Is WAR Useful for Fantasy Leagues?

Miguel CabreraTrout1

Wins Above Replacement, better known as WAR, came to the forefront of MVP balloting last season for many voters. Mike Trout, who, according to Fangraphs.com had a 10.0 WAR lost the AL MVP award to the Triple Crown winning Miguel Cabrera, who had a 7.1 WAR.

WAR can be calculated in various ways, as there is not one, established way of calculating the statistic. Fangraphs and Baseball Reference (position players and pitchers) are my go-to sites for different statistics, and they both calculate WAR differently (click on the above hyperlinks to read how they do that).

Due to the inconsistency in the statistic and the inconsistency in the overall value of the statistic (as evidenced by the number of baseball writers that didn’t consider the difference in value in Trout and Cabrera in 2012), should fantasy baseball consider using WAR as a summative (end of season) statistic, adding it to a 5 X 5 league for additional player values, or should it be used as a way to value players as you approach your 2013 fantasy drafts?

I wanted to see what the 2012 ESPN Player Rater, the 2013 ESPN Player Projections, the 2012 Fangraphs.com WAR Rankings, and the 2013 ZiPS WAR Rankings could show based on player performance. Below is the table that I created:

2012 ESPN   Player Rater 2013 ESPN   Rankings 2012 WAR 2013 ZiPS WAR
1 Mike Trout Ryan Braun Mike Trout, 10.0 Mike Trout, 7.4
2 Ryan Braun Mike Trout Buster Posey, 8.0 Miguel Cabrera, 6.5
3 Miguel Cabrera Miguel Cabrera Ryan Braun, 7.9 Giancarlo Stanton,   6.4
4 Andrew McCutchen Robinson Cano Robinson Cano, 7.8 Clayton Kershaw, 6.4
5 R.A. Dickey Andrew McCutchen David Wright, 7.8 Buster Posey, 6.2
6 Josh Hamilton Matt Kemp Chase Headley, 7.5 Robinson Cano, 6.1
7 Fernando Rodney Albert Pujols Andrew McCutchen, 7.4 Felix Hernandez, 6.1
8 Justin Verlander Carlos Gonzalez Miguel Cabrera, 7.1 Ryan Braun, 5.9
9 Clayton Kershaw Joey Votto Justin Verlander, 6.8 Justin Verlander, 5.7
10 Craig Kimbrel Prince Fielder Jason Heyward, 6.6 Cliff Lee, 5.7
11 Alex Rios Troy Tulowitzki Adrian Beltre, 6.5 Joey Votto, 5.6
12 Adrian Beltre Justin Upton Yadier Molina, 6.5 Troy Tulowitzki, 5.3
13 Edwin Encarnacion Justin Verlander Aramis Ramirez, 6.5 Andrew McCutchen, 5.3
14 Chase Headley Clayton Kershaw Michael Bourn, 6.4 Zack Greinke, 5.3
15 David Price Giancarlo Stanton Aaron Hill, 6.2 Adrian Beltre, 5.2
16 Aroldis Chapman Buster Posey Felix Hernandez, 6.1 Dustin Pedroia, 5.2
17 Robinson Cano David Wright Martin Prado, 5.9 Madison Bumgarner,   5.0
18 Adam Jones Adrian Beltre Ben Zobrist, 5.9 Carlos Gonzalez, 4.9
19 Matt Cain Josh Hamilton Alex Gordon, 5.9 Evan Longoria, 4.8
20 Gio Gonzalez Jose Bautista Clayton Kershaw, 5.5 David Price, 4.8
21 Aaron Hill Evan Longoria Austin Jackson, 5.5 Ben Zobrist, 4.7
22 Jered Weaver Felix Hernandez Gio Gonzalez, 5.4 Bryce Harper, 4.7
23 Aramis Ramirez Hanley Ramirez Ian Desmond, 5.4 Matt Kemp, 4.7
24 David Wright Stephen Strasburg Torii Hunter, 5.3 Matt Cain, 4.7
25 Carlos Gonzalez David Price Matt Holliday, 5.1 Jose Bautista, 4.6
26 Prince Fielder Dustin Pedroia David Price, 5.1 Yadier Molina, 4.6
27 Buster Posey Ian Kinsler Yu Darvish, 5.1 Gio Gonzalez, 4.6
28 Jose Reyes Jason Heyward Zack Greinke, 5.1 Matt Wieters, 4.5
29 Billy Butler Jose Reyes Joe Mauer, 5.0 Brett Lawrie, 4.5
30 Cole Hamels Matt Cain Miguel Montero, 5.0 Ian Kinsler, 4.5
31 Kris Medlen Edwin Encarnacion Jimmy Rollins, 4.9 Yu Darvish, 4.5
32 Albert Pujols Cliff Lee Prince Fielder, 4.9 Roy Halladay, 4.5
33 Matt Holliday Cole Hamels Bryce Harper, 4.9 Joe Mauer, 4.4
34 Michael Bourn Adam Jones Chris Sale, 4.9 Carlos Santana, 4.4
35 Johnny Cueto Starlin Castro Cliff Lee, 4.9 Stephen Strasburg,   4.4
36 Jason Motte Jay Bruce Josh Reddick, 4.8 Cole Hamels, 4.4
37 Jason Heyward Bryce Harper Angel Pagan, 4.8 Jered Weaver, 4.4
38 Ian Desmond Billy Butler Wade Miley, 4.8 Jason Heyward, 4.3
39 Felix Hernandez Jered Weaver Johnny Cueto, 4.8 CC Sabathia, 4.3
40 Kyle Lohse Zack Greinke CC Sabathia, 4.8 Ryan Zimmerman, 4.2
41 Carlos Beltran Adrian Gonzalez Adam Jones, 4.6 Adam Wainwright, 4.2
42 Jim Johnson Brandon Phillips R.A. Dickey, 4.6 Albert Pujols, 4.1
43 Chris Sale Craig Kimbrel Max Scherzer, 4.6 Prince Fielder, 4.1
44 Giancarlo Stanton Chase Headley Dustin Pedroia, 4.5 Austin Jackson, 4.1
45 Derek Jeter Jacoby Ellsbury Ryan Zimmerman, 4.5 Jose Reyes, 4.1
46 Curtis Granderson Matt Holliday Jose Reyes, 4.5 Anthony Rizzo, 4.0
47 B.J. Upton B.J.Upton Cole Hamels, 4.5 Starlin Castro, 3.9
48 Melky Cabrera Yadier Molina Edwin Encarnacion,   4.4 Dexter Fowler, 3.9
49 Jimmy Rollins Gio Gonzalez Josh Hamilton, 4.4 Chase Headley, 3.9
50 Jonathan Papelbon Adam Wainwright Jake Peavy, 4.4 Miguel Montero, 3.9
Adam Wainwright, 4.4 Adrian Gonzalez, 3.9

When I was compiling this sheet, there were names within the top 50 players in baseball and several surprises. Furthermore, the lack of rhyme or reason when it comes to ranking players in fantasy baseball is evident through the ESPN rankings from the 2012 season compared to the sites rankings for the 2013 season. For example, R.A. Dickey went from 5th overall in 2012 to outside of the top 50 in 2013.

When looking at the WAR rankings for the 2012 season, names like Michael Bourn, Aaron Hill, Yadier Molina, Alex Gordon, Martin Prado, and Ben Zobrist popped into the top 20 spots in player value. Certainly, their defensive skills come into play here, but isn’t there value in defense that could be used within fantasy baseball? Would defensive zone ratings come into play and how would that destroy the value that Miguel Cabrera creates for himself on offense?

While fantasy baseball players would be apprehensive to the idea of bringing defensive value into their games, wouldn’t WAR be a better way to show true player values within fantasy sports, as it is in real-life baseball? How could you add WAR to your fantasy league – as a running statistic (similar to ERA and WHIP, which can change dramatically from game to game), or should it be a single counting statistic that can be added at the end of the regular season?

ZobristShouldn’t a player like Ben Zobrist, who ranks as the 11th most valuable position player in baseball the last three seasons, be considered an asset in fantasy baseball due to his value on the real diamond? Sure, his .259 batting average brings down his value, but he is just one of nine players over the last three seasons to hit 50 home runs and steal 50 bases, while posting an OPS of .792 with solid on-base skills to go along with his multiple position eligibility (2B/SS/OF).

There is no perfect way to determine player values from year to year, especially when regression can come from aging, change of scenary, teammates moving to another club, or injuries. While you probably don’t want to draft a player like Chase Headley, Zobrist, or Alex Gordon in your first 20 picks, there is value in the consistency of overall production, as WAR grades out baserunning for position players, as well, which is why Trout and Braun have so much more value as the No.1 or No.2 pick than Cabrera.

WAR is valuable in fantasy preparation, and while it can be inconsistent, the same can be said for batting average, ERA, WHIP, wins, and any other statistic used in compiling player values.

The bigger challenge is how WAR can become an asset as a part of your fantasy league, and not just a method for determining the value of players over the course of the season.

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