Insert sweeping statement about the analytics “movement” in baseball here. Similar ones have been made countless times and from countless angles. Some talk about the progress the movement has made with regards to its acceptance by the mainstream baseball community. Others say almost the exact opposite. That seeming dissonance is a near perfect metaphor for a smaller discussion in the same vein. When we discuss WAR, we’re still talking past each other.
Over the past few days, we’ve gotten a few solid articles about the much-maligned and much praised statistic. Sam Miller at ESPN penned this in defense of WAR and Michael Hurley of CBS Boston turned in this piece as a response to Miller’s. Overall, I don’t have many problems with either piece. I think each one is more or less on point: WAR is simultaneously over-bashed and over-hyped, but each article has one thing I take issue with.
Starting with Miller’s piece, I will say it was long and fairly comprehensive. However, the thing I noticed most was something that was missing. In his musings on WAR, Miller failed to mention anything about the dubiousness of any and all defensive stats that go in to the calculations of WAR. As for Hurley’s piece, most of it was okay, but the part at the end regarding RBI rubbed me the wrong way. No one says that driving in runs in meaningless. It’s a misrepresentation of the argument; the rest of Hurley’s piece is pretty well worded, so I’ll chalk it up to a slip up in phrasing.
Briefly, this presents a problem. One side is mischaracterizing the opposition’s argument and the other has a hard time admitting its own flaws. I’ve shied away from using WAR over the last year or so, but it still has its merits, as do traditional stats. It seems like we’re getting close to having a legitimate conversation about these things, but both sides need to make ‘concessions.’ Those on the traditional side need to realize that those who espouse advanced stats aren’t trying to turn the game into a spreadsheet based computer simulation meant to rob joy and emotion from the game. If anything, I’ve become more passionate a fan because of my exposure to advanced stats. And on the other side, those who embrace advanced analytics need to admit that MAYBE their methodologies aren’t perfect and that decimal point differences in WAR aren’t all that significant. Until we do those things, we’ll just be talking past each other and talking in circles ’til we’re blue in the face.