More on Ryan Howard’s WAR

This is an addendum to the recent “Understanding Ryan Howard’s WAR” post. Many people were receptive to the ideas when they were laid out step-by-step and it’s great to see more and more people taking an interest in understanding Sabermetrics. One point, which I failed to address, that seems to be sticking in the craw of a lot of holdouts, is that WAR is a descriptive statistic and not a predictive statistic. What that means is WAR will tell you what happened; it will not tell you what is likely to happen in the future. Just because a player has a higher WAR in one season does not mean that WAR is saying the player is, overall, a better player or that the player will be better going forward.

Dennis Deitch of the Delco Times wrote on Twitter:

Mark Reynolds WAR: 2.4

Ryan Howard WAR: 1.9

It just debunks that stat. It’s not really credible.

The WAR stat needs some serious, serious work. Something is seriously wrong with its computation.

I don’t mind the math or the complexity.But it needs to be indicative of real value. Something in the equation is lethally flawed

As you can see, Deitch looks at Reynolds having a higher WAR than Howard and immediately concludes that WAR is saying that Howard is a worse player. That is not what WAR is saying, and I can’t really fault him for thinking that because it is not blatantly obvious.

Bat Field Rep Pos
Howard 18.6 -9 18.5 -9.7
Reynolds 4.4 -1.5 18.5 1.9

One can avoid those logical pitfalls by taking time to understand the statistic (or asking someone who does) and by performing a bit of research. To the right is a breakdown of each player’s WAR.

A lot of Reynolds’ value comes from playing third base, and playing better defense at his position than Howard does at his. Given what we know about UZR — that it is not entirely reliable until you have about two seasons’ worth of data — we can take those evaluations with larger error bars. There’s a 7.5 run difference between Howard and Reynolds but it could very easily be, say, Howard at -3 and Reynolds at -5.5 which is a shift of about ten runs, or one WAR.

Additionally, there’s nearly a 12 run difference between the two just from the positional adjustment. As we learned on Saturday, third basemen are credited 2.5 runs and first basemen are debited 12.5 runs (the numbers are adjusted slightly to reflect playing time).

What we learn from this is that Reynolds is credited a lot just for where he stands on the diamond, regardless of what he does with the bat. This is likely where the stat-heads and traditionalists diverge. There is nothing wrong with this — we are measuring value, whereas traditionalists tend to what to measure ability. WAR is not saying that Reynolds is as skilled a player as Howard; in fact, Howard is in many ways vastly superior. But Howard spends his time at first base, suppressing his value.

We can compare the players’ abilities. Offensively, Howard dwarfs Reynolds with a .391-to-.355 career wOBA advantage. Howard hits for much more power with a .296-to-.245 career ISO advantage. Reynolds both walks and strikes out more, as he is one of the kings of the “Three True Outcomes“. Defensively, Howard really isn’t as bad as UZR has shown him to be this year. Over his career, Howard is at -2.1 UZR per 150 defensive games whereas Reynolds is at -7.1 at third base.¬†Howard has clearly been the better player. Even WAR agrees with that: since 2007, Howard has a WAR advantage of 13.9 to 8.9, or an average of 1.25 WAR per season.

WAR is telling you that this year, Reynolds has been more valuable. That may be the case going forward (especially if Reynolds sticks around at third base), but WAR has no way of telling you that. It is simply saying that, given the evaluation of each player’s offensive and defensive contributions, adjusting for each player’s position, and considering replacement level, Reynolds has been a slightly more valuable player this year.

When you look up WAR and you find some fishy rankings, dig a little deeper to find out why. Ask questions when you’re not sure. Don’t cherry-pick the outliers and call for immediate disposal of a perfectly useful and reliable statistic. Criticism is absolutely warranted and always welcomed (and entirely necessary!) but it needs to be justified by good and faithful science.

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  1. YanksFan

    September 17, 2010 03:53 PM

    its definitely important to make the distinction between individual run production and team run production.

    its possible that if we switch albert pujols with ryan howard, he would not have as many RBI batting cleanup for the phillies. i don’t know if this is the case but it very well may be. what’s important is that this isn’t really the question to be asking. the question is, which PHILLIES team scores more runs, the one with pujols batting 4th, or the one with howard batting 4th. that question i’m very confident of. and its really the only one that matters. this is where the definition of “run producer” is complicated.

  2. Sanj

    September 17, 2010 05:37 PM

    Just want to clear this up, I am not anti-sabermetric, it is a great tool for determining the strengths and weaknesses of individual players and determine a proper balance to build a team. I do, however, have a huge problem with WAR. It is not even calculable for all players? WAR stands for wins above replacement. Take a player like Jimmy Rollins for instance. He is irreplaceable to the Phillies, therefore his WAR is infinite, its like dividing by 0 and busting the calculator.
    I don’t like definitive statements like Jayson Werth is better than Ryan Howard, just because your fancy numbers say so. The market determines which player is better, and no one is going to give JWerth anything north of $15-17mm a year. Jayson could never be the centerpiece of a championship lineup like Utley or Howard.

  3. Danny

    September 17, 2010 05:53 PM

    I don’t agree with you that the market determines which player is better. Oliver Perez makes north of $10 million, and Jimmy Rollins makes less than $10 million. By your theory, the market has determined that Oliver Perez is a better player.

    Why can’t Jayson Werth be the centerpiece of a championship lineup? That’s the exact definitive statement you claimed you didn’t like. Don’t contradict yourself in the same paragraph.

    Why is Jimmy Rollins irreplaceable? Again, another definitive statement with no proof to back it up. Rollins has been out for the past few games, and the team keeps winning, so apparently your theory is wrong.

  4. Scott G

    September 17, 2010 06:00 PM


    Thanks for the cliche riddled comment. I bet Werth does get north of 17 mil.

    Numbers aren’t fancy

    Troy Tulowitzki
    Hanley Ramirez

    These men would be gladly welcomed over J-Roll at shortstop. I’m not going to nitpick, but let’s be serious: I love J-Roll as much as the next guy, but he’s pretty much only a very good defensive shortstop. His offense is almost brutal, and his age/health is causing Wilson Valdez to get wayyy too many starts. I’d take those two guys in a heartbeat.

  5. Jim

    September 17, 2010 06:58 PM


    Jimmy Rollins is irreplaceable to the Phillies? Ah, which 2010 Phillies team have you been watching? In the thread in Bill’s previous WAR article, someone said “while WAR is context neutral, people’s memories are not.”

    Some people also like to point out Howard’s September “dominance” as proof that WAR doesn’t take into account everything. Don’t get me wrong, it’s mighty nice… And it’s worth maybe a bit extra. But I will take a player who dominates between the months of April through August over a player who “dominates” for one month a season. If Ryan Howard hit like he’s hitting right now between April through August, yeah, there wouldn’t be a “race” with Atlanta right now; no offense, I like that scenario much better. Not saying that Howard is a one-month player; I love the guy. But please, that argument is just idiotic.

  6. DrPete

    September 17, 2010 09:24 PM

    Let’s not go overboard: if you check the splits, Howard was pretty damn good in June and July and then missed most of August.
    In fact, checking the numbers more carefully, he was a top 5 1st baseman both of those months — and better than Pujols — not to mention the Phillies best hitter those months.
    And now he’s having a very good September.

    He started slow. ‘Nuff said.

  7. DrPete

    September 17, 2010 09:26 PM

    I wish we could edit comments.
    Using or pretty much any stats are easily looked up.
    Please, check the numbers before posting something completely out of left field (or first base). It’s really not hard and you may find something neat in the process.

  8. charless

    September 17, 2010 11:14 PM

    bill baer, write something on chooch’s 3.6 WAR (fangraphs). what a stud, right behind mccann and mauer

  9. Jim

    September 17, 2010 11:57 PM


    I think you completely missed the point. I wasn’t commenting on Howard’s ACTUAL performance; I was saying using the fact that he’s “dominant” in Sept. as the argument that WAR doesn’t measure everything is stupid.

    But to humor you… no one is saying Howard is doing terrible. Just not as valuable as in past years. “He started slow. ‘Nuff said.” Yeah, sorry, but April and May counts too. 2 extra wins in those two months, we would be 5 games up now as opposed to 3. That’s not important or anything.

  10. micah

    September 18, 2010 12:07 AM

    The main advantage that Pujols has over Howard is that he (pujols) bats right handed. Take away the overshift, and Howard’s batting average and OBP go up .030 and his slugging goes up probably .050. Obviously he wouldn’t add any home runs, but he’d probably add 20 hits a season. you take that many hits away from Pujols and see if he is still such a stud.

  11. Jim

    September 18, 2010 12:29 AM


    Say what? So it’s actually opposing managers’ fault that Howard can only hit the ball to one side of the field? LOL.

  12. YanksFan

    September 18, 2010 10:23 AM

    swings both ways. pujols gets the platoon adv in 26% of his PA, while howard gets it in 66%. if howard was facing same handed pitching 74% of the time, i bet his numbers would take a little bit of a hit.

  13. Scott G

    September 18, 2010 11:08 AM

    A little bit of a hit? haha he has a .768 career OPS vs LHP. That’s a big hit. He’s essentially Ben Francisco.


    I’d love to know how you calculated the raise in his AVG, OBP, and SLG.

  14. micah

    September 18, 2010 11:11 AM


    I didn’t “blame” opposiing managers for overshifting howard, just saying that it is a tactic, only useable against lefties, that costs howard probably a few dozen hits a season.

  15. micah

    September 18, 2010 12:59 PM

    @ scott g

    I didn’t calculate his numbers per se, just compared his numbers from 2006 (when he generally wasn’t overshifted) to his numbers since then. There’s other factors I know, but howard has certainly been hurt by the shift, and pujols hasn’t.

    Also I’m not arguing that howard is better, just saying that this is a major part of why pujols is better.

  16. Spree75

    September 18, 2010 05:00 PM

    I didn’t read the last 30 or so posts so this may have been brought up… This is what I’ve picked up from both sides of the argument:

    1) WAR is an overall indicator of “value” to a team which takes into account the availability of talent at a position AND the “extra” talent required to play various positions.

    2) WAR is not predictive and only adds up what has been done so far.

    3) Due to the variability of defensive metrics there is inherent variability in the WAR values. The best I’ve been able to determine if two players are within 0.5-0.6 WAR they can be assumed to be of equal value.

    Hopefully I’ve got the above three points correct. My feeling that when people compare “value” of different players that they fall into three different categories of what they consider “value”.

    1) Pure offensive “value”. This is the easiest to see from traditional stats and from watching a baseball game. “Howard hits a tonne of Home Runs, drives in runs, etc. so of course he’s more valuable than Reynolds”

    2) Overall “value”. I think this category is where a lot of people that are complaining about WAR fall. Most are savvy enough to know that defense is important to the game. However when comparing two players this type of person (and I fall in here) doesn’t care how many players are available at a position or how well an average player at that position plays.

    3) Overall “value” to a hypothetical replacement level team. This is what WAR is trying to describe. To me it’s useful argument for looking at contracts or for building a team or for looking at surprising/disappointing players.

  17. eh

    September 18, 2010 07:35 PM

    once again, at least 10 guys, maybe 15 could do what howard does with that line up.

  18. Jim

    September 19, 2010 02:31 AM


    Hmm… I don’t see opposing managers employing that ridiculous shift against other lefties. Did I miss something?

    And by the way, lefties, when they aren’t Ryan Howard, also enjoy the advantage of the first baseman playing close to the bag when there is a man on first, if you really want to talk about these “positional” advantages. Trust me, Ryan Howard has only himself to blame for that shift; it’s not a product of his left-handedness.

    If Pujols hits like Howard except from the other side of the plate, trust me, managers would be moving the shortstop and second baseman way over as well. They might not be able to move the first baseman, but you can bet they will move the other three infielders. Yet they don’t… Please, stop comparing Howard to Pujols, just stop. You’re unnecessarily making a really good player in Howard look bad. Howard might be lucky if he has the numbers to make it into the HoF when he’s done playing. Pujols? He’s ALREADY there.

  19. Bill Baer

    September 19, 2010 02:15 PM

    Albert Pujols will likely retire as the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.

    Ryan Howard would be lucky to crack the top-50 left-handed hitters.

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