How Will I Pick Them?

So, how does one decide who indeed are the “100 Greatest Giants?”  For me, a student of sabermetrics, the obvious answer is, “rank them by their career WAR (wins above replacement).”  We use WAR to determine how much better a player is than what a team would typically have to replace that player.  In other words, how much better is our player, let’s call him “Willie Mays,” than a readily available AAA player Willie’s team could call up or similar free agent Willie’s club could sign?

But which WAR to use?  There is no one way to calculate WAR, hundreds of steps are involved in the calculation, and reasonable people can disagree on the best way to implement a particular part of the framework.  (And let’s be clear, though I use sabermetric metrics when I evaluate or analyze teams and players, I couldn’t begin to calculate WAR myself or explain all the nuances between the various calculations.)  The choices are between WAR as calculated by Fangraphs (fWAR), Baseball Reference (rWAR), or Baseball Prospectus (WARP).  Each is slightly different from the other, each has components to recommend it.

I’ve decided to use Baseball Reference’s WAR.  My reasons are pretty simple.  I’m a subscriber to Baseball Prospectus, and have loved the site for more than a decade, but much of Baseball Prospectus’s content is behind a pay wall, and I didn’t think it appropriate for me to direct those who want to see the underlying calculations for my choices to a paysite.  The rWAR calculation for my purposes seems better than that of fWAR because its “starting point” in calculating pitching WAR is runs allowed rather than fielding independent pitching, or FIP.

While I think FIP today is a better evaluator of talent in a single season, and a better predictor of performance in the next season, I’m not sure it’s as helpful in examining pitchers historically.  As we go back through the decades, the correlation between FIP and next year’s ERA fades.  This is the case because over the decades baseball has become increasingly dependent on the components of FIP, aka the Three True Outcomes.  Strikeouts, walks and home runs are now happening more often than ever before.  Does FIP have zero value for measuring past performance?  Not at all.  It is still a measure of what happened, uninfluenced by the defense behind the pitcher, and that is always an asset when measuring pitcher value.  But in an earlier era, particularly before 1920, it would be hard to use FIP to evaluate a pitcher.  Pitching in the deadball-era was much more about pitching to contact.

Another fact recommending r-WAR is that not only does it sit between fWAR and WARP (most of the time) on a yearly basis, but it also has a pretty easy-to-use scale for judging how a particular number of WAR relates to a player’s performance.  Zero WAR means that a player is replacement level. Two WAR means that a player is starter-caliber.  Five WAR means that a player is an all-star.  Eight WAR means that a player is an MVP candidate.  Simple and clear, though it is, at best, a guideline, not a rule.

While I use WAR in determining who makes the “100 Greatest” list, and their order on the list, I don’t take WAR as the be-all and end-all of discussion.  (Although, yes, had I a vote, mine would have been for Mike Trout as AL MVP in 2012, not Miguel Cabrera.)  I wouldn’t want to claim that Gary Matthews absolutely had a better career with the Giants than Irish Meusel.  There’s room for debate about who’s on the list, and where on the list they are.  That’s what makes such lists fun.

This entry was posted in The 100 Greatest Giants, Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.