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What's WAR In Baseball? | A Beginner's Guide

In the last 15 years, sabermetricians (those who analyze baseball data in order to evaluate players and develop playing strategies) have crafted a method of evaluating players' contributions to their teams' wins. The resulting statistic of their method is known as WAR. 

WAR is an awesome stat because it allows us to make comparisons between players that may not be considered "apples-to-apples". Since WAR gives us a single number that can be assigned to a player to evaluate an individual season (or even their career), we now have a more seamless way to compare something like Barry Bonds' (OF) 2002 season to Mark McGwire's (1B) 1998 season.

But WAR can be tough for the average baseball fan to grasp. The goal for this blog article is to help fans get a basic comprehension of the stat so that they have a better understanding when hearing references to a player’s WAR rating.


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What Does WAR Stand For?

WAR stands for Wins Above Replacement Player. And according to the Major League Baseball website, the purpose of WAR is to “measure a player’s value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position”.

For a single season, a WAR rating will usually exist somewhere between 0 and 6 (and sometimes even better if a player is performing exceptionally).

A popular destination for finding a player's WAR is the Baseball Reference (bREF) website. When visiting one of their pages you can always find a player's current season and lifetime WAR right below their personal information. Below is an example of a bREF page:

Where To Find WAR Rating On A Baseball Reference Page

When discussing or researching players, be sure to consider that Wins Above Replacement is not 100% precise. bREF warns that WAR is "an approximation and will never be as precise or accurate as one would like". With that in mind, if you are comparing two players side by side and their WARs are only a handful-or-less of percentage points off, there is a good chance that they had a pretty similar season regarding their success as an individual player.


What is a Replacement Player?

We imagine that you want to know more about how WAR is calculated, but there are a couple of things we probably need to explain before we provide a basic overview of how the stat is calculated.

Be sure to note that WAR measures the amount of wins that a certain player earns above a REPLACEMENT LEVEL player. bREF believes that the typical fan’s understanding of Wins Above Replacement can get muddled over the details of what makes up a “replacement level” player.

This writer believes that a lot fans mistakenly substitute the word "average” for “replacement”.

Players who have perfomed at the average MLB level have put up some decent numbers and chances are that they are already with an existing MLB team (and if they were to be acquired, they may be expensive).

bREF explains that when a given player is forced to miss time, he is typically not replaced by a player that is producing at an average Major League level. He will typically be replaced by a low-cost minor leaguer that has not yet received a shot in the MLB -or- maybe a player who is an easily attainable free-agent that has never performed exceptionally well in the big leagues.

Because of these factors, WAR tries to show how much better a given player is than a replacement level player (not an MLB-average player) at the given player’s same position.


What Goes Into Calculating WAR?

In the film Moneyball, the Oakland Athletics assistant GM, Peter Brand, emphasizes a train of thought that he thinks needs to be considered when looking to acquire talent. Peter says “[the] goal shouldn't be to buy players, [the] goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”

The calculation of WAR follows this same premise as it calculates how a player contributes to his team’s run total (this includes positive and negative contributions). 

For bREF the following components are what goes into measuring a positional player’s WAR calculation:

  • Batting Runs
  • Baserunning Runs
  • Runs Added Or Lost Due To Grounding Into Double Plays In Double Play Situations
  • Fielding Runs
  • Positional Adjustment Runs
  • Replacement Level Runs (Based On Playing Time)

(NOTE: The above elements are what goes into calculating a positional player's WAR. A pitcher's WAR will obviously consider different statistics. If you want to see that equation, it can be found at Baseball Reference's website.)

Be sure to notice that towards the bottom of the above list, you’ll see that the WAR calculation is adjusted to account for the defensive position of a player. Most fans understand that the positions of catcher or shortstop contribute more to a team’s ability to prevent runs than the positions of first base or left field. Because of that, the following statement from the MLB site regarding Wins Above Replacement can be deemed true: “If a shortstop and a first baseman offer the same overall production (on offense, defense and the basepaths), the shortstop will have a better WAR because his position sees a lower level of production from replacement-level players.”


What's A Good WAR?

FanGraphs, like bREF, is a great location for mining baseball stats and understanding how to use those stats to evaluate players. Like bREF, they also have a calculation for finding a player's WAR rating. FanGraphs has provided a great chart to use for understanding the meaning of different single-season WAR ratings for positional players and starting pitchers:

FanGraphs' Chart For Single Season WAR


We hope that this has helped you take the first step in your journey towards understanding Wins Above Replacement! Now we are certainly not the final source when it comes to understanding WAR and we would recommend that you visit a location like Baseball Reference or Fan Graphs as they will help you dive deeper into your understanding of WAR.

And if your original purpose in coming to JustGloves was to look for a glove, please be sure to do a LIVE CHAT with one of Glove Experts or call them at 866-321-4568.



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