MLB Expert John Bollman Explains WAR

Mike Trout

John Bollman | @JohnBollman11

Since we are still locked out, many players still have yet to sign with teams. There will be a free agency period when the lockout ends where many key players could sign. For that reason, I am going to start giving out more analysis-based articles instead of picks until it looks like the lockout is coming to an end. In this article, I am going to give a little insight into the WAR statistic and how to interpret it.

Explaining WAR

What is WAR and why is it so widely accepted? And how do we interpret this number? Well, WAR stands for “Wins Above Replacement”, and it is the first all-encompassing statistic to sum up a player’s contributions to his team. It is cumulative and considers a player’s batting, baserunning, fielding, and pitching. It is different based on the position, so a catcher’s defensive ability weighs significantly more than a first baseman’s defensive ability.

There is no exact formula for WAR which is why multiple websites have different WAR numbers for different players, however for the most part the actual rankings stay the same. For the sake of this article, we will use WAR on fangraphs.com.

Here is the leaderboard for the MLB leaders in WAR last season.

As you can see, Shohei Ohtani is the leader because he was able to contribute both as a pitcher and as a hitter all season. He counted for 8.1 wins above replacement, or 8.1 wins more than the average player would contribute. The highest pitcher was Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, who had a 7.6 WAR. The highest position player was Trea Turner at 6.9 because of his speed and defensive ability on top of his hitting. So now we know what the leaderboard looks like, how do we interpret these numbers?

Well, one way is the way I explained up top. Ohtani contributes 8.1 wins to his team’s overall record. So, if he missed the season the Angels would have been expected to win 69 games instead of 77 (we round to the closest win). Remember, we are always assuming the “Replacement” level player is an average player even if that player’s actual backup is better or worse than the average player.

WAR

Interpreting WAR

Another way to interpret WAR is by converting it into runs. For each 1 WAR, that player is expected to contribute about 10 more runs to the team. Trea Turner’s WAR was 6.9 so he contributed about 69 runs more than your average player would. Zack Wheeler’s WAR was 7.3, so in the case of a pitcher, we would say he was individually responsible for 7.3 Wins or allowing 73 fewer runs over the course of the season. Your average baseball score throughout history would probably be 5-4 (all rules equal between leagues) or 9 total runs scored, which is where the assumption of 10 runs equaling one win comes from.

You can then use this conversion to calculate exactly how many runs you think would be missing from the lineup if one of your players is hurt. For example, if Trea Turner is a 6.9 WAR player but he will be out of the lineup for the next game. I would use the number of expected runs for Turner for the season at 69 and I would divide it by 162 games to determine how many runs per game he contributes. With all other things equal, I would project that lineup loses about 0.426 runs per game with Trea Turner out on any given day. Considering 1 run can make the difference, losing almost half a run for a game is a LOT. There are obviously tons of other factors that are in play here, but this calculation gives us a good idea of what his loss means.

This statistic has also made its way into the language of contracts, and it is used as a bit of a base when it comes to negotiating contracts. For each 1 WAR, a player is expected to be worth about $8 million. So that’s why you see people saying these guys like Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are underpaid. Because they should be getting closer to $50 million per year considering how much they contribute to their club. Currently, Mike Trout has the largest contract in MLB history for a position player at about $36 million per year. However, considering he is currently projected by Fangraphs to finish 2022 with a WAR of 7.0, he should probably be getting paid closer to $54 million for the season.

MLB

As you can see at the bottom of his season statistics, there are 2022 WAR projections from ZiPS, Steamer, etc. These are the WAR projections for each of the main projection systems used by MLB teams. MLB front offices come up with their own calculation of a WAR statistic, then they look at these same projections to evaluate players and award contracts. If you are ever unsure of a contract in the future, come to this projection page, find the projected WAR for the player you are searching, and multiply that projected WAR by 8. Your answer will be the monetary value you expect the player to make for that season. You can then use this analysis to determine if you think certain players are going to live up to their projections or if certain players will underperform.

Using WAR

When I was young, I would like to use these numbers to build out my favorite team’s roster in the offseason to give myself an idea of how much a player would cost. If you really want to make it fun, look up how much cap space teams like the Tampa Bay Rays or the Oakland Athletics work with every season, and you will understand why they have to invest so much time in their player development system. Hopefully, this gives y’all a better idea of how the WAR statistic works and how you can use it in your everyday analysis.

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