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Murray Chass On Baseball » I DON’T LIKE WAR

Posted by Sean Forman on September 7, 2010

Murray Chass On Baseball » WINNERS WHO HAVE LOSERS.

Murray Chass doesn't like Wins Above Replacement or my articles in the Times using it to point out MVP and Cy Young candidates.

Here is a note I sent him.


I was pleased that a fellow member of the BBWAA such as yourself would choose to comment on my pieces in the Times.

I don't recall suggesting naming the actual awards based on the stats I provided in the pieces, but rather that WAR provided a logical framework for evaluating a player's contribution to their team. I'm sure you used statistics when casting your awards votes. Did you not consider a players W-L record or their runs batted in totals, or perhaps their team's win-loss record? These are statistics just as much as what I presented. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about how WAR is calculated and what goes into its formulation

Sean Forman
Sean Forman
Sports Reference LLC, President

75 Responses to “Murray Chass On Baseball » I DON’T LIKE WAR”

  1. Djibouti Says:

    Here's how I picture Murray Chase:
    "Damn kids with their baggy pants and Rock n Roll music."
    *waves cane*
    "Get off my lawn!"

    I suppose you should be honored that he believes you have the power to destroy the time-honored tradition of awards voting. A tradition of apathy, emotions, ignorance, back-room deals, and arrogance leading to the undeserved being rewarded. You sir, with your numbers, formulas, logic, and actual basis for making decisions are everything that is wrong with baseball. Take your elitist "maths" elsewhere, we have no room for you among us real fans who know what we see and see only what we want to see.

  2. Andy Says:

    That's ridiculous. Why would O'Connell call you for the results and then get up on the dais? You should just go up on the dais directly. That way, we also don't risk O'Connell seeing that you wrote one name and calling out another.

    In all seriousness, Chass is the type of fellow, so experienced and part of the tradition itself, that I wouldn't expect him to break with tradition at all. It's quite evident when he refers to the NYT as getting on the "statistics bandwagon". Perhaps someone should point out to him that the wagon left the station quite a few years ago already.

  3. Neil Paine Says:

    Man, I miss Fire Joe Morgan...

  4. DavidRF Says:

    I love the formulas that Chass posted in that article. Looked like he was playing around with normal modes and Fourier Series.

  5. Evan Says:

    Djibouti @1

    It is rather ironic that you would misspell Murray Chass' last name 17 minutes after calling out other commenters for misspellings "Lofton" and "Ripken" in the Ripken 15th Anniversary thread.


    On the subject at hand, I find it interesting that Chass has latched on to the theoretical aspect of the replacement player. As an attorney, I have always likened the "replacement player" to the "reasonable man" standard common in tort law and have never had a problem with it. It is all about establishing a baseline for the players, but it doesn't change where the players stack up relative to each other within a given year, which is the only thing the MVP/CY awards need consider.

    Given the overall nature of the NY Times, I'm not sure why anyone should be surprised or upset that its Sports section has begun to make efforts to present a more intellectual and statistical approach to its coverage.

    In any event, I believe the NY Times decided a few years ago to prohibit its writers from voting for these awards because it believed that voting created a conflict of interest and compromised journalistic integrity. If my recollection is correct then neither Chass (had he stayed with the Times) nor Sean Forman would be able to vote.

  6. Zim Says:

    Pretty in depth analysis or WAR by Murray there. Glad he made an attempt to understand it.

  7. Zack Says:

    Murray Chass, ladies and gentlemen.

  8. Don Shults Says:

    As Thruber wrote: Some would rather BELIEVE rather than KNOW.

  9. eorns Says:

    He's made that same argument for years. What's surprising is that he's still just as narrow and absolutist. Apparently he's been living in a well-insulated bubble.

    Interesting that he says in the post that "BBWAA voters seemed to buy into the formula stuff in the Cy Young voting last year", meaning that, more or less, it should have gone a pitcher with more wins. Because a couple of posts later, he is surprised to find that a pitcher with a 5.15 ERA (AJ Burnett) can have a losing record since he plays on a winning team. He goes as far as to ask Brian Cashman how this is possible. This seems to acknowledge that wins are a team effort, not a pitcher's, which is pretty much the opposite of what he said in the "WAR what is it good for" post. Funny that he seems to understand what we say about wins, but doesn't apply that knowledge to his voting.

  10. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    Sean, I understand that now that you write for the NY times, he is a collegue of sorts, but I still think you are being too polite and respectful to Murray Chass; he is treating and the whole revolution in baseball analysis as though it were some "passing craze" that'll go away in a year or two, and then the veteran baseball writers like himself (and Shaughnessy and the others that don't care for more than the traditional stats) will again be authoritative voices in evaluating players. He doesn't understand that this site is now the industry standard for most serious baseball fans.

    I think that's what bothering him more than anything else; that uber-stats such as WAR, that he does not really understand (or more importantly, makes little effort to understand) have supplanted the opinions of veteran scribes like himself, in the minds of many fans. There's always room for great sportwriters, such as Joe Posnanski, who combine some statistic analysis with outstanding writing style; I'm not sure sure how much longer there will be the same interset in the baseball writers whose creed is, "I know what I see, and I don't need any damn statistics to understand it better".

  11. Frank Clingenpeel Says:

    I hate to put it this way, but I find Chase to epitomize the stereotype of an old codger. I am probably older than he is {Born in '35}; but I can see where WAR is a good starting point in evaluating player performances.

    I guess "cootdom" is just a state of mind -- and apparently, Murray Chase is running for Governor of the state!

  12. Larry R. Says:

    I'd like to know how WAR is calculated, Sean. I have no idea. My gut feeling is there must be some subjectivity involved in it. Where could one find the best explanation of what it is and how it's determined?

  13. Devon & His 1982 Topps blog Says:

    If Murray Chass lived 90 years ago, I think he'd be commenting against home runs and how they ruin the game and shouldn't be considered in MVP evaluations.

  14. John Autin Says:

    I'm pro-Sean and anti-Murray in this debate. But I still haven't embraced WAR or any other "all-in-one" number in my day-to-day baseball thinking, and one of my reasons is purely selfish: I can't calculate it on my own. I think that will also be an obstacle for the award voters.

    P.S. @12 -- Here's Sean's post explaining WAR:

  15. Djibouti Says:

    Evan @5: Wow...just wow. This is without a doubt the dumbest thing I have done in a long time. I'd like to blame my phone's autocorrect function but I'm pretty sure I just plain got the name wrong. So as not to be a hypocrite I hereby denounce myself and every opinion I posted here today as I am not credible. There aren't many things more embarassing than invalidating my own arguments within 5 minutes of stating them.

  16. Larry R. Says:

    @14...Thanks, I guess. I'm still no closer to knowing what it is or, more importantly, how much closer it takes us to complete objectivity, if at all. I think that's a big part of the resistance to things like WAR...if you can't understand them and explanation is next to impossible then how can they be taken seriously? A HR is a HR and a W is a W...these are tangible things. WAR is's a concept. I'm open to anything that can normalize the grand old game over eras but whatever it is has to make sense to me. This is like integral calculus. Sorry.

  17. BSK Says:

    Did you have to send that via pony express? I can't imagine Murray actually uses a computer, let alone email.

  18. John Q Says:

    Murray Chass comes off very condescending in that post. I love how he says he doesn't believe in Math formulas to determine the strength of a player. But doesn't he use Batting Average or ERA when he votes for the MVP or Cy Young? Are they not "Math Formulas"?
    His "Wins" article is about the dumbest and pointless thing I've read in a long time. Rather than acknowledge that Pitchers' W/L record are extremely arbitrary and not very accurate, he goes around and around trying to explain how the Braves have a winning record with 3 starters with a sub .500 record.

    First off, it's no surprise that Lowe and Kawakami have losing records, they stink. All Chase had to do was look at their respective ERA's. Lowe has a 4.53 and Kawakami has a 5.11.

    Hanson is actually having a good season with a 3.58 ERA and a 112 era+. Rather than say that Hanson is a great example of why W/L record is pointless, he completely overlooks the point. Rather than point out how much luck, run support and bullpen blowing leads factors into W/L record, he ignores it.

    There were 3 games in August where Hanson only gave 2 earned runs in 21 innings and he received 3 no decisions. He Lost 3 games: 1-0, 2-0, 3-1. He had two games in July where he only gave up 4 earned runs combined and he received two no decisions.

    The Braves are winning because Tim Hudson is one of the best pitchers in baseball this year plus their bullpen is fantastic and Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Chipper Jones* are having very good years. (Jones up until his injury).

    As far as Burnett goes, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand that you won't be very successful with a 5.15 ERA. Also, Burnett is 45/67 in run support per game.

  19. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #18/ John Q Says: "Murray Chass comes off very condescending in that post. His "Wins" article is about the dumbest and pointless thing I've read in a long time. Rather than acknowledge that Pitchers' W/L record are extremely arbitrary and not very accurate, he goes around and around trying to explain how the Braves have a winning record with 3 starters with a sub .500 record."

    John Q, I think that Chass' mindset is that a pitchers value is determined by his "Wins" total, so it's impossible for him to wrap his mind around the idea that pitcher wins are often a poor way to evaluate a pitcher. He just cannot reconcile a pitcher having a losing record on a winning team. As the robot in Lost In Space said, "This does not compute!".

  20. Rich Says:

    Murray Chass hating WAR is a step in the right direction of me embracing it. That dude is very old, and as he's proven in numerous articles lampooned by, he is open to NOTHING new. It's one thing that my father still looks at AVG/HR/RBI. He's just a fan, and that's what they looked at when he was a kid (and for the majority of his adulthood for that matter), but Chass is a WRITER yet he refuses to acknowledge stats he wasn't familiar with in 1961.

  21. TheGoof Says:

    I have issues with WAR, or using any single stat (no matter how evidently sound) to determine an award. In fact, overcomplex stats, while good to spark debate or teach us things we don't otherwise recognize, are not substitutes for seeing players on a regular basis. Nor is seeing a player without paying attention to their stats in context a sound way to vote. You really do need as much information, in person and objectively, to make the call.

    That, however, does nothing to justify the criticism from Chass or others of WAR itself. My issues with WAR are ones besides "eh, I don't like math." It is NOT useless; it is one valid attempt to quantify value.

    Chass' reaction was almost juvenile. I hope it was meant in jest. If so, it's not a bad bit of satire except that no one recognizes it as satire.

  22. Gerry Says:

    Devon @13, your good point is spoiled by the small fact that 90 years ago there were no MVP awards.

  23. JeffW Says:

    Right or wrong, a little sympathy, perhaps, is in order here.

    This Chass thing may very well be the equivalent of "book learning" vs. "Old School" practical, hands-on experience.

    He's seen enough baseball in his lifetime to recognize (what he considers) great, and doesn't need a bunch of "reconstructionalists" telling him he was wrong all along.

    It's a tough thing to accept. It's no different than anyone else being shunted off to the sidelines by modernization. No one wants to admit that their time has come and gone, that they and their world view are obsolete.

    A little more graciousness on his part may have been more appropriate, but it's gotta hurt inside.

    Anyone remember the "Captain Dunsell" remark in the classic Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer"?

  24. Dick Says:

    Recalling Moss Klein's criticism of the "Quality Start statistic", I completely understand Murray Chase's dislike of the "WAR statistic".position. In academe, it is referred to as "cognitive reluctance to change". In plain English, it's called "I don't like anything that requires me to rethink what I already know."

  25. Neil Says:

    @ many posts
    I have seen Murray Chass trashed in other baseball web sites recently but am not sure why. Is this a turf war, with different sides presenting their own ultra-stat or uber-metric or is Chass just out of touch?

    This may open a can of worms, but as intelligent(?) person I have felt, from time to time, that questioning WAR is lke asking to see the Wizard or the Emporer's new clothes. I don't understand it but I have to bow to all the WAR numbers being through around in here.

    Unlike the old Bill James runs created, which I think I can "absorb", I don't have an "intuitive" feel about WAR measures.

    Niow that I've totally embarrassed myself..... help!

  26. Pageup Says:

    Okay, love this site, but...explain to me how a guy can rank #1 in MLB with a 6.5 WAR (Longoria) and also have a 136 OPS+ that's not even in the top ten (actually 23 in MLB)?

  27. John Autin Says:

    @26 Pageup -- In Longoria's case, I don't know for a fact, but I suspect it's because his defensive stats are off the charts. Just for instance ... about a week ago, I blogged that Longoria had started 50% more double plays than any other 3B in the game this year, with similar dominance last year.

  28. Fireworks Says:

    Chass and people like him have an excuse only as long as they are completely ignorant about how advanced stats are calculated. I think the biggest thing people don't understand about counting stats, simple stats, and even advanced stats is that they only measure what they measure. Batting average, for instance, only tells you what percentage of time a batter gets a hit, which is only a small portion of evaluating overall hitter productivity.

    I think at the gut level Chass understands in some reptilian way that the counting stats and simple stats of old aren't all there is to statistical analysis, but I don't think it computes upstairs where it counts. How else can you explain his juvenile rant against Sean and sabermetrics appearing so close in proximity to a post about pitcher W-L records on good teams? It's hilarious. Guys like this are dinosaurs. It doesn't matter whether you like WAR or not (personally I feel that the fielding metrics of overall player contribution metrics are subject to too much variation in a given year--I'm more comfortable with using them in evaluating a player's career as a fielder), it's about understanding that the core of advanced player analysis is the idea that instead of spouting conventional wisdom we should test whether or not an oft-repeated statement is true, and instead of leaping to conclusions about productivity based upon counting stats and simple stats, we should first, within the context of the most important counting stat in the game (runs), figure out what events have value in relation to the production or prevention or runs, and from there create advanced statistics that attempt to value and weight various counting stats and simple stats on the basis of their contribution to producing and preventing runs, instead of their historical allure or simplicity of calculation.

    At least that's how I think of advanced statistics. But then again I don't have my head up my ass. I hate to advocate violence (even figurative violence), but Chass needs the BBWAA equivalent of a push down the stairs. Whatever that means.

    Chass: Get a BRAIN! MORAN

  29. littleman Says:

    just for kicks, how about a post about pitchers with losing records on winning teams? it seems to baffle mr. chass, but, at first glance, it doesn't seem to phase me. a quick glance at an easy suspect has tim wakefield with 2 losing records on winning red sox teams in 2006 and 2008.

  30. Sean Forman Says:

    Pageup: Here is a list of very AL player along with where their WAR values come from. WAR is based on a runs calculation that is batting + baserunning + defense + replacement level + positional value.

    Cabrera vs. Longoria

    Batting (vs. average): 59 runs to 28 runs
    Defense (vs. average): -4 runs to 15 runs
    Baserunning: -1 run to 1 run
    Position: -9 runs to 2 runs (this is the baseline difference in what 3B and 1B hit)
    Replacement: 20 runs to 20 runs (this is largely a playing time factor since the Tigers and Rays don't have to use a replacement player instead.
    Runs total: 65 runs to 66 runs.

    The runs to wins conversion is based on the number of runs added (slightly less valuable) and runs prevented (slightly more valuable) and the context (park factor) the team plays in.

  31. barkfart Says:

    Thanks SO much for sticking your neck out. I'm not a big fan of WAR either.

    1. WAR is the "Bert Blyleven Award". It makes superstars 30 years after the fact.

    2. It's a quasi-socialist system that rewards players on poor teams and penalizes players on good ones.

    3. The defensive metric is absurd. It believes all ground balls are equal, and all pitches that lead to ground balls are equal. Think about it.

  32. Jason F Says:

    Pageup @26

    Re: your question about Longoria, WAR attempts to combine fielding and batting in judging player performance. Since Longoria is a stud at third as well as the plate, this explains him being at the top of the WAR leaderboard. Personally, I think defense is weighted far too much in WAR. One of the extreme examples I've seen used is comparing Adam Dunn and Randy Winn in 2009. Take a look at both of their season stats and tell me you wouldn't rather have Dunn regardless of how disparate their defense is...then look at their respective WARs.

  33. John Q Says:


    Your post makes no sense.

    How exactly does "WAR" skew it's results to reward players on bad teams and penalize players on good teams???? Longoria & Cano top the A.L. in WAR, and Halladay & A. Gonzalez top the N.L. in WAR. The Rays, Yankees, Phillies and Padres are among the best teams in baseball.

    Basically using your logic, Home Runs would be a "Quasi-Socialist System" because it's rewarding Adam Dunn & Mark Reynolds with second and third place rankings even though they're on poor teams.

    Is Batting Average a "Quasi-Socialist System"? It's rewarding Starlin Castro with a fourth place ranking with his .317 average even though the Cubs stink.

    How about "Hits"? Ichiro has 179 this year and he's ranked 2nd even and the Mariners stink.

    You don't need WAR to see how great Blyleven was, all you have to do is put a little effort which the Media never did. Bert Blyleven is ranked 5th all time in K's and 9th all time in shutouts. He finished in the top 5 in K's 13 times in his career, he finished in the top 5 in K/BB 13 times in his career he finished in the top ten in k/9 15 times, he finished in the top ten in era+ 12 times and the top 5 seven times. He had a 5-1 post season record with a 2.47 era and a 36/8 (K/BB ratio).

  34. LarryM Says:

    These threads tend to convince nobody, but here goes ...

    I have some reservations about WAR myself (primarily w/r/t defense, but also to some extent w/r/t calculating replacement value), but in order to critique the method you need to understand it - and Chass clearly doesn't. He does IMO correctly focus on one of its arguable weaknesses, but makes a nonsensical argument in doing so. And you see the same thing in this thread - the people criticizing it by and large don't understand it. #31 is an extreme case in point.

    Though I have mixed feeling about criticizing Chass in particular, since reading the linked column it's pretty clear that he has significant age related mental deterioration.

  35. MikeD Says:

    I'm sure Murray Chass was a fine reporter, but that has little to do with his ability to understand the nature of the game today, or "new age" baseball statistics. He's now retired from the NY Times, but I believe he does now vote for the HOF.

    I had an email exchange with Chass several years back regarding HOF voting. I ended the exchange after a couple of notes because he really wasn't interested in a discussion. He was interested in lecturing about why he was right. I found his opinions to be outdated, but I decided to subscribe to his site (I think all that meant was I'd get emails every time a new column went live) to see what else he had to say. I unsubscribed within a couple of weeks. It's one thing to have an opinion. I respect that. It's one thing to have a wrong opinion, or one I disagree with. I can respect that. It's another thing to have the wrong opinion, and have no interest in having a dialogue with his readers, or at the least allowing them to post their opinions on what he writes. He needs to control the message and tell people what he thinks. He is the king in his small world.

    He's clearly stuck in his New York Times mindset where he gets to tell people what he believes, but he does not believe other people are worthy to express their opinions on his site. I suppose I should give him credit for responding to my emails, but the very idea that he believes sabermetrics, and other new-age statistics will "...undermine most fans’ enjoyment of baseball and the human factor therein" pretty much sums up who he is. He does not understand baseball fans, which leads me to question if he even understands baseball. Statistics are at the heart of baseball and have been from the start. For 100-plus years fans have been arguing baseball and discussing who is the best and who should be in the HOF using statistics. The new-age statistics he questions is just a continuation of what's been driving baseball forever. If he can't understand that, then what can he understand about baseball?

  36. John Q Says:

    Mike D,

    Very good points.

    I think the problem with Chass and writers like him is that for years they were in a special position where they were the only ones who could give an opinion about baseball and have millions of people see or read it. But the problem was that it was a one way conversation and guys like Chass never worried about people's opinions or if he was wrong because he had all the power and we didn't.

    Now with the internet thousands of people can discuss and debate baseball and introduce things to each other. Guys like Chass hate that because now he's one of the thousands whereas before he was one of the few.

    And a lot of guys back then could just pull anything out of thin air and talk about it. Now with the internet you can fact-check things in seconds to see if what he's saying is true.

    And now you can respond right away if he writes a dumb article like his Braves W/L record article.

  37. Mike Felber Says:

    And Blyleven had years when he was the best pitcher in the game also. Looking at what the pitcher can control & considering IP.

    Why are runs prevented a bit more valuable than runs created? Reading the explanation of how WAR is figured in a May thread here, a question I have:

    I was surprised how Rpos was calculated: scaled inversely to the average batting success for the position, thus must vary somewhat. CF was -2.5 in ‘09, seems low. I believe in adjusting for the difficulty of hitting well, but

    1) I thought this stat reflected directly the difficulty of fielding for positions, & indirectly scarcity of offense.

    2) While clearly if a certain position makes it tough to hit, like catcher, you may want to add value: would not positions hit higher or lower for other reasons, random 7 not significant to assessing value?

    So Chuck said 3B is a bit under rated. OK, if because of the difficulty of the defense not fully recognized (&/or importance of the position, say, for preventing XBH): if many sluggers are stacked there, like is done at 1B understandably-perhaps it is unfairly hard for a good guy there to stand out.

    This is only 1 ingredient amongst many in the formula, & I do not know how often/much it might be inexact.

  38. tim Says:

    I admit I don't know how WAR is calculated, but I think the regular stats have more value than people give them credit for. And if you want to measure 'wins above replacement,' my favorite method is to just go through the day-by-day lineups on and compare the team's win-loss record when certain players play or don't play.

  39. Fireworks Says:

    @38 Tim

    That isn't very useful. The Yankees have a great won-loss record with A-Rod out of the lineup. Are you going to suggest that A-Rod, even in a down year, makes the Yankees worse than Ramiro Pena or Eduardo Nunez?

  40. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #5/#6 - I think the core problem with Chass's attitude towards advanced statistical analysis isn't so much that he doesn't understand what these new terms (like WAR) mean, it's that he he has NO INTEREST AT ALL in understanding them, and further he doesn't understand why anyone else would even care about these new stats. He was the expert, who needed all these new-fangled stats?

    As several others have pointed out, before the internet, he was "The Guardian Of The Sacred Baseball Knowledge"; he was the privileged sportswriter preaching his theories to the masses, and there was no easy way to check the validity of his theories. Now, with the easy availability of endless statistics through sites like this one, a knowledgeable fan can check out any opinion against the actual numbers, usually pretty quickly. I can't blame Chass for being angry that that he is no longer being worshiped as the ultimate baseball authority, but all fields of study evolve, and those who fall behind are no longer relevant.

    #23/ "Anyone remember the "Captain Dunsell" remark in the classic Star Trek episode "The Ultimate Computer"? " - Yes I do, and I now see how this would apply to Chass - what do I win?? (Someone called Capt Kirk this name; it was Federation lingo for someone with an impressive title but no real authority)

  41. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #40 above - I was referring to posts #35 and #36, sorry

  42. Pageup Says:

    I have no problem seeing Longoria at the top of the WAR list, he's a monster, I just happened to notice the discrepancy between his WAR and OPS+ and wanted to hear some opinions about it. I understand it's another way of looking at a player's value. As for Chass, that dude is definitely on the defensive. How does that affect his WAR?

  43. Larry R. Says:

    I don't understand what WAR is and I do have an interest in understanding it better. The trouble is nobody can explain it. And you need a math degree to follow what's being said anyway. In a way Murray has a point. How can we ever know if this has value if only 1% of the world can even figure out what it is?

  44. Pageup Says:

    Chass has a point for sure but he doesn't even attempt to develop his argument. Anyone who's played sports knows there are guys that can hit home runs and drain baskets while killing a team at the same time with errors and turnovers and just plain incompetence in most other areas of the game. There has to be room for trying to look at numbers in other ways, since numbers have always been THE way ballplayers have been judged. And I suspect "only 1% of the world can even figure out what it is" is actually .00001%!

  45. Tom Says:

    Chass' real strength as a writer/reporter/columnist was explaining complicated off-the-field developments, usually involving labor negotiations. Someone once referred to him as the only baseball writer who was looking forward to a strike.
    His recent clumsy losing-pitchers-on-winning-teams column seems typical of his efforts at writing about what goes on between the lines.
    As noted, Chass has now been pushed to the side, which no doubt hacks him off. But there's another reason guys like him are hacked off. The old-time columnists had to do something that most bloggers don't: They generally had to talk to people who were involved in what they are writing about. What a pain ... waiting for phone calls to be returned, hanging around locker rooms. It was often confrontational.
    And now they've been made obsolete by people who don't bother with any of that!

  46. John Q Says:

    Lawrence Azrin,

    Good points.

    My problem with guys like Chass is that he fears that people will just look at who the WAR leader is and award the Cy Young to that person. But in reality isn't that what Chass and many of his fellow writers do with W/L record? Don't they just check to see who has the most wins or best w/l % and just vote for that guy?

    How does Chass justify giving Rick Sutcliffe the Cy Young in '84 when he didn't even pitch enough innings to qualify for the ERA title or any N.L. rate stat for that matter.

    How does he justify Stone-'80, Perry-78, Sutter-79, Flanagan-79, Sutter-79, Lyle-77, Fingers-81, Vukovich-82, Carlton-82, Hoyt-83, Hernandez-84, Bedrosian-87, Davis-89. Those weren't great selections and some of them in retrospect are kind of bad. That's just looking at 13 seasons. Essentially those votes came down to looking at a sheet of paper and voting for the player with the most "Wins" or best "Win%" or if there wasn't a 20 game winner, the guy with the most "Saves". That's somehow a better system??

  47. barkfart Says:


    which were those years blyleven was the best pitcher in baseball? Not his best years- there were some great ones- ones where he was better than everyone else.

  48. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #46/"John Q Says: Lawrence Azrin, Good points.
    My problem with guys like Chass is that he fears that people will just look at who the WAR leader is and award the Cy Young to that person. But in reality isn't that what Chass and many of his fellow writers do with W/L record? Don't they just check to see who has the most wins or best w/l % and just vote for that guy?"

    Also, with the MVP award, it frequently seems the only qualifier is: "look up who has the most RBI for a playoff team"*. See Ryan Howard and Justin Morneau in 2006; Miguel Tejada in 2002; Mo Vaughn in 1995. That is, unless there's a better storyline...
    * unless they are mainly a DH

  49. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I blogged that Longoria had started 50% more double plays than any other 3B in the game this year, with similar dominance last year.

    Holy crap...40 DPs is kind of a benchmark for a great 3Bman. Longoria turned 43 last season and may top 50 this year. I had no idea. Graig Nettles has the record with 54.

    I don't understand what WAR is and I do have an interest in understanding it better. The trouble is nobody can explain it.

    Larry, what is it you do not understand? People have tried to explain it; have you not seen the explanations or have you not understood them? Start here: It's not the most detailed or best-written description, but it lays out the basic framework. If you have more specific questions, post them and I or someone else can try to answer them.

  50. Larry R. Says:

    JT...where do I begin? I already read this archive. It's just a bunch of definitions that, I presume, are used in some intricate formula to come up with WAR. What's the formula? How was it determined that each of these factors are necessary in figuring someone's worth? How was the proportion of each factor in determinig WAR determined? Why aren't there more factors included? Or less? I don't want to bog down this thread in semantics but there's so much that needs explaining...

    And without denigrating Evan Longoria, who is a great defensive 3rd baseman, aren't DPs partially (I might even say largely) out of the hands of the infielders? If you have a bunch of ground ball pitchers, alot of them lefthanders, say, the 3rd baseman will get many more chances than your average 3rd baseman. Some of these would require great defensive skills; the majority, I'm guessing, would just amount to being in the right place at the right time. I'm not sure DPs are a good indicator of a fielder's worth to the team; perhaps the pitchers should get more of the credit.

  51. JeffW Says:

    Lawrence Arzin (#40),

    We have a winner in the Obscure Reference of the Day category! Congratulations.

    The Capt. Dunsell reference was from the episode The Ultimate Computer, when Dr. Richard Daystrom's M5 computer is retrofitted into the Enterprise. The idea behind the computer is that it can run the ship, thus keeping humans out of harm's way in the dangerous field of space exploration.

    (The Enterprise being the one ship in the fleet, I guess, that runs into harm's way more than any other...).

    The M5 leads the Enterprise to victory in a wargames scenario against several other starships. Commodore Wesley (supposedly a friend of Kirk's, but one with very sharp elbows) contacts the Enterprise and concludes with the phrase, "...regards to Capt. Dunsell."

    Cue the dramatic music, as Kirk is visibly shaken.

    McCoy (clueless to what is going on) asks, "Who the blazes is Capt. Dunsell? What does it mean? Jim? Spock? What does it mean?

    Spock replies, "Dunsell, Doctor, is a term used by midshipmen at Star Fleet Academy, it refers to a part which serves no useful purpose."

  52. GC Says:

    Hey, do you all think that Angel Pagan is having a better season than Carlos Gonzalez?

  53. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Larry, by the "factors" used in WAR, do you mean the different categories: batting, baserunning, defense, etc? They were chosen because they are part of the game on the field which can be measured. Are there other things you think that players do which are not included? One might say something like "leadership," but there is no good way to measure that, so it is not included.

    So each factor is turned into runs above- or below-average. For example, using the play-by-play accounts, the opportunities a player had to advance an extra base on hits, or on fly balls, or to steal bases are counted up. Assuming each base advanced gets you closer to a run scored, the extra bases taken by the player are converted into runs, and the number of runs more or less than an average player that Joe Speedy accounts for becomes his baserunning factor (or "Rbaser" in the WAR tables).

    The components or factors aren't really weighted. Some are usually worth more because they are inherently more important. The spread among MLB players in hitting is greater than in baserunning, because there are far more opportunities to hit than to take extra bases. So a great batter might be +50 and a poor one -30, whereas the difference between a great and poor runner might be only +5 to -5. But there are no decisions made about which factors to weigh more. They are all simply added up together.

    There are adjustments made on defense for how many balls are actually hit in a player's "zone" and how many he converts into outs. Re your Longoria comment, yes if all the TB pitchers were LH groundballers who walked a lot of guys, he'd have more opportunities to field balls and turn DPs. That would be adjusted for in the defensive component -- how many of those balls would the average 3Bman field, and how many did Longoria field? (But I reserve the right to be amazed by raw, unadjusted stats such as most DPs turned by a 3Bman in history.)

    I'm not sure if that's I sort of answering your questions?

  54. Sean Forman Says:

    Hey, do you all think that Angel Pagan is having a better season than Carlos Gonzalez?

    Well, the difference between them at the plate is 112 OPS+ to 152 OPS+. And then what's the difference between a great CF'er and a below average one?

  55. Pageup Says:

    Actually, Chass's piece reads like some old-time Grapefruit League reporters tete`-a-tete´. You know, the elbow in the side and a little snickering comment like "You believe the strange crap that weirdo's throwing out there?"

  56. Lawrence Azrin Says:

    #51/JeffW - Useless factoid: Dr. Richard Daystrom was played by William Marshall, who also in the lead role in the cult classics "Blacula" (1972) and "Scream Blacula Again" (1973).

    #55/ Yes, it also brings to mind some newspaper columnist circa 1912, wondering when people are going to stop risking their lives in that dangerous, unreliable and noisy new contraption called the automobile, which will surely be gone in a few years, and go back to the good old reliable horse n'buggy.

  57. JeffW Says:

    Lawrence Azrin (#56),

    Marshall also garnered rave reviews on Broadway, for his performance of Othello. Harold Hobson of the Sunday Times, called Marshall "the best Othello of our time, as quoted in a Jet magazine feature. The review excerpt continued:

    ""...nobler than [Godfrey] Tearle, more martial than [John] Gielgud, more poetic than [Frederick] Valk. From his first entry, slender and magnificently tall, framed in a high Byzantine arch, clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful, a figure of Arabian romance and grace, to his last plunging of the knife into his stomach, Mr Marshall rode without faltering the play's enormous rhetoric, and at the end the house rose to him."

    Let's see Murray Chass out-write that!

  58. GC Says:

    Hey, do you all think that Angel Pagan is having a better season than Carlos Gonzalez?

    Well, the difference between them at the plate is 112 OPS+ to 152 OPS+. And then what's the difference between a great CF'er and a below average one?

    I appreciate factoring defensive performance into comparing players, but it's hard to see why Carlos Gonzalez is so far behind Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Gonzalez in the "Rbat" component of WAR. The only area where he significantly trails the others is in walks.

    I'm a Cincinnati fan and I'm rooting for Joey Votto, but this seems out of place.

  59. GC Says:

    Hey, do you all think that Angel Pagan is having a better season than Carlos Gonzalez?

    Well, the difference between them at the plate is 112 OPS+ to 152 OPS+. And then what's the difference between a great CF'er and a below average one?

    I appreciate factoring defensive performance into comparing players, but it's hard to see why Carlos Gonzalez is so far behind Joey Votto, Albert Pujols, and Adrian Gonzalez in the "Rbat" component of WAR. The only area where he significantly trails the others is in walks.

    I'm a Cincinnati fan and I'm rooting for Joey Votto, but this seems out of place.

  60. David Says:


    I'm guessing it's somewhat related to park factors. Coors is a 113 for offense this year, so that's pretty significant, and would presumably put his similar statistics farther behind the other two.

  61. Mike Felber Says:

    @47: Blyleven may have only been the best pitcher in his league, in 73 & '81. He led the A.L. in Pitcher's WAR those years, in '71, Seaver edged his great 9.2 out. Cross referencing wins & runs saved shows he was the best in his league these years, & many years amongst the top pitchers in his league. He had a very good peak too.

  62. Neil Says:

    Only in this site can we go from Murray Chass to Star Trek to Broadway to WAR debates. {head spinning}

    Long live the freedom the moderators allow us.

  63. JeffW Says:


    Amen to that! 😀

    Thanks, guys!

  64. GC Says:

    @David # 60

    Joey Votto plays in possibly the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, but his "Rbat" is the highest in the NL, comfortably ahead of Carlos Gonzalez. Again, I'm a Votto fan, but this doesn't make sense to have Gonzalez so far behind the top three.

    I think the idea of WAR is noble and interesting, to try to find one figure that collects everything and ranks players accordingly, but realistically no single figure will ever be able to do that. WAR probably comes closer than anything else, but the best way to compare players is to study them all, take everything into account, and make a decision, which a formula won't be able to do as well as an educated observer. That might not be convenient, and a lot of people on here will disagree with it, but I think it's obviously true.

    The problem comes when people disagree as to what factors are most important, and that debate will rage on forever. WAR inherently values certain aspects of the game more than others. I suppose any interpretation of statistics necessarily will do that to some degree. Who's to say one person's opinion is right or wrong? There are always multiple ways to look at things.

    So I'm really not a WAR guy, but it does make for lively debate and keeps people interested in the stats.

  65. Sean Forman Says:

    Joey Votto plays in possibly the most hitter-friendly park in baseball, but his "Rbat" is the highest in the NL, comfortably ahead of Carlos Gonzalez. Again, I'm a Votto fan, but this doesn't make sense to have Gonzalez so far behind the top three.

    GC. There is no factual basis for arguing that Votto has a better hitter's park that Gonzalez, none.

    See this link. BPF is batter park factor and Colorado's is 109 to Cincinnati's 101. And from what I've read COL is higher this year than earlier and we are still using 2009 park factors, so Gonzalez gets an even bigger bump.

    Also you are WAY, WAY, WAY discounting walks too much.

    Gonalez, 550 PA, 357 outs made
    Votto, 566 PA, 338 outs made

    Prorated to the same number of PA's Gonzalez would have used up 8 more innings of outs than Votto. That is a big difference. Combine that with the Park Effects which are large and Votto is clearly better.

  66. Thursday Links (9 Sep 10) – Ducksnorts Says:

    [...] answer questions in ways you otherwise couldn’t.” Here’s Chass’ article and Sean Forman’s rebuttal if you’re interested in who’s zooming whom. Or everyone could just talk about baseball. [...]

  67. GC Says:


    I mentioned the walks in a previous comment but didn't get a response. Votto does have many more walks, but Gonzalez has scored more runs, which I thought was impressive, especially since the Reds have a great offense.

    I understand the walks argument...that's why Barry Bonds didn't have 800-900 home runs because he got walked a million times. So he was valuable by getting on base so often. But one of the reasons Gonzalez has made more outs than Votto is because he has more at-bats due to the walks. His average, however, is 14 points higher. The walk factor does make Votto's power numbers more impressive than Gonzalez's.

    I'm not sure what goes into park factor besides home runs, but both parks do allow a lot of home runs every year.

    Out of curiosity, how would you rank the Top 5 NL MVP candidates this season?

  68. Johnny Twisto Says:

    GC, the park factors are generally based on run-scoring in a team's home games compared to its road games (with some slight adjustments based on not playing the bottom of the 9th innings, etc). This season there have been 40% more runs scored in Rockies home games than road games, and 6% more in Reds' home games than road games. So from a pure "value" standpoint, neither Gonzalez nor Votto has been quite as good as his raw numbers indicate, but Gonzalez to a much greater extent. Gonzalez is having a very good season but the runs he produces in Colorado are not as valuable because it takes more of them to win a game.

  69. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Basically, if Votto had 103 RBI, and Gonzalez had 120 RBI, those seasons would be of the same value as a player in a perfectly neutral park with 100 RBI.

  70. GC Says:

    I see. That makes sense. Thanks, Johnny. Is there a list somewhere so I can see how many runs have been scored by each team at home and on the road?

    I'm softening my stance on WAR. I think it's all in how it is used. It does a nice job of leading us to stats like Gonzalez's low walk total and the park factors. I think some people on both sides of the issue are of the extreme impression that WAR is intended to be the "end-all be-all" of stats. Others, like myself, were simply worried that it would ignore traditional stats altogether. But I'm finding that if it is used to give us a better understanding of all stats, it is valuable.

    It's the same way I feel about Wikipedia. I wouldn't quote it in an important speech (if I were a public figure), but I would definitely use it to gain information I didn't know about the topic and get me to useful articles I could quote.

    I think WAR gives us the information we need to present all the stats in a comprehensive way, only if we look under the hood and see why someone's number is what it is. I still don't think Pagan should be ahead of Gonzalez, but that's where the debate would begin about how important defense is when rating a player's season.

    As far as postseason awards go, I wouldn't discredit WAR, but I wouldn't just hand out the awards to the leaders, either. And I understand that's not the intent. If we use it to highlight the distinctive points from each player, as we have done to a small degree here with Votto and Gonzalez, I think it could give us a nice framework for analyzing the candidates with everything being considered. WAR simply gives us starting points for our arguments. Ultimately the importance of each individual factor of WAR comes down to personal opinion, like in the Pagan/Gonzalez scenario.

  71. Johnny Twisto Says:

    Off the top of my head I don't think there is one page which shows all teams' home/road scoring, but on each team's page you can click their Schedule & Results for that information

    Also, current park factors can be seen here:
    B-R's are not updated until after the season, so the current season's PFs are actually for 2009.

  72. Mike Felber Says:

    Peak factors seem broadly correct, but why should we not discount how the home team bats there? Besides that some teams may be particularly skilled in certain home parks, mainly, if a team happens to have hitters who are way below or way above average, they would seem to greatly distort the PF. Since they are 1/2 of the formula! And why not have PF adjusted for handedness?

  73. Johnny Twisto Says:

    It depends what are you measuring. As I said, from a pure value standpoint, all you care about is how many runs are scored in Park X compared to other parks, so you know whether runs are more or less valuable there.

    All those other questions are tricky ones in trying to assess a player's ability. Which is more of a forecasting exercise than a look back. I don't care about that stuff when filling out my 2010 MVP ballot. But if I am trying to decide whether I want Carlos Gonzalez on my team in 2011 and beyond, then yes, I need to consider how he is personally affected by his park. We know that his offense is worth about 20% less than the raw numbers indicate this season. But we should not assume that his raw numbers will drop by 20% if he moves to Neutral Stadium.

  74. GC Says:

    So then what would you use for MVP rankings?

  75. Johnny Twisto Says:

    I would use basic single-season park factors, just showing how many more/fewer runs were scored in the park, in adjusting numbers for MVP consideration.