Understanding Ryan Howard’s WAR

Ryan Howard‘s WAR is not so flattering as beat writer Ryan Lawrence of the Delco Times pointed out in a tweet earlier today.

A few reasons I can’t comprehend WAR: Jamey Carroll, Ike Davis and Jeff Keppinger all ahead of Ryan Howard.

Because WAR isn’t exactly the easiest thing to comprehend, I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why Howard’s WAR is low as well as expound on the fairness of Lawrence’s take on WAR. First, the educational stuff.

What goes into a hitter’s WAR? On FanGraphs, there’s batting runs, fielding runs, positional adjustment runs, and replacement level runs. In layman’s terms, it accounts for offense and defense, debits or credits the player for his position, and then compares the player’s production to a replacement-level player.

Batting runs are based on wRAA, which stands for weighted runs above average. wRAA is acquired by subtracting the league average wOBA (weighted on-base average, which is equal to the league on-base percentage) from the player’s wOBA, then dividing by 1.15, which scales the number to mimic on-base percentage. Finally, you multiply by the player’s total plate appearances. So, for Ryan Howard, his wRAA is ((.369-.325)/1.15)*537 which gives us 20.5.

If you are playing along at home, you may notice that Howard’s wRAA doesn’t match up with his batting runs total. That’s because FanGraphs adjusts batting runs for park factors but does not do so for wRAA. Howard plays in a hitter-friendly park, so his number is depressed from 20.5 to 19.0.

Fielding runs are based off of the sum total of UZR at each position. Since Ryan Howard has only played first base, all we’re looking at is… first base. His UZR there is negative nine runs. There’s your fielding runs. Note that it is raw UZR and not UZR/150, which is UZR scaled to 150 defensive games. And, of course, there is the huge caveat of using just one-year’s worth of UZR data — it is a bit unreliable as it takes about two and a half years for this type of defensive data to stabilize. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs gives UZR an error bar of +/- five runs, so Howard could be between -4 and -14.

Positional runs credit or debit the player for playing more or less demanding positions. A +5 UZR is better from a center fielder than from a corner outfielder. This is done by adding or subtracting runs from the fielder (all are per 162 defensive games):

  • Catcher: +12.5 runs
  • First Base: -12.5 runs
  • Second Base: +2.5 runs
  • Third Base: +2.5 runs
  • Shortstop: +7.5 runs
  • Left Field: -7.5 runs
  • Center Field: +2.5 runs
  • Right Field: -7.5 runs
  • Designated Hitter: -17.5 runs

Ryan Howard would be debited -12.5 runs but FanGraphs further scales it based on his playing time. Currently, Howard’s positional adjustment deduction is -9.4 and will change very slightly over the next 20 games based on his presence on the field.

Finally, we have to deal with replacement runs. A replacement-level player is expected to produce -20 runs per 600 PA. Ryan Howard thus far has accrued 537 PA, so his replacement runs total is 17.9: (20*537)/600.

Then you take all of your separate run totals and add them up.

  • Batting runs: 19.0
  • Fielding runs: -9.0
  • Positional runs: -9.4
  • Replacement runs: 17.9

Howard’s total is 18.5. That is runs above replacement. To get to wins above replacement, simply divide that by ten. Why? Dave Cameron explains:

RS^2/(RS^2 + RA^2) = Pythagorean Winning Percentage. So, if a team scored 775 runs and allowed 775 runs, they’d have a .500 Pythag Win%, or 81 wins and 81 losses – even amounts of runs scored and runs allowed should lead to something like an even record. Not as scary as it sounds.

What happens if we subtract 10 runs from the runs scored column, so that we now have a 765 RS/775 RA team? Pythag spits out a .4935 win%, and .4935 * 162 = 79.95 wins. So, instead of 81 wins, you’re now expected to win just barely less than 80. By subtracting 10 runs, you lost a fraction more than one win.

Howard’s WAR, then, is 1.85. FanGraphs only rounds to one decimal place, so it shows up as 1.9.

FanGraphs compiles WAR slightly differently than Baseball Reference, which uses Rally’s WAR. For specificity, it is best to denote which type you are using: fWAR for FanGraphs WAR and rWAR for Rally’s WAR. I use fWAR but it is more a force of habit than anything else. rWAR is just as reliable.

Bat Field Rep Pos
Howard 19.0 -9.0 17.9 -9.4
Carroll 3.4 0.2 13.1 3.1
Davis 10.4 8.4 17.2 -9.2
Keppinger 3.8 -2.0 16.6 2.0

If you look at the leaderboards for WAR, it should pass the smell test. Most of the players at the top are players widely regarded as great players. Every so often, you may find someone who jumps out at you, like Andres Torres. Some people, like Ryan Lawrence, will see those fishy-looking players and completely dismiss the stat altogether.

i just can’t seem to take it seriously if Jamey Carroll & Jeff Keppinger are rated higher than Howard.

What Lawrence should have done before tweeting is look at each player’s value tab on their FanGraphs page. To the right is a breakdown of each player’s RAR.

The reason why Carroll is higher than Howard in RAR is because Howard is judged to be a poor fielder by UZR and because Howard has played a much less important position. Carroll has logged most of his defensive innings at shortstop and second base.

Similarly, UZR rates Davis as a great defender and that is the sole reason why he is ranked higher than Howard in WAR. Keppinger hasn’t been as bad defensively and has played more important positions.

Instead of Lawrence saying…

it is hard to take the stat seriously when i see those names ahead of Howard

… he should have looked up the numbers listed above, or at least asked someone who knows about WAR to explain the disparity instead of letting his confirmation bias take over and cherry-picking names to discredit the stat. If you had asked him before he noticed Carroll, Davis, and Keppinger, I would bet that Lawrence would have told you that WAR generally had a vast majority of players ranked appropriately.

Most people are going to look at Howard’s .282 AVG, 29 HR, and 96 RBI and think that he’s having a good season offensively. And he is — it’s just not a great season. With a .345 OBP and .525 SLG, he should not be in the same stratosphere as Albert Pujols, Joey Votto, and Adrian Gonzalez. Last year? Sure. 2006? Yeah, absolutely. But not 2010. So people see Howard’s 1.9 WAR and the company he’s in, and they balk as Lawrence did. When you dig deeper though, you see that it is completely justified.

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100 comments

  1. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 12:29 PM

    I think most of the critics of WAR in this thread miss the boat for reasons set forth by others.

    However, for a variety of reasons I think that using WAR for single season, player to player comparisons is the lazy way out. It lacks precision, as even the biggest fan of WAR admits (mainly because of defense, but also because of imprecision with regard to replacement value and, to a lesser extent, with regard to positional comparisons).

    Despite those problems, it probably is the best “objective” single number comparison tool. But while that’s wonderful for studies of groups of players, or even multi season comparisons of single players, for one on one single season comparisons, why do we need a single number to do such comparions?

    For example, with Howard: his OBP ranks 9th among NL firstbasemen. There are 5 NL 1B with an OBP at least 44 points higher. He is at best mediocre defensively. Sure, he is 4th in SLG among NL 1B. But put all that together, and you don’t need WAR to tell you that, this year at least, he ranks at best as the 7th best NL 1B. And even without doing detailed positional comparisons, it seems highly unlikely that the 7th best NL 1B ranks among the league’s elite – this year anyway.

  2. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 12:48 PM

    “he is their cleanup hitter. His job is not necessarily to get on base, but to drive in runs”

    No, no, a thousand times no. His “job” is to create runs, whether by driving them in, or by getting on base (and not making outs), and having other people drive him in.

    What some people don’t realize – and the sometimes the stat crowd contributes to this – is that some sabremetric findings are more robust than others. Among the most robust are findings related to the relative value of OBP and SLG%. I know that it’s counter intuitive, but every study ever done on the subject – and we’re talking studies using many different methodologies – has shown that, REGARDLESS OF WHERE A PLAYER HITS IN THE LINEUP, a high OBP is more important than a high SLG% (in terms of creating runs).

    Am I saying that a guy who has a .400 OBP and a .450 SLG % would make a better #4 hitter than a guy who has a .300 OBP and a .550 SLG%? Yes, a 1000 times yes, that is certainly true, and no subject to debate. You won’t see that in real life, both because of “traditional” notions of lineup construction, and because RELATIVELY speaking it makes more sense to bat the .300/.550 guy behind the .400/.450 guy, but it is true none the less.

    On the Werth/Howard comparions … THIS YEAR Howard is better with RISP (though Werth has been fine with RISP lately after a poor start). Over the course of their careers, though, both players are about the same with RISP as they are overall (Howard does have a much high OBP because of IBB). Moreover, Howard, despite missing several games (and having fewer AB than Werth overall) has 23 more AB with runners in scoring position. That is a significant part of the reason Howard has more RBI. Overall, there is no question that Werth has been more valuable this year, even taking into account performance with RISP.

  3. Richard

    September 13, 2010 12:59 PM

    Thanks for making the Werth point. The meme has taken on a life of its own that Werth “hasn’t contributed” this year. I love me some Ryan Howard, but damn that’s annoying.

    (Speaking of Howard: check out his splits vL&RHP. He is holding his own against lefties this year–though his BB% & K% are both worse against them than against righties; the main difference in his numbers is that he’s not destroying RHP like he has in the past. I haven’t delved deeply into the pitches he’s saying, but I bet he’s adapted somewhat to the LHP–though still vulnerable to certain nasty LOOGYs–and hasn’t quite adapted to the steadier diet of breaking balls from RHP.)

  4. Cutter

    September 13, 2010 01:44 PM

    “No, no, a thousand times no. His “job” is to create runs, whether by driving them in, or by getting on base (and not making outs), and having other people drive him in.”

    “I know that it’s counter intuitive, but every study ever done on the subject – and we’re talking studies using many different methodologies – has shown that, REGARDLESS OF WHERE A PLAYER HITS IN THE LINEUP, a high OBP is more important than a high SLG% (in terms of creating runs).”

    This is one way of looking at it. Personally, I think it’s much more valuable to have Howard driving in runners than to have Werth walk only to see Raul Ibanez strike out, ending the inning.

    Some statstics may show that factors like lineup position are unimportant. But statistics fail to take into account intangibles.

    For instance, if a hitter is a threat to steal a base, it can affect a pitcher. Does the pitcher get distracted? Does he speed up his delivery and throw a pitch with less velocity as a result?

    And I don’t think stats can properly take into account a player’s “clutchness.” I know that some think clutch hitting is a myth, but there’s a reason that coaches like to say “hitting is contagious.” When others in the lineup are hitting well, the rest of the team often follows suit.

    And sometimes, if the team is in a hitting slump, players tend to press, and as a result fare worse than normal. For a good example of this, take a look at the Phillies from mid-May to mid-July.

    Also remember that statistics can be misleading. I have doubts about what to take from any statistic or study that shows that walking four times when your team is losing 10-1 is more valuable than hitting a home run in a tie game.

    I’m sure there are studies that prove all your points. Personally, I’ve “studied” many Phillies games in which Howard drives in the winning runs. I’ve studied Howard carry the Phillies into the playoffs every September.

    If you’re telling me that you would rather have seven different NL first basemen in the Phillies lineup over Ryan Howard, then I think you need to spend less time finding statistics to tell you what Howard can’t do, and spend time watching what he does do.

    You may disagree with me, but fortunately, Ruben Amaro, Charlie Manuel, and those banners in the outfield do not.

  5. Richard

    September 13, 2010 01:51 PM

    Dude, you’re not even trying to understand or discuss. Seriously, why are you posting here?

    “Personally, I think it’s much more valuable to have Howard driving in runners than to have Werth walk only to see Raul Ibanez strike out, ending the inning.”

    Do you really think that any of us wouldn’t prefer the former to the latter? We’re talking about what, over the course of the season, tends to create more wins, and thus value. You may remember a lot of times Howard came through “in the clutch”. Do you remember all the runs Werth has scored this year in the midst of late-inning rallies? Not as flashy, I know.

  6. Gaël

    September 13, 2010 02:17 PM

    Cutter: “This is one way of looking at it. Personally, I think it’s much more valuable to have Howard driving in runners than to have Werth walk only to see Raul Ibanez strike out, ending the inning.”

    And more often than not, the latter happens because Howard failed to get on base and provided the second out of the inning. As already mentioned, selective memory and confirmation bias make you remember the times Howard blasts a 3-run shot, not the ones when he fails to get on base at the beginning of an inning and eventually cuts a rally short.

  7. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:18 PM

    Really part of the problem is that it’s impossible to “prove” Cutter wrong in a comment thread. The evidence is massive but impossible to do justice to in such a limited context. And it’s pretty clear that Cutter isn’t interested in exposing himself to the evidence. Which is fine, I guess, but as you say … then why does he bother posting here?

    But specifically w/r/t the Ibanez crack … hmm, let’s see. Ibanez DOES have 70 RBI, and Werth DOES have 90 runs. (FWIW. Ibanez has actually been very good with RISP. Better than Howard, relative to his overall performance.)

    The Phillies # 6 batters overall have 82 RBI. Their # 7 hitters have 58 RBI. Their number 8 hitters, 67 RBI. Those runs count too. So it’s not as if Werth’s always getting stranded.

    I will say this to you, Cutter: what you’re mainly missing are big innings. Sequential offense wins games. If you are playing for a run or two, maybe you do want Howard up there. But having a high OBA guy like Werth increases your chance of a big inning.

    (And for the record, over a career rather than this season, Howard clearly is overall the better hitter. Whether he is right now a better player overall is open to discussion, given positional and fielding factors. But THIS year Werth is clearly the better player overall. As hitters … they are close EVEN IF you credit Howard for better performance with RISP. If you don’t … this year, Werth is clearly the better hitter.)

  8. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:19 PM

    Okay, really annoying catchpa with unreadable letters/ numbers. Grr … let’s try again.

    Really part of the problem is that it’s impossible to “prove” Cutter wrong in a comment thread. The evidence is massive but impossible to do justice to in such a limited context. And it’s pretty clear that Cutter isn’t interested in exposing himself to the evidence. Which is fine, I guess, but as you say … then why does he bother posting here?

    But specifically w/r/t the Ibanez crack … hmm, let’s see. Ibanez DOES have 70 RBI, and Werth DOES have 90 runs. (FWIW. Ibanez has actually been very good with RISP. Better than Howard, relative to his overall performance.)

    The Phillies # 6 batters overall have 82 RBI. Their # 7 hitters have 58 RBI. Their number 8 hitters, 67 RBI. Those runs count too. So it’s not as if Werth’s always getting stranded.

    I will say this to you, Cutter: what you’re mainly missing are big innings. Sequential offense wins games. If you are playing for a run or two, maybe you do want Howard up there. But having a high OBA guy like Werth increases your chance of a big inning.

    (And for the record, over a career rather than this season, Howard clearly is overall the better hitter. Whether he is right now a better player overall is open to discussion, given positional and fielding factors. But THIS year Werth is clearly the better player overall. As hitters … they are close EVEN IF you credit Howard for better performance with RISP. If you don’t … this year, Werth is clearly the better hitter.)

  9. Cutter

    September 13, 2010 02:20 PM

    “Dude, you’re not even trying to understand or discuss. Seriously, why are you posting here?”

    I didn’t realize that agreeing with everyone was a prerequisite to posting here.

    I do understand your points. I understand that by using certain statistics, you can make a point that Ryan Howard isn’t valuable.

    But I am trying to point out that statistics have their limits, and that if you don’t just limit your judgements to what the stats tell you, you will find that Howard is indeed one of the most valuable players in baseball.

    And for the record, I do not dislike Werth. I just find the thought that he is more valuable to the Phillies than Howard to be laughable.

  10. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:29 PM

    And on the “clutchness” issue, you know we CAN measure those things? Even assuming for the sake of argument that there is such a thing as a clutch hitting “skill,” looking at Howard’s numbers OVER THE COURSE OF HIS CAREER, his performance in clutch situations is … about the same as his performance in non-clutch situations. The only thing that stands out, as mentioned above, is a higher OBP – which is ENTIRELY a result of intentional BB.

    We can, in fact measure most – well, pretty much all – of the intangibles mentioned … and the bottom line is that they for the most part don’t amount to much. Probably the most significant intangible that usually gets ignored is base running … and I don’t think anyone is claiming that that is one of Howard’s strengths.

  11. Richard

    September 13, 2010 02:30 PM

    “I didn’t realize that agreeing with everyone was a prerequisite to posting here.”

    This remark is just further evidence that you don’t understand the points being made. No one is saying everyone has to agree, but the goal of this site, so far as I understand it, is to pursue the furtherance of knowledge about baseball. There are a wide variety of possible interpretations of the various available statistics. The point of my remark is that you’re not trying to engage with any of them, or any of the stats in question. You’re just making blanket assertions based on flawed and limited observation. It’s true that statistics have their limits, but the alternative is not to retreat into abject fuzziness.

    Now, the real question is why I’m continuing to argue with you.

  12. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:38 PM

    “If you’re telling me that you would rather have seven different NL first basemen in the Phillies lineup over Ryan Howard”

    This year – we’re talking about this year’s performance. Let’s see.

    I assume you won’t disagree that Votto and Pujols are having FAR better seasons than Howard. Gonzalez is too – his power numbers are very close to Howard’s, he has been on base 53 more times with about the same number of outs, and he has almost as many RBI despite fewer opportunities (40 fewer PA with RISP). Huff is having a similar year to Gonzalez, albeit at a slightly lower level. It seems to me that those 4 are absolute slam dunks – OF COURSE the Phillies would be better off (this year) with any of those 4.

    The other two are closer cases; sadly the limits of a comment thread prevent me from doing them justice. But for THIS YEAR (not career, and not going forward) Fielder and Dunn have been better.

    Not Ike Davis; I agree that that is one that WAR gets wrong.

  13. Sanj

    September 13, 2010 02:39 PM

    Sabermetricians have to explain the following stats:
    1. How good is UZR anyway? Fielding is highly dependent on a player’s starting position and the amount of time he has to reach a ball a certain distance away. All these assumptions are ignored in UZR. How hard is it to measure how long a fielder takes to reach a ball, how far he had to move to field it, and how quickly and accurately he can get rid of it?
    2. “Lucky Pitchers” – Explain how it is considered “unlucky” for a pitcher to allow a HR instead of a flyball after putting a fastball right down the middle of the plate. It would stand to reason that pitchers who pitch away from the center of the plate would have more success and less HRs allowed, and this should not be random. Why aren’t HRs hit that go foul not considered when computing how unlucky a pitcher is? It makes no sense that long foul balls do not play into the HR/FB metric. A HR ball that goes foul is actually unlucky, a fly ball that goes 20 rows deep is not unlucky. Which is why Madson shouldn’t close.
    3. Since you often talk about only looking at what is in a pitcher’s control, why not only look at what is in the hitter’s control. The only thing a hitter can control is the batted ball speed or the amount of good wood a hitter can put on a pitch,his GB/FB ratio, and his ability to hit to various parts of the ballpark. Why is there no stat that looks at a hitter’s avg batted ball speed? You would think the higher the batter ball speed and the better a hitter’s ability to hit to all fields would lead to a high batting average, then adjust for the fact that a lower GB/FB ratio would lead to more power and less average, while a high GB/FB ratio would lead to a higher average with less power.

  14. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:39 PM

    Try again …

    “If you’re telling me that you would rather have seven different NL first basemen in the Phillies lineup over Ryan Howard”

    This year – we’re talking about this year’s performance. Let’s see.

    I assume you won’t disagree that Votto and Pujols are having FAR better seasons than Howard. Gonzalez is too – his power numbers are very close to Howard’s, he has been on base 53 more times with about the same number of outs, and he has almost as many RBI despite fewer opportunities (40 fewer PA with RISP). Huff is having a similar year to Gonzalez, albeit at a slightly lower level. It seems to me that those 4 are absolute slam dunks – OF COURSE the Phillies would be better off (this year) with any of those 4.

    The other two are closer cases; sadly the limits of a comment thread prevent me from doing them justice. But for THIS YEAR (not career, and not going forward) Fielder and Dunn have been better.

    Not Ike Davis; I agree that that is one that WAR gets wrong.

  15. Sanj

    September 13, 2010 02:44 PM

    Also any article about Ryan Howard’s stats for a season written before September can immediately be disregarded. The man comes alive in September, four years in a row is not an anomaly, its a trend.

  16. Bill Baer

    September 13, 2010 02:44 PM

    I apologize for not being able to participate in the discussion as I was busy most of the day, but I am really enjoying the discussion.

    Just be sure not to resort to insulting each other. I will delete any troll comments.

  17. LarryM

    September 13, 2010 02:46 PM

    Cutter,

    The simple point is that you aren’t ENGAGING the arguments here. It would be one thing if you looked at the evidence, disagreed and stated your reasons for doing so. Instead you’re like a kid who goes into a history class, doesn’t read the assignments, and wants to start an argument with the teacher anyway.

  18. Cutter

    September 13, 2010 03:10 PM

    Gael:

    It is true that Howard sometimes fails, and kills a rally. This is nothing remarkable in a sport where failure 6 out of ten times is considered success.

    As far as selective memory in terms of Howard’s acheivements is concerned, this is probably because many of these acheivements lead to wins. We tend to remember the game winning hits and homers.

    For example, I will always remember Matt Stairs more fondly than Jim Thome. Thome was probably the better statistical player, yet he seemed to do a lot of damage when the game was already in hand.

    On the other hand, most Phillies fans might not be able to remember a single other thing that Stairs did for the team, but they’ll always remember game four of the 2008 NLCS.

    Richard:

    “This remark is just further evidence that you don’t understand the points being made. No one is saying everyone has to agree, but the goal of this site, so far as I understand it, is to pursue the furtherance of knowledge about baseball.”

    I would think that if you really wanted to “pursue the furtherance of knowledge of baseball” you would welcome dissenting opinions.

    The reason I posted here is because I followed a link from ESPN.com, disagreed with what was said, and posted a dissenting argument. If that is not welcome here, there should be some sort of warning sign.

    “You’re just making blanket assertions based on flawed and limited observation. It’s true that statistics have their limits, but the alternative is not to retreat into abject fuzziness.”

    I would counter with my own statistics like HRs and RBIs, but I’m sure you would just say that those statistics are “proven” to be too dependent on outside factors.

    Also, please remember that part of baseball’s charm is the “fuzziness.” If the game was only about statistics, then they’d just pop all the numbers into a computer, and let that decide the champion is.

    If statistics alone decided baseball games, then the Mets probably win the 2007 NL East by a large margin.

    But as we all know, that wasn’t the case.

  19. Jake

    September 13, 2010 03:15 PM

    “I know that some think clutch hitting is a myth, but there’s a reason that coaches like to say “hitting is contagious.”

    Cutter: Hitting isn’t contagious, bad pitching just makes it seem that way.

    @Sanj, Re: Batted Ball Speed

    This is something people are actually starting to work on –– it may be a little while before it comes to fruition, but the work people are doing on Fielding F/X data (which will also be far more reliable than UZR, which is still really, really shaky) should also give us some information on what hitters really can do to improve their BAPIP’s other than smacking line drives.

    For example, I think a guy hitting a lot of weak ground balls because he’s making lousy contact (Aki Iwamura comes to mind from early this year) shouldn’t be considered “unlucky” for a .240 BAPIP or whatever he had. My hope is that that information will help determine which lousy BAPIP’s are unlucky, and which are being earned because a player is hurt/old.

    On the flip side, it should also help evaluate pitchers better by both better evaluating the defense behind them as well as the velocity of the balls being put in play by hitters facing those pitchers.

  20. Bill Baer

    September 13, 2010 03:16 PM

    @ Cutter:

    You want to measure Howard’s worth? Don’t bother making long complicated mathematical equations. Instead, just watch Howard hit.

    Why can’t we do both? I watch the games AND I look at the stats.

    Humans are flawed, prone to biases of all kinds. If I’m a Phillies fan — and in particular, if I’m a Ryan Howard fan — I am much, much more likely to remember the good things than the bad things. So, by watching the games, you may THINK you’re accurately recollecting what has happened, but your bias in favor of Howard may overstate his value.

    The great thing about stats is that they’re objective and they’re verifiable. That Ryan Howard has reached base in 34.3% of his plate appearances isn’t someone’s opinion; it’s a fact. And if you don’t trust Baseball Reference, you can either check with another source or compile the data yourself.

    If you say that Ryan Howard is “clutch” and assign various other mythical qualities to him, there is no way to verify that. What is “clutch” to one person may not be “clutch to another”.

    Anyone who argues that the Phillies would be better off with Werth over Howard spends too much time with a calculator, and not enough time watching the game.

    Blanket statements like this don’t fly. All opinions are equally valid; what matters is what facts you use to back them up. Don’t discount someone because they say something that seems outlandish — hear them out, and see what the facts show you.

    What facts do you have at your disposal show that Werth is not as valuable as Howard?

    @ Dave, re: replacement level

    You make a good point. The Phillies’ replacement for Howard is likely better than the Pirates’ replacement for Garrett Jones. As you point out, accounting for these variables is near-impossible, but it doesn’t make replacement level a moot topic. The current definition replacement level likely gets us to at least 95% of the true replacement level.

    Just because we don’t have that last 5% or so doesn’t mean we throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

    @ Jon, re: first base defense

    it doesn’t seem logical to me to assign equal weight to defense (as opposed to hitting) at one of the least-important defensive positions as compared to more important defensive positions.

    That’s right, and that’s why we used a defensive positional adjustment in the WAR calculation. A +5 UZR at first base is not nearly as good as a +5 UZR at shortstop.

    @ Cutter

    There’s a good chance that Howard’s deal set the bar for them [Fielder, Gonzalez, Pujols, etc.]. The Phillies knew this, and didn’t want those players setting the bar for Howard.

    If that were true, the Phillies could have done a lot better than committing $125 million to him through at least 2016.

    And I don’t think there is much corrolation between Howard’s deal and Werth’s status. Howard’s extension won’t take affect for another season, and it doesn’t appear the Phillies can even fit Werth into next year’s budget.

    If the Phillies were to sign Werth, it likely wouldn’t be on a one-year deal. On a multi-year contract, some of Werth’s years would overlap with Howard’s, which means the Phillies would be committing around $40 million a season to their first baseman and right fielder.

    Hitting fifth, his primary focus should be driving in runners.

    I’m not quite sure I follow. Isn’t Ryan Howard the RBI guy? In most situations with runners on base, Werth is coming to the plate with Howard on first or second base.

    And yet, he has one of the league’s worst batting averages with runners in scoring position.

    This is true, but RISP is not a statistic that has year-to-year persistence. Check his RISP numbers from last year.

    Keep in mind that Howard’s OBP suffers in comparison to Werth’s partially due to the defensive shift. How many potential base hits has Howard lost due to the shift?

    Wouldn’t this depress Werth’s RBI opportunities?

    Not to mention Werth’s many mental mistakes this season such as getting picked off base and throwing behind runners.

    Let’s not single out Werth — he’s not the only one to have been picked off this year.

    And he drives in runs better than just about everyone in baseball.

    Some years, yes. This year, and 2008? His OBP and SLG — the two most critical factors for hitters — have been lacking; in the second-tier among sluggers.

    Re: intangibles

    Intangibles, by definition, are immeasurable qualities. If you can’t measure them, then how do you *know* that Sabermetric studies are inherently flawed for excluding them?

    Just because you think, or feel, or acquire via ESP that a player is clutch doesn’t mean that he is because you have no way of proving it. And when you try to prove it, you rely on data and that data has overwhelmingly shown that “clutch” hitters don’t exist and even if they did, their “clutchness” wouldn’t have a noticeable impact.

    @ Sanj

    1. How good is UZR anyway?

    www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/uzr-2008-to-2009/

    2. Explain how it is considered “unlucky” for a pitcher to allow a HR instead of a flyball

    www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=10042

    To quote Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman: the intra-class correlation for HR/FB is very low, both from an overall standpoint and one in which the individuals are isolated from their respective teams.

    3. why not only look at what is in the hitter’s control

    The hitter has a lot more control over the outcomes of batted balls than the pitcher. This is why hitters have their own BABIP that they regress to rather than the league average.

  21. Scott G

    September 13, 2010 03:23 PM

    Cutter,

    “If RBIs are partially a product of the surrounding lineup, then shouldn’t Werth have almost as many RBIs as Howard batting only one spot behind him?

    Instead, in 14 more games, Werth has 33 fewer RBIs! Please don’t tell me that the difference is only because Howard doesn’t get on base enough.”

    Think about it. If Howard is driving in a lot of runs, and not getting on base, who is left on base when Werth gets up. Honestly, I think Werth should bat between Utley and Howard. Have Utley bat 2nd, Werth 3rd and Howard 4th. It would serve two purposes. Utley and Werth get on base a lot, and Utley Werth and Howard have progressive SLG. Thus, you’re getting your OBP guys on base in front of guys who slug. Much more logical lineup dynamic.

    In ’09, Werth had 36 HRs and 26 2Bs and 99 RBIs. Howard had 141 RBIs. Obviously Werth isn’t going to get as many RBI opportunities as Howard, it’s just common sense. Furthermore, this year Howard has 29 HRs and 21 2Bs and 99 RBIs. Werth had more homers and more doubles and equal RBIs. The only logical explanation is the Howard is stealing RBIs.

    “Keep in mind that Howard’s OBP suffers in comparison to Werth’s partially due to the defensive shift. How many potential base hits has Howard lost due to the shift?”

    Howard’s batting average is the highest it’s been since 2006. They have always employed the shift against him. Clearly batting average and hits are not why his OBP is lower. It’s his walks. They are atrociously low.

    “Not to mention Werth’s many mental mistakes this season such as getting picked off base and throwing behind runners.”

    Jayson Werth has also thrown players out at the plate. Ryan Howard is often afraid to throw the ball 85 ft to 2nd base. You’re not really going to try and make a case that Howard is better than Werth defensively are you? Howard might not have gotten picked off of 2nd, but he did make a terrible base running mistake that led to his spot on the DL for some time. He took a very big turn for no reason when the ball was already on its way back in, and then lunged back to the bag (something you’re taught not to do).

  22. DrPete

    September 13, 2010 03:23 PM

    This conversation is rapidly derailing, so this may be useless. However, as I mentioned earlier, I think everyone would benefit from recognizing the difference between context neutral stats (OBP, SLG, WAR, etc.) and context-sensitive stats (WPA).
    When you watch a game, you are by default seeing WPA in action. You see the hitter K with RISP. You see a double into the gap that drives in 2 runs, etc. This shapes your opinion of players you see play. However, because context is harder to quantify and present and is highly variable and luck-driven, it’s convenient to use context-neutral stats and those are the stats we see most, especially for players we don’t see play.
    For the record, I think the most sane approach is a bit from column A and a bit from column B, with a great appreciation for luck.

    Thus, I think Howard has had a fine season. In particular, I feel he helped keep the Phillies close in the middle of the year when the Slump and injuries were really piling up. While his Wins above Replacement may not shine, in my mind he contributed to Wins for Phillies (WFP).

    Consider:
    He is 2nd on the Phillies in net WPA (Win Probability Added) at 1.59 (and first in +WPA) despite missing 3 weeks (WPA is a counting stat), and being pretty terrible when he first came back off the DL. For the record: Polanco is first, Ruiz is third and 1.59 puts Howard at #25 in the NL. Ike Davis, by comparison is .64 net WPA, and I didnt have the patience to count out his place in the NL.
    Intuitively, this fits with my observations of the games — I’ve watched or Gameday’d pretty much every single one.

    As for Werth, it’s obvious he’s a great player and his WPA also matches my perception that he’s had a good season, but not when most needed, whether thats due to luck or pressing, or the contract, or whatever. He’s #5 on the team in net WPA, despite no injuries and -1.56 Clutch (Clutch is the difference between context neutral WPA and actual WPA) which is #4 worst in the NL — I hope Derrek Lee continues to lead this stat, btw and that Polly and Chooch stay in the top 5.

  23. Thomas

    September 13, 2010 03:29 PM

    Thank you DrPete for a reasonable anti-WAR argument based on some facts. I agree that some context should be included when considering a players value for a season. WAR’s approach says what would happen in an average season. I am okay rewarding a player for getting lucky and having a good year with runners on base (or as a pitcher avoiding HR’s) when you are determining value for that season. MVP should retain some context specific details (like WPA), as long as we can dump the archaic ones like pitcher wins.

  24. Jon

    September 13, 2010 03:57 PM

    @Bill – thanks for the answer. That does make sense when comparing a middle infielder to a 1B, the +runs or -runs. I guess my secondary question is that since a first baseman’s defense is less important than that of a middle infielder (as noted in the runs adjustment), shouldn’t it also be weighted less when comparing players at the same position?

    The fact that Ike Davis is 18 runs better defensively than Ryan Howard seems (and again this is intuitive, my logic may be bad) that it should mean less than if Jimmy Rollins is 18 runs better defensively than Derek Jeter. Howard is playing a position where defense is devalued in comparison to UZR; Rollins is playing one where its value is increased. But when we convert that to the runs formula, (modified) defensive runs are given the same input into the formula as offensive runs.

    So shouldn’t the offensive runs be weighted more heavily for players at offensive positions (ones with negative run adjustments), and the defensive runs be weighted more heavily at the defensive positions? I’ve seen some posts essentially saying “a run is a run” but I dunno, it just seems like it should matter less if you have a bad fielder at first than at short.

    Sorry if this is all settled and I just can’t get the theory to click in my head.

  25. DrPete

    September 13, 2010 04:10 PM

    I’m not anti-WAR, it’s a useful and convenient “total package” context neutral stat — despite the UZR volatility*. I constantly use WAR when “scouting” teams the Phillies play, particularly to sanity check the announcers who seem to gush about every player.
    For example, if I were an NL team facing the Phillies now, I’d consider the following:
    Valdez has played 39 games at 2nd base in the middle of the Phillies season. He has a WAR of .1. He is now replaced at 2nd by Utley who has a WAR of 4.2. Clearly the Phillies just got a massive upgrade.

    *I would probably like WAR even more if it used an aggregate for the defensive metric, see www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/aggregate-defense-evaluations/
    For the record, TZ also considers Ryan below average this year (but not as bad as UZR) and I think he’s clearly not a first-rate defensive 1st baseman. Interestingly, UZR has him bad at home and away, while TZ has him just a touch above average at home and brutal away. I’d love to see a context-sensitive defensive metric as well — I don’t think -WPA includes defense.

  26. NSS

    September 13, 2010 04:26 PM

    I have to jump in to complain about this statement by Cutter: “Personally, I think it’s much more valuable to have Howard driving in runners than to have Werth walk only to see Raul Ibanez strike out, ending the inning.”

    If a pitcher isn’t giving Werth anything to hit in that situation, can you blame said pitcher? I’d much rather pitch to Ibañez than Werth. But why would you want Werth to be swinging at any of the garbage that the pitchers are throwing him in the situation you outline above? Doesn’t it make sense that Werth making contact on some garbage pitch is extremely likely to result in an out? If I’m a manager I’m walking (whether it’s intentional or “unintentionally intentional”) Werth to get to Ibañez approximately 100% of the time.

  27. Brad.

    September 13, 2010 04:35 PM

    This has been a really good, informative discussion, and I appreciate it a great deal. Though I’ve been a lifelong fan, I am still figuring out many of the main statistical tools of the sabrdudes, often slowed by the fact that it is, afterall, math, and I am, afterall, dumb.

    Anyway, one of the things that drives me crazy about Howard’s defense isn’t the outright mistakes or errors, but the things he doesn’t do that a competent 1B would. Sometimes he has a runner dead at second on a ground ball, but freaks out and just trots to first instead of throwing (I know he’s freaking out because he briefly makes a face like a fourth-grader at his piano recital). Far too often, that runner may score. Are people working on a defensive rating to take this into account? Is this already a part of measuring a player’s range?

    Anyway, thanks again.

  28. Phillies Red

    September 13, 2010 04:38 PM

    Bill, great read, and also very helpful comments.

    MGL said something in his UZR primer that confused me. He said that UZR was not descriptive. Obviously I believe him, but I really wonder what that means for WAR. Does that mean that we shouldn’t technically, think of WAR as descriptive either? And if UZR isn’t descriptive, why do we even use it in WAR? thoughts on this would be appreciated.

  29. Scott G

    September 13, 2010 04:43 PM

    Bill or anyone else,

    I’d like to preface this by the fact that I’m a huge Jayson Werth fan in case you or anyone else couldn’t tell. I’d be very interested in seeing Jayson Werth’s spray chart (similar to the one in the Howard post). I remember last year that he mashed balls to right field very frequently. He had a good amount of opposite field homers, and he was very often crushing fastballs right down the middle.

    It seems to me like he’s never even making contact with fastballs down the middle or on the outer half. Part of the reason I like him so much is because he had power to the opposite field, and it seems to have disappeared this season.

    I am just trying to test my “eyes” to what is factual. He’s been swinging and missing on balls right down the middle almost all season, and I’ve been saying to myself for the last month and a half that he used to crush these balls. I tried to find it myself (not for too long though).

  30. DrPete

    September 13, 2010 06:12 PM

    Scott G:
    pitchfx.texasleaguers.com/
    has hitter spray charts. I glanced at Werth ’09 vs ’10 and the charts look similar, nothing obvious — maybe a couple extra opposite field homers, but I doubt it’s significant.
    (That’s a pretty awesome site btw, the pitcher stuffs is informative too. I tend to use brooksbaseball.net/pfxVB/pfx.php for pitchers during games though.)

  31. Sanj

    September 13, 2010 06:32 PM

    The REAL WAR STAT – Sabremetrics debunked: Here is how you know WAR is incorrect. Per Fangraphs, Rollins’ WAR is a low 2.1. However, entering Monday, the NL East-leading Phillies were 51-31 (.630 – 102 win season) when Rollins plays this season, 32-30 (.516 – 84 win season) when he does not (when Rollins scores a run, Philadelphia is 30-6, as opposed to 53-55 when he doesn’t cross the plate).
    Hence, Jimmy Rollins’ real WAR over a 162 game season is about 18 games if we assume that Juan Wilson Valdez is an average replacement player. If wins above replacement is supposed to measure how many more wins Jimmy Rollins provides over the average replacement player, than isn’t the actual empirical WAR more significant than a fabricated statistic? With a WAR of 18, Jimmy Rollins is easily the best player in all of baseball, trumping Hamilton’s WAR of a measely 8.

  32. Scott G

    September 13, 2010 06:34 PM

    of course as soon as I mention Werth’s opposite field “futility”, he hits an “oppo boppo”.

  33. Jay

    September 13, 2010 06:44 PM

    You need to add a heart category to WAR. Jimmy Rollins makes everyone around him better and wills his team to win every night. I don’t understand how he is not in the MVP discussion with a the heart-adjusted actual WAR of 18.

  34. Richard

    September 13, 2010 07:06 PM

    DrPete, thanks for your comment. An excellent contribution that statistically takes into account what we seem to remember about Howard’s “clutchiness” (but which also makes Werth look decent, too!).

    Also, I apologize for my role in lowering the tone of the debate. I was spending too much today time defending Werth on dumber blogs, getting my dander up.

  35. Cutter

    September 13, 2010 09:05 PM

    NSS:

    I actually agree with you. But when people say that the most valuable thing a hitter can do is not make an out, then they overlook this scenario. What good is a walk by the five hole hitter when the next batter isn’t likely to do anything with the runner on base.

    ScottG:

    As for Werth’s RBI opportunities, there shouldn’t be that much of a difference between those of the 4th and 5th hitters. But I agree that Werth would be much more useful as one of the first two hitters in the lineup.

    One comment on Howard’s defense which people seem to universally decry:

    I have felt that he is actually pretty good on handling throws from infielders. I don’t know if there’s any way to measure that, but it seems like he digs out his share of low throws.

    And I’m not against using statistics to get a deeper understanding of the baseball, but any time the stats suggest something like Jamey Carroll or Ike Davis is more valuable than Ryan Howard, then something seems wrong.

    That is where my “you have to watch” argument comes into play. Anyone who has watched the Phillies over the past few seasons: Would you trade Howard for any of those players?

  36. Scott G

    September 13, 2010 09:55 PM

    Cutter,

    I really don’t think you’ve read anything other people have posted. It’s not about the previous seasons. No one is saying the Phillies should trade Howard for those players. This season, those players’ WARs are comparable when taking into account that they play very difficult positions compared to Howard, and they put up decent offensive statistics while playing great defense. Howard hasn’t put up his typical offensive numbers this year, and has been pretty bad at the least important defensive position.

    Also, Howard dropped a ball thrown chest high last Sunday against the Brewers.

  37. EH

    September 13, 2010 10:36 PM

    Howard is better than WErth and Utley, I don’t care about the stats.

    Entourage clearly went after their best player, and that’s all the evidence i need!

  38. Bill Baer

    September 14, 2010 03:55 AM

    The “I watch the games” argument is insufferably arrogant.

    Just because you watch the games doesn’t mean that you are A) doing so objectively; B) know what you’re looking for; and C) see everything that’s meaningful. I don’t mean to be insulting when I say that, but most people watching the games are going to be seeing and looking for surface details, or otherwise not looking for much at all.

    A lot of MSM writers like to use that. They are in the press box for every game therefore their opinions are more educated and thus more valid.

    It is possible to have never watched a baseball game and still arrive at the correct conclusions just as it is possible for a person to have seen every game since 1950 and arrive at the wrong conclusions. Facts are facts, they are not beholden to experience and inference. 2 + 2 = 4 isn’t any less correct if George W. Bush says it as opposed to John Nash.

    So, “I watch the games” is not a boon to anyone’s argument. Personally, I think LESS of what you have to say if you have to resort to such justification for your arguments.

    And again, one can both watch the games AND utilize statistics. They are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work rather well when used in conjunction with one another.

    @LarryM

    I apologize, your comments were getting stuck in my spam filter for some reason. Please let me know if you experience any further problems.

  39. Cutter

    September 14, 2010 07:08 AM

    I will admit that I have not read this entire site. I followed a link to this particular article, read this particular article, and I was commenting on this particular article.

    I will also admit that just watching the games may not give me complete understanding of what is going on. And I know that stats can give a deeper comprehension.

    But my point is that just going on statistics alone can be equally misleading at times.

    Maybe I don’t understand the entire complexity of the calculations used – actually I’m sure I do not – but I know no matter how deep you dig – and there has definitely been some deep digging – you’ll always get some arbitrary values and factors that can’t be explained away by numbers alone.

    I think we see each other’s points, and I don’t think anyone is going to convince anyone of anything. So I’ve said my peace.

    It has been an enlightening discussion though.

  40. LarryM

    September 14, 2010 08:01 AM

    Thanks for fixing that Bill. Sorry for the double posts.

    My final word on the subject isa reference to Dr. Pete’s interesting contribution. As someone else stated, WPA is essentially offensive contribution with “clutch” taken into account. And he is STILL only 25th in the league this year. And a mediocre to poor fielding 1B.

    It’s pretty clear the Cutter and the rest of us are talking past each other. But my final comments on his contribution:

    “you’ll always get some arbitrary values and factors that can’t be explained away by numbers alone”

    When talking about baseball hitting and pitching (fielding is arguably different), the fact is that those “factors” have a tiny impact on the bottom line (i.e., winning). Again, I can’t prove that in a blog comment thread, but the evidence is out there for those who care to see it. (Interestingly, that’s less true for some other sports. The sabremetric approach to basketball is much more open to legitimate dispute, and as for football and hockey … there’s PLENTY that can’t be modeled statistically,)

    “just going on statistics alone can be equally misleading at times.”

    Can be. But not in this case. For reasons which we’ve been trying to explain throughout the thread. The biggest arguement in favor of Howard beyond the stats is “clutch.” And it’s true that this year he has been a little better in clutch situations (than in non clutch situation). But as WPA shows, still not ENOUGH better to put him among the elite (this year).

    I’ll grant you that, if he keeps hitting in August as he has so far this year & in previous years, his overall numbers will look a little better than they look now. A little. Only 17 games left, not enough to make a huge difference in the bottom line.

    He is better this year than Ike Davis, though, I’ll grant you that.

  41. DrPete

    September 14, 2010 10:11 AM

    Here’s a brilliant explanation of the WAR concept by Tom Tango (aka TangoTiger) that he posted as a comment on BP today:
    “As an example, look at the way Fangraphs lays it out for Ryan Zimmerman.

    We see that he’s +31 runs above average in offense, +16 runs above position average in fielding, +19 runs for playing time, +2 runs for his position, for a total of +67 runs (rounding issues notwithstanding). The conversion to wins makes it +6.9 wins above replacement according to Fangraphs’ implementation of the WAR framework (fWAR).

    Now, suppose you don’t like the fact that fWAR uses UZR. You are a Total Zone maven. Well, guess what, you simply move one number in, and move one number out. It doesn’t invalidate the rest of the metric.

    Suppose you think replacement level is set too high, or too low. Well, change that too. Suppose you think Linear Weights makes no sense, and prefer BaseRuns. Well, go ahead, knock yourself out. Suppose you think that 3B is easier to play than 2B. Change that too.

    The important point is that you have a FRAMEWORK. Create that, adopt that, follow it. That’s WAR. Now, once you have a framework, you need an implementation. You can be lazy and let Fangraphs (fWAR) and Baseball Reference (rWAR) figure that out for you. Or, gulp, you can do as Colin says here and think for yourself.

    What you can’t do is just throw your arms up and say the solution is too difficult AND THEN proceed to give us your opinion as to who is the most outstanding player! If it’s too hard to find the solution, then your opinion becomes irrelevant. It’s a bullsh!t opinion, because it’s a summary opinion without evidence.

    So, this is what sabermetrics is about, the journey, the thought process, the critical thinking. Do it, because we can never have enough people doing this.”

  42. LarryM

    September 14, 2010 10:27 AM

    Nicely put DrPete. I would think there would be a way to translate WPA into runs above average also – thus incorporating “clutch” performance for those who are so inclined.

  43. YanksFan

    September 14, 2010 11:38 AM

    LarryM, I have to ask:

    Do you also post on a Big East basketball message board? Or is your name just a coincidence with someone I see on there?

    Either way, good posts.

  44. LarryM

    September 14, 2010 11:40 AM

    Hopefully this won’t get caught in the spam filter.

    Yanks: thanks. Yeah, that’s me; I post occasionally on the Villanova board. Much less knowledgeable about basketball, so I’m more modest there – except when I post on baseball topics. :)

  45. YanksFan

    September 15, 2010 08:08 AM

    Larry: Figured it had to be. I don’t post about much other than baseball over there either. Not sure why, as they aren’t really receptive to this type of discussion. I tend to “take the bait” and get roped into it more than you do, but your posts over there are typically welcome support.

  46. Ron

    September 16, 2010 04:23 PM

    If there is fielding independent pitching (FIP), then why isn’t there pitching independent fielding?

    Seems to me, defense relies on pitching (where outs can be recorded without the benefit of a fielder – minus the catcher) and what a fielder does with a batted ball (which the pitcher supposedly has no control over).

    In the case, since defense is made up of pitching + defense, it would seem to me that fielding isn’t a 1:1 ratio, but would be somewhat less.

    If a run scored is = a run saved, and run saved is = pitching + defense, simple algebra would make fielding less than offense.

    Just curious if someone can clarify this a little bit more with a smart ass response.

  47. Ron

    September 16, 2010 04:24 PM

    Sorry, without a smart ass response.

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