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WSJ Uses Advanced Metrics and Falls Flat: No Stock Sell Off

February 26, 2011

Advanced metrics are useful, perhaps most useful of all is WAR. We all know what WAR are but for those uninitiated – Wins Above Replacement – as a number it represent the number of wins above some scrub from Triple-A that each player represents. So if we had let’s say Daric Barton playing first base all year instead of random call up from Sacramento the A’s in 2010 were good for an extra 4.9 wins. It is a neat statistic as first off, it is very accessible to anyone in terms of what it means and also it takes into account both hitting and fielding and obviously for pitchers pitching.

With all that said the Wall Street Journal used WAR to calculate how everyone  in baseball’s offseason panned out. Now at first glance this would seem appropriate. Let’s take their analysis of the A’s (who was ranked #4 – tied with Washington):

4. Oakland Athletics (3.8)

Key acquisitions: OF David DeJesus (2.8), LF Josh Willingham (2.7), LF/DH Hideki Matsui (1.8) Key losses: DH/OF Jack Cust (1.8), CF Rajai Davis (1.6) Outlook: The A’s upgraded their outfield without damaging one of the game’s top pitching staffs.”

First off, I am not entirely sure where they got their WAR numbers though they say they are “projected values” – but nothing here looks strangely out of line with other things I’ve seen so I’m fine with that. Also these don’t add up always, so I’m guessing they’re more comprehensive than they say, and will account for the projection WAR of players not mentioned above like Brian Fuentes or Vin Mazzaro.

So what is my complaint? Imagine that – a mainstream newspaper using WAR to the everyday reader, this should be great. Well this analysis doesn’t look into anything other than WAR. While WAR in many ways is the all-inclusive metric, it doesn’t factor in long-term or short-term goals. It doesn’t understand salary dumps. So with that, the Wall Street Journal announces that the best offseason belongs to… the Baltimore Orioles. (???)

The Orioles, according the Journal added nine wins this offseason with the additions of Derrek Lee, J.J. Hardy, Mark Reynolds and Vladimir Guerrero, the authors write, “the changes should help them do much better than 66-96″. I agree, they’re now a 75 win team or so? I don’t see that as best offseason. Maybe if we were talking about the Orioles contending it would be.

Ironically I think the A’s offseason ranking is about accurate, but there are other confusing things here like the #6 offseason Cleveland Indians. The Indians, who have been so quiet you’d think they were trying to sneak by a prison guard this offseason had two “big additions” Orlando Cabrera and Austin Kearns. How one earth does that qualify the Indians for the 6th best offseason? The Sporting News preview at one point opines that Manny Acta should be named manager of the year if the Indians don’t lose more than 100 games.

Meanwhile teams like San Diego get slammed (#27) for losing huge marquee players like Adrian Gonzalez. They were going to lose him no matter what and really made some good moves where I feel that they’re still able to compete despite the loss of a big star. Likewise Toronto gets panned (#25) despite unloading a kajillion dollars on the Angels this offseason and priming themselves to make a run at Albert Pujols.

So while WAR is a great tool, there are times to use it and times not to, I find it interesting that the world’s most formidable financial newspaper, one that is essentially in the business of valuation could so misrepresent the values of baseball players this offseason, but at the same time I do love seeing WAR in a regular newspaper.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jon permalink
    February 26, 2011 11:24 am

    I don’t see what the problem is. One way for the WSJ – or anyone else – to evaluate how well a team fared in the offseason is to see whether teams’ transactions make them better or worse off for the next year. So if we are projecting whether teams’ win-loss records – which aren’t unimportant! – are going to improve or decline, one thing we’d want to see is whether they lost or acquired any players that are likely to make a difference.

    If you’re betting on the biggest improvement for this year, the Orioles and A’s are where I’d want to put my money, and if you want to know who will experience the greatest decline, the Padres are a sensible choice.

    The Padres almost made the playoffs last year, but surely everyone knew Gonzalez would be gone. While that trade will likely help the team in the long run, when you subtract a player of his caliber without adding a replacement you’re nearly assured a worst season.

    • February 26, 2011 4:13 pm

      Thanks for reading Jon – The problem I have with it being solely on WAR is that it completely ignores aspects such as eliminating bad contracts and other things like the different timeframes of different teams.

      While some of these teams are surely sensible choices for good/bad offseason etc. Take for example the Indians. They signed Cabrera and Kearns. These guys act as nothing but stopgaps to prospects playing in Akron and Buffalo. Is that a “great” offseason? No. Does it make them better than last year, possibly. Also Toronto’s getting rid of Vernon Wells is great, I would hardly rate their offseason as bad. I think we’re sort of splitting hairs here though, I think that yes the WSJ’s method is good at looking at “is this team better than last year’s?” yes the Orioles likely will be most improved, I agree with that. But does that make for the best offseason? Not necessarily. But I guess it is subjective as to what constitutes best offseason from one person to another.

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