Friday, November 18, 2016

The WAR zone

It was with no small amount of amusement yours truly read yet another article where a sports scribe went off about the dreaded WAR (Wins Above Replacement) regarding a few players. Evidently, this has taken the place in their world of "giving 110%" -- which is and was always impossible -- and taking the step to the "next level" -- which these days ranks right up there with "groovy", "far out man", and "twenty three skiddoo". In other words, most of us have long moved on from such lunacy and don't want to hear it anymore -- if it ever made sense in the first place.

Yet one question has never been asked, let alone answered. Just who, pray tell, is this mythical "replacement" the above mentioned scribes keep referring to? 

Perhaps we are to assume it's an "average" player. That in itself raises even more issues. 

A starting pitcher with a record of 10-10 can't get any more average than .500. Or maybe it's a position player that bats .250, hits 7-8 home runs, drives in 60-70, and steals maybe half a dozen bases over the season. Sounds about average. Every major league defender could certainly be expected to have a fielding percentage of at least .900. If they can't make routine plays nine out of ten times, then they're a liability. Maybe. 

A guy like the Detroit Tigers' Miguel Cabrera is one of many outliers in such a sense. He's considered one of the best players in the game -- potential Hall of Fame material -- but his overall talent is very limited. He hits, a lot and with power. But his fielding is sub-par at any position, he doesn't have much of a throwing arm, and he's slow on the basepathes. So for his one great asset, Cabrera comes with several liabilities as well. No doubt, the stat monsters give him a large number when it comes to WAR. He's much better than the average replacement. Or is he? Depends who you might plug in his place that might bring a bit less hitting, but far more overall skills. 

It's also interesting to note WAR is limited to baseball only. We don't hear the term applied in other sports. The inimitable John Daly would likely have a positive WAR. After all, despite his other nuances, JD remains a far better golfer than anybody you likely know. Not long ago, Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys was thought irreplaceable -- until some young dude named Dak Prescott came along. So would Romo have had a positive WAR before, but a negative one now, without having played a game in between due to injury? Seems odd. 

The same scribes will tell us a hockey goalie was "standing on his head" making spectacular saves. Interesting thought, but yours truly has never seen one actually do it. But if one can do a headstand while kicking away slapshots, by all means give that man a positive WAR. Yet if the same one lets in a couple "soft" goals later in the same game while merely on his feet, the hero quickly turns into a bum. Definitely negative WAR. 

Should a catcher with a lifetime batting average of .230 have a positive WAR? The now retired David Ross of the world champion Chicago Cubs fit the bill. One would think not at first glance, but it depends. Maybe he throws out the vast majority of potential base stealers. That counts for something. Or perhaps he's the preferred backstop of an ace pitcher, though that also is head scratching material. What difference does it make who the catcher is to a pitcher? As long as he can, well, catch -- and a catcher who can't catch ranks right up there with a NASCAR or Indy racer that can't drive -- one would think his bat would be the difference maker between a positive or negative WAR. Yet Ross hit .230, but was considered a hero. Go figure. For that matter, catchers "calling the pitches" is bunk as well. Every catcher knows what variety of pitches any pitcher has to offer, and they both know the signs. The catcher doesn't decide. The pitcher does. Seem them shake off signs on any given pitch they don't like. So a personalized catcher would seem to be no more than soothing the pitcher's fragile ego. Hey, it's pro sports and these guys are making millions of dollars. Once between the lines, they're supposed to become mercenaries -- not operatic divas. 

But like Iraq and Afghanistan, the WAR must go on -- right? Scribes depend on such mumbo-jumbo to write their columns. It makes no sense in the real world to the average fan. They understand some players are just better than others, without being bombarded by reams of statistical analysis. 

Maybe fans should be ranked on their own WAR. How many wins do you think Detroit Lions' fans have contributed over the years to the team? Perhaps not a lot, but there's no replacing them either. Where else will you find a hoard of gullible suckers that keep going to games and rooting them on when their team hasn't had anything positive to show for over a half century? 

Better yet, maybe it's high time the fans themselves started ranking the scribes by WAR. The one mentioned in the opening sentence of this narrative replaced one that was far more interesting to read.and got more money to boot. That seemed backward. Then again, WAR spelled backwards is RAW.-- the kind of deal the readership has had to put up with sense. 

In a fair world, the people that pay the freight (readers and watchers) should be able to judge the people that are busy judging all the athletes. Some writers and talking heads are better than others too. 

And wouldn't that be fun?

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