a high one worthy of All-Star or MVP consideration. A WAR above 6 for a season will put a player in MVP consideration, and anything above 7 or 8 is a sure MVP season.