War, huh, yeah, what is it good fora��absolutely nothing. Say it again-absolutely nothing! When the song that became a hit for Edwin Starr was written, the authors had no idea how insightful their words would be when it comes to a statistic that is now gospel in the baseball world.
And now it has reared its ugly head with the Chicago Cubs. In the third year of his $184 million contract, Jason Heyward has become a platoon player. The Cubs thought they won the lottery when Heyward decided to accept less money to come to Chicago.
Outside of his pep talk after the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series during the rain delay, Heyward has added little to the team statistically and has become an albatross. If his words of encouragement were worth the money, you could view it as a good deal. But if performance is your standard, it’s one of the worst contracts in history despite the auspices of WAR.
His contract was based on a stat that has changed how the game is evaluated. Previously, his numbers would not have warranted such a hefty outlay despite his Gold Glove defense in right. Defensive metrics are a more recent phenomenon and have greatly contributed to his high WAR total. Because looking at his offensive numbers, he’s a fourth outfielder.
In the last five years, his HR high is 14 with 60 ribbies being the zenith. Add in a career .262 average and you have a player that in the past would have barely gotten a tweet from another organization.
This year, Mike Moustakas ended up with just a one-year deal for $6.5 million with the Kansas City Royals. No other team felt he warranted a better offer despite slugging 35 homers. Not to mention, adding 85 RBI and a .272 average. A 2.2 fWAR, according to Fangraphs, doesn’t have teams drooling for your services.
Why is WAR suddenly the only number that matters? Is a made up algorithm from an alleged guru valued more than a century’s worth of evidence to the contrary? With numbers of 6.5, 3.4, 5.1, and 6.1 prior to becoming a free-agent, demand for Heyward was off the charts.
His numbers have not been quite as haughty with the Cubs. But, how much different are they than the figures that got him mega-millions? The difference is his WAR has dropped, although to the naked eye he’s relatively the same hitter he’s been for the past several years. The ball doesn’t exactly explode off his bat. And based on the evidence, it hasn’t since his first few years in the league.
He’s still elite in the field, of course. And will make a wonderful defensive replacement late in games for some of the Cubs fielding-challenged outfielders. But why is he no longer a WAR hero?
And why is JosA� Quintana considered one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past several years? Is it because he’s a dominant starter that is always at the top of the heap winning games, or is it because he’s another overrated example of the casualties of WAR?
When I watch Quintana pitch, I see an average pitcher who doesn’t miss starts and generally pitches 200 innings. Hitters tee off on him on a consistent basis, but I’m using the eye test, so what do I know?
His WAR for the past five years has been 3.5, 5.1, 4.7, 4.7, and 3.9 according to Fangraphs. It corresponded to nine wins the first three years followed by 13 and 11. If he’s five wins above replacement while winning only nine games, that means the replacement player has over 30 starts and just four wins. Does that make sense?
You can see the same puzzling breakdowns in football evaluating quarterbacks. According to NFL Passer Rating Career Leaders from Pro Football Reference, Tony Romo is the fourth-highest rated quarterback in league history. Kirk Cousins comes in at No. 10. They’re nice quarterbacks, but top ten all-time?
Between 14-16 you’re looking at Chad Pennington, Matt Schaub, and Colin Kaepernick while Dan Marino is at 28 followed by Brett Favre at 29. Are we expected to believe those three are better than two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever step on a football field?
A couple of Hall of Famers check in at 71 and 72 in Dan Fouts of Air Coryell fame and John Elway. Are they really not as good as Jeff George, who is holding the No. 66 spot?
Can you see why I question statistical analysis and its veracity? You don’t need numbers to tell you if a player is good or not. You can watch them. If numbers tell you Heyward was worth $184 million and the Cubs should have traded Eloy JimA�nez for Quintana because of his sparkling WAR, then something is wrong with the numbers.
Baseball has new stats like exit velocity and barrels that break things down to a science, which is why I find this era so taxing. Where is the simple game of baseball I grew up with? It has become a playground for nuclear physicists and brain surgeons being the only ones smart enough to understand the latest concepts.
Theo Epstein was at the forefront when it came to utilizing the new math to evaluate players. He started the bandwagon that other teams eventually followed. And that analysis recognized Heyward and Quintana as core players capable of helping the Cubs reach their goal of another World Series.
Theo is usually referred to as the smartest guy in the room. Could it be he outsmarted himself this time?