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Reviewing a forthcoming academic article on wins and wages.

Caught Looking examines articles from the academic literature relevant to baseball and statistical analysis. This review examines an article by Brad Humphreys and Hyunwoong Pyun that is forthcoming in the journal Managerial and Decision Economics.

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One of the creators of openWAR responds to the points raised by Michael Wenz this month.

Michael Wenz recently wrote a review of the openWAR system for Baseball Prospectus' "Caught Looking" column (read that article first). I really enjoyed his review of openWAR, which, imho, is the most thorough review of the openWAR system to date. He constructively points out some strengths as well as several areas of weakness pertaining to openWAR. Here I would like to respond to some of his comments. (Article excerpts are in bold; my comments in regular font).

This review will cover openWAR: An open source system for evaluating overall player performance in major league baseball, by Benjamin Baumer, Shane Jensen and Gregory Matthews in the June 2015 Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports.

Most baseball statistics are easy to define—a run scored is a run scored. Sometimes a bit of judgment goes into the definition—sacrifice flies appear in the denominator for on-base percentage but not batting average, for instance—but the definition is at least widely agreed on. Wins Above Replacement (WAR), however, is a statistic that involves much judgment and little agreement. Baseball Prospectus publishes a measure called WARP, and FanGraphs (fWAR) and Baseball-Reference (bWAR) have measures of their own. In a recent paper, Benjamin Baumer, Shane Jensen and Gregory Matthews have declared openWAR on the others.

I think the fact that there are many implementations of WAR is an important point to make when talking about Wins Above Replacement. As advanced baseball statistics have permeated the mainstream, it seems that many baseball writers refer simply to WAR as if there is an unambiguous computation for this quantity. The major versions of WAR, for the most part, agree on a rough ordering of players. However, the ingredients to these WAR implementations are often unknown (for proprietary reasons) and even changing as more research is done. The concept of WAR is more or less agreed upon; how to actually compute it in the "best" way is still a very open question.

Their paper, openWAR: An open source system for evaluating overall player performance in major league baseball, proposes a new manifestation of WAR that is different from the other measures in some important ways. They also emphasize reproducibility, and along with their paper, the authors make available an R software program that allows users to recreate their work. Reproducibility and transparency have become increasingly important topics in academic research in recent years, and meeting very exacting standards for reproducibility is one of the authors’ stated goals. This stands in contrast to existing methods that rely on proprietary methods and opaque calculations. Whether their method outperforms the other measures is, of course, an open question and a difficult one to answer.

I believe one of the major strengths of openWAR is that all of the ingredients are known. (You can download all the code here). If one is interested, they can follow every single calculation in the process of computing openWAR. There is no other implementation of WAR that can make this claim about all the pieces of their formula. I am NOT, however, claiming that this makes the openWAR methodology superior to other implementations (though, as an author, I am biased in favor of openWAR). Rather, I am simply reiterating what I believe to be an important distinction.

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Single-year outfield defense might be an intractable problem.

Remember a few weeks ago when Alex Gordon was leading the American League in WAR? No one questions that Gordon is having a(nother) really good season and should rightly get some down-ballot MVP votes, but the best player in the American League? People quickly noticed that a good chunk of Gordon’s WAR came from his defensive ratings, where, at the time, he was picking up roughly two wins worth of value in left field. Gordon’s regarded as a good left fielder, but “good left fielder” is also the “great personality” of fielding aficionados.

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August 28, 2014 6:00 am

Moonshot: On Regressing Defense

12

Robert Arthur

Should WAR(P) systems adjust their defensive measures? Okay. Now, which direction?

We heard the first blows in the nascent MVP debate of 2014 unfold just last week. At the time, Alex Gordon led all players in fWAR (by a narrow margin), largely on the basis of his extraordinary defense in left field (15 fielding runs above average, fifth highest in MLB). In response, Jeff Passan wrote that the idea of Alex Gordon as the best player in baseball was absurd.

Much wailing and gnashing of teeth ensued. To some of the doubters of sabermetrics, Gordon’s triumph on the leaderboards was yet more proof of the uselessness of WAR(P). To others, arguments against Gordon may have seemed ill-formed.

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Why Jon Heyman's questions about WAR are worth asking, and answering.

As that old pop song goes, “oops, he did it again.” Sports Illustrated’s Jon Heyman is asking questions about WAR:

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Ben and Sam discuss whether the second wild card has made the stretch run more exciting, then talk about why papers publish columns that criticize advanced stats without making an effort to understand them.

Ben and Sam discuss whether the second wild card has made the stretch run more exciting, then talk about why papers publish columns that criticize advanced stats without making an effort to understand them.

Episode 53: "Is the Second Wild Card Working?/Explaining Mainstream Screeds Against Advanced Stats"

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August 15, 2012 5:00 am

Manufactured Runs: The Importance of Imperfect Models

17

Colin Wyers

If we disagree with something a metric says, does that mean we have to discard it?

From the Twitters yesterday morning:

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When is a World Series start worth as much as a Hall of Famer's whole career?

Believe it or not, most of our writers didn't enter the world sporting an @baseballprospectus.com address; with a few exceptions, they started out somewhere else. In an effort to up your reading pleasure while tipping our caps to some of the most illuminating work being done elsewhere on the internet, we'll be yielding the stage once a week to the best and brightest baseball writers, researchers and thinkers from outside of the BP umbrella. If you'd like to nominate a guest contributor (including yourself), please drop us a line.

Sean Smith is the owner of Baseballprojection.com and currently consults for a major-league ballclub.

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May 31, 2010 9:07 am

You Could Look It Up: Memorial Day Meditations

9

Steven Goldman

It is a time to say thanks to and reflect on the baseball players who contributed to war efforts over the years.

One reason often cited for the birth of the super-hero comic book fad in the late 1930s was that the gaudily dressed characters, gifted with miraculous powers, could solve the problems of the world with a punch, unlike everyone else, who had to sit around and endure the nerve-wracking wait for the rise of Fascism to evolve into World War II, and then for World War II to have a positive resolution for the democracies. The idea of Superman being able to punch out a tank, or even deliver a love-tap to Adolf himself (or failing that, Joseph Goebbels) was reassuring to the younger set and far easier to understand than the movements of massive armies in faraway places.

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