As pointed out in this Hardballtimes story by Matt Hunter, here’s two opening-day pitching lines:
Wait. Strasburg’s 7 shutout innings in which he only allowed 3 baserunners is somehow considered an “equal” performance in terms of FanGraphs WAR to Harrison’s 5 2/3 inning 5 earned run debacle??
The reason why (as explained much better in the Hunter link) is because Fangraph’s WAR is based on FIP, and despite Harrison’s line and despite the fact that Strasburg didn’t give up any runs Harrison’s FIP was actually lower than Strasburg’s for the day. FIP only measures Ks, BBs and Homers, and because Harrison had many more K’s on the day his FIP is better.
Here’s my problem; how can you possibly trust a statistic that is this blatantly wrong on an individual game level? Both WAR and FIP accumulate over the course of a season to arrive at a measure for a player’s performance, yet clearly they both have significant individual-game issues. And as Hunter points out (paraphrased), “if you can’t trust a stat on a per-game basis, you can’t *really* trust the stat on a full season level.”
I point this out because there are far, far too many stat-heavy baseball writers out there who will literally call you an idiot if you dare use “old time” statistics to measure a player’s season … but who also use the likes of WAR and FIP as the be all-end all replacements. And that’s where I have a problem.
And all of this is to say nothing of the heavy reliance of defensive stats on WAR, defensive stats which didn’t exist 10 years ago (so how “good” or “bad” are our historical players?) and defensive stats which are admittedly flawed when it comes to doing what they’re supposed to do unless every player stands in exactly the same spot at every position on every play all year? If your team employs lots of infield shifts (like say a Tampa Bay), guess what? Your UZR rating looks fantastic. If you play in a big pitcher’s park and have a fly-ball pitcher on the mound (think San Francisco and Matt Cain), your UZR looks awesome as you chase down lazy flyball after lazy flyball. Defensive stats can’t take into account first basemen digging out throws or measure nearly any component of catching defense outside of the basic counting stats we already had (errors, caught stealing, passed balls).
I don’t know what the solution is. But I know it isn’t to claim that WAR is the ultimate player measurement stat that lots of people believe it to be.