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The other day I was having a chat with Graham and Dan about Bill Dahlen, Jack Glassock, and the 2016 Pre-Integration Committee ballot. You know, like normal young men do.

Graham asked me if Dahlen’s case is still strong if you don’t use WAR. I replied…

That’s a neat little fact about my three favorite non-Hall of Fame shortstops… and Ed McKean. So Graham asked about McKean (who I called one of the worst defenders ever):

Ed McKean

Ed McKean: positive dWAR, but terrible fielder. (Image via Wikipedia)

Ugh. Here we go. dWAR.

Sure, McKean’s dWAR was positive. That’s good, right? Well guess what… McKean played a total of 1,655 games. 67 shortstops played that many games. How many had a worse dWAR than McKean?

Rk Player dWAR G
1 Derek Jeter -9.2 2602
2 Shawon Dunston -2.0 1814
3 Ed McKean 4.3 1655
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/6/2014.

That’s it. Two. The truth is that 4.3 dWAR is terrible for a shortstop. The reason the number is positive is that it includes the positional adjustment. So, for a shortstop to get a negative dWAR, he needs to be terrible on a legendary level (sorry, Mr. Jeter). Of the 67 shortstops, the average dWAR was actually 17.7.

Let’s step back for a moment. I was an early user of Sean Smith’s Wins Above Replacement framework. When Sean Forman at Baseball-Reference acquired it for use on the site, it was like watching two of your best friends get married. Seriously, it was beautiful. I could see them having babies together. Babies like Mike Trout.

One thing Sean (Forman) has introduced since taking the reigns is the concept of oWAR (offensive WAR) and dWAR (defensive WAR). It’s not that these stats by themselves are terrible. It’s just that they’re terribly named and as a result, I have never seen them used properly.

Sean actually explains the use for oWAR quite well:

If you think all defensive measure are bunk and no better than random noise, use oWAR. It is every part of WAR, but assumes everyone is an average defender.

But that’s not how people use it. The latest example that got me fired up came from Jayson Stark writing about Joe Mauer yesterday. Stark says:

According to baseball-reference.com’s indispensible Play Index, Mauer’s offensive contributions alone were worth 30.4 Wins Above Replacement from 2008-13. Just four other players beat that: Miguel Cabrera (40.4), Albert Pujols (31.6), Robinson Cano (31.5) and Joey Votto (30.9).

The big problem here is the “Mauer’s offensive contributions alone” part. oWAR absolutely does include part of Mauer’s defensive contribution—his position. And that’s huge for a catcher.

Just to recap, here are the components of a position player’s WAR:

  • Batting, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rbat and in the Play Index as “WAR Runs Batting”, includes only what the player did at the plate.
  • Baserunning, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rbaser and in the Play Index as “WAR Runs Baserunning”, includes not only the run values of a player’s stolen bases and caught stealing, but how successful he is at advancing on the base-paths during other plays.
  • Double plays, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rdp and in the Play Index as “WAR Runs DP”, expresses how much value the player provides in avoiding the double play. Players who ground into a lot of double plays will have a negative value while players who avoid them gain value.
  • Fielding, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rfield and in the Play Index as “WAR Runs Fielding”, shows how well a player fields his position compared to the average defender at his position. I used bold and italics for a reason there. The player is compared not just to the league average, but to the league average for his position. Obviously, the average shortstop is a much more valuable player than the average left fielder. That is captured in the next component…
  • Position, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rpos and not searchable in the Play Index, is an adjustment made to give players of important position credit for the fact that they’re filling more difficult roles.
  • Replacement, expressed on Baseball-Reference as Rrep and not searchable in the Play Index, fills the gap between replacement and average.

oWAR is simply all of the above except fielding. So, it may not contain the fielding, but it still contains the positional adjustment. Therefore, oWAR is not just offense. Not only does it include position, it also includes base-running and double plays. Stark would have been better off using the Play Index to search Rbat (or perhaps Rbat, Rbaser, and Rdp combined) from 2008–13. Here’s how Mauer ranks using just Rbat…

Rk Player Rbat
1 Miguel Cabrera 300
2 Albert Pujols 259
3 Joey Votto 251
4 Prince Fielder 217
5 Ryan Braun 207
6 Matt Holliday 200
7 Adrian Gonzalez 191
8 Joe Mauer 163
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/6/2014.

Mauer is still excellent, but he does drop a few rungs.

So, to recap: oWAR is not just the offensive contribution. It is actually a version of WAR that assumes every fielder performed at the league average. Position is included, but fielding is assumed to be average.

Sean actually created oWAR for the people who “think all defensive measure are bunk and no better than random noise”. He wanted them to still be able to use a version of WAR. Honestly, I’m guessing if they think the defensive measures are bullshit, they probably have similar concerns with positional adjustments and park adjustments. I think oWAR and dWAR should disappear. I think they’re hurting WAR more than helping (by spreading false information).

So what exactly is dWAR? My fired up self said this:

 

I don’t often get fired up and irrational, but perhaps “useless” took it too far. Luckily, when one of Dan and I get crazy, the other is there to help. Dan offered this:

 

Which led me to this:

 

Which in turn led me to writing this article. See! Twitter isn’t just for breakfast photos and Kardashians!

So, to recap again: dWAR does actually isolate just the defensive portions of WAR. But you need to remember that it includes the positional adjustment. The fact that Ed McKean has a positive dWAR and Jeff Bagwell has a negative dWAR does not mean that Bagwell was a bad fielder and McKean was good. In their cases, Bagwell was phenomenal at a low value position and McKean was among the worst at the highest value position. In the WAR framework, McKean was still more “valuable” to his team because he filled that very difficult shortstop position.

The main reason I dislike dWAR is that you can’t just add it to oWAR and get WAR. The names imply that they’re split but they’re not. The positional adjustment is included in both. Plus, it is repeatedly misinterpreted.

Let’s just all start using oWAR or dWAR correctly. Or better yet—not at all. Just use WAR or the individual components.

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