Is WAR Overused?

Victor Decolongon

Jim Caple responds to the group of people that believe WAR to be the be-all and end-all of stats. But does that group even exist?

Jim Caple of ESPN wrote an interesting piece this morning on the famous/infamous sabermetric tool, Wins Above Replacement. His core argument is that while WAR is useful and should not be ignored, it is often overused and shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of baseball discussion.

My issue is this: I don't like the increasing over-use of (and over-reliance on) WAR as THE definitive evaluation of a player's worth.

This was particularly true during the Mike Trout-Miguel Cabrera MVP debate last fall. For instance, consider this headline on an ESPNLosAngeles.com story in late September: "Mike Trout Is Your MVP (WAR Says So).

That was just one of many stories focusing on WAR in the MVP race, where the stat became a big factor in analysis of the players, as Bleacher Report noted.

Now, Cabrera wound up winning the MVP by a wide margin, so WAR wasn't a decisive factor in the award vote. (I voted for Trout, though I did not base my ballot on WAR.) But I just found it tiresome to keep reading all the references to it, as if WAR was the only stat that should be considered, and leading a league in batting average and home runs and RBIs -- as Cabrera did in becoming the game's first Triple Crown winner since 1967 -- was somehow a mere accounting trick.

I actually agree with a lot of the points that Mr. Caple makes. In fact, I suspect that most saber-minded fans and writers would agree with the premise that WAR should not be the only contributing factor to our evaluation of a player's value. And therein lies much of the problem with Caple's article - he creates a straw man of sorts that believes that WAR is the only answer, that the reason Trout should have been MVP and Morris shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame is because of their WAR values.

In reality, there are many reasons completely outside of the realm of WAR that Trout was deserving of MVP and Morris was not deserving of the Hall. And as Craig Calcaterra noted, WAR often seems to be "an insult by those who hate it more than it’s used as an argument-ender by those who like it."

WAR is great. But it is not perfect. It is not the be-all and end-all of stats. It is flawed and must always be used alongside other evidence. Most of us agree with that. Jim Caple agrees with that. Maybe Jim Caple didn't realize that we agree with that. Maybe he was aiming his article at that small subgroup of fans that hails WAR as the only stat to use. If so, I hope they come around.

If he was aiming the article at people like the readers and writers of this blog, I hope he comes to realize that we actually agree with him (for the most part). And once we all get on the same page about that, we can begin to have interesting and productive discussions about how to best evaluate players instead of talking over one another's heads about WAR and RBI and the like.

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