Not so long ago I pondered whether or not the defensive metrics used to calculate WAR were very useful. My conclusion, after looking at the WAR calculation from baseball-reference.com is that the defensive part of the system seemed to be out of whack.
Many thanks to comments from Richard Ya’Zhynka, Kevin Creagh (fellow P2 blogger), szielenski, Lee Young, john.alcorn and Keenan Funk for sharing their thoughts and some helpful links.
I spent a good chunk of time over the weekend messing around with the WAR Calculator at Wahoos on First. The calculator is very simple to use and very straightforward (hit click to edit along the top of the data entry box to get going). You plug in the OBP and SLG for whatever player you want to play with. You can plug in the adjusted OBP and SLG for the franchise he played for (or you can plug in league average data). You put in the defensive position, the number of plate appearances and the number of games played. Then you rank them in fielding (one through seven with one being the best and four being average) and base running (one through five with one being the best, etc.). And then you get some data.
Since I got hung up on Paul Konerko, Clint Barmes and Yadier Molina in my original post, I thought it would be fun to continue to play around with their numbers. So, I plugged in the actual offensive data for each of them and varied their defensive and base running metrics. For the sake of simplicity I aligned the metrics so that they were best in both, average in both or worst in both. Then I also dug up their WAR as calculated by FanGraphs. Finally, I dug up the league average offensive stats (from baseball-reference.com) for 1B, SS and C and plugged that in. For 1B it was .345 OBP/.452 SLG. SS had .317/.380 and catchers came in at .313/.389. I left the default settings of 600 PAs and 150 games played.
Here are the results, with worst, average and best referencing the settings for fielding and base running.
|League Ave 1B||0||2.1||4.2||-|
|League Ave SS||0||2.1||4.2||-|
|League Ave C||0.6||2.6||4.7||-|
I think this makes more sense that what I was seeing using the baseball-reference.com data for WAR. Although I still question that FanGraphs has Barmes equal in WAR to Konerko, whom must obviously be severely below average in fielding or running or both. Molina’s FanGraph data is better than Barmes, which is a no brainer and even if he was an average defender, his value would be higher than a light hitting shortstop with ‘best’ rankings for both running and fielding.
What I especially like is the league average stuff. Using the actual league average data for 1B and SS, it looks like the defensive importance of an SS makes up for the offensive ineptitude of most of them when glove work and running are set at equal values for both positions. I think that makes sense.