Sing it with me:

“War, huh, yeahWhat is it good for?Absolutely nothing, uhhWar, huh, yeahWhat is it good for?Absolutely nothingSay it again, y’allWar, huh (good God)What is it good for?Absolutely nothing, listen to me, oh”

We all know the tune and now you’ll be singing it in your head for the next hour or two.  You’re welcome!

Did you also know the song is an anthem for fantasy baseball?  I hear your skepticism, “It was written long before fantasy baseball or “WAR” became a thing!”  That may be true (it is, of course) but it doesn’t mean the song can’t cross boundaries between “real” war and “fake” WAR.  By the time we’re done with this session of Analytics Anonymous, we’ll answer this question for certain.  Hop on board and we’ll take the ride together.

WAR, or Wins Above Replacement, is an attempt by the sabermetric baseball community to summarize a player’s total contributions to their team in one statistic.  In the fake baseball world, we rarely care about only one statistic, or defensive statistics for that matter.  Even in points leagues where our fate is tied to a single number, our need to evaluate contributions across many categories is paramount to success.  I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know, so let’s just move on.

Calculating WAR

According to FanGraphs, to calculate WAR for position players, “you must take their Batting Runs, Base Running Runs, and Fielding Runs above average and then add in a positional adjustment, a small adjustment for their league, and then add in replacement runs so that we are comparing their performance to replacement level rather than the average player.”

Oh, but we’re not done yet…

“After that, you simply take that sum and divide it by the runs per win value of that season.”

For all you equation buffs out there, here is what that word salad boils down to:

Ah, I see you’re coming around to my thinking on this whole WAR thing.  But we’re still going to analyze the data to see if it checks out.  For completeness though, here is how FanGraphs explains WAR for pitchers:

“WAR uses FIP (with infield fly balls), adjusted for park, and scaled to how many innings the pitcher threw.  FIP is translated into runs, converted to represent value above replacement level, and is then converted from runs to wins.”

We like FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) here at Analytics Anonymous, so maybe we’ll dedicate a future session to Pitcher WAR.  But for today, it’s all about the bats.

Current WAR rankings (as of April 22)

The table below lists the top 25 players in WAR.

We’ll go through the normal five batting categories and see how well WAR predicts fantasy success.  From there, we can decide if WAR is a meaningful number for us or not.  This should be fun.

Runs

Batting Runs and Baserunning Runs are two components of the WAR calculation, so it stands to reason this category should track well with WAR, right?

Well, not so much.  True we do find eight of the top ten run scorers in the top 25, but there are some big outliers there too.

Home Runs

How about the long ball?  Surely (I know, don’t call me Shirley), the current HR leaders will be amongst the top 25 in WAR.

Well, the top 2 current HR leaders (Marcell Ozuna and Mike Trout) are on there, but the #3 HR hitter (Pete Alonso) is not.  Also, we see a couple players with only one HR making the top 25.  Hmmm.

Runs Batted In

I’m not too optimistic we’re going to see a correction here, but let’s find out.

Just as I suspected, the lack of correlation here is even greater than the previous two categories.  Not looking good for WAR.

Stolen Bases

Base running runs can be directly connected to SBs so let’s hope for better results here.

Maybe a little better, but still not great.

Average

Last, but not least, let’s look at batting average and WAR.

With 8 of the top 10, and 14 of the top 20, this data at least provides some encouraging correlation.

Summary

So, we’ve looked at each of the five fantasy categories individually and don’t really see a direct link between WAR and fantasy value.  However, before we shut the book on this discussion, let’s see what the correlation is between WAR and the SUM of the five fantasy categories.

If you’ve attended these sessions before, you’ve seen me use what I call “Sum Ranks” which is simply the additive results of individual category ranks.  I like this because it tends to normalize the effects of one or two categories where a player is either very high or very low.  In fantasy, we really want the 5-tool player, right?  So, this method of analysis helps bring those type players toward the top.

Well, we might have something here.  All of the top 10 in the “Sum Rank” column show up in the WAR top 25.  Looking a bit further, we find a total of 19 of the top 25 make the WAR list.

Although not included in this article, I found 35 of the top 50 in the “Sum Rank” column were listed amongst the top 50 in WAR.

Conclusion

So, what does this all mean?

My opinion?  WAR still has a place in fantasy baseball.  It clearly does not provide a good indicator of power or speed on its own but appears (with our limited data set) to do a decent job in identifying players who provide some value across the categories.

When searching for free agents or trade targets, you may want to start by sorting players with a positive WAR before digging deeper into a short list of players.  Sure, you may miss out on a player here and there who is on the cusp of a breakout or resurgence.  For instance, Christopher Morel’s current WAR of -0.099 ranks him 157 of the 184 players evaluated here.  However, his “Sum Rank” puts him at 86 overall.  NOTE: he’s the only player with a negative WAR and top 100 “Sum Rank” so the risk of missing out here appears pretty low.  Then again, maybe you use this to help justify a “buy low” trade offer.  There’s always a few ways to skin a cat!

Well, we’ve come to the end of another Analytics Anonymous session.  Today we listened to some good music and crunched some data, two of my favorites hobbies, in order to better understand what the voluminous fantasy baseball information can provide us.  Feel free to incorporate any, or none, into your own prep.  Most importantly, I hope you enjoyed the read.

Don’t forget, when you come to the Razzball site, you can find me on both on the baseball and football sides.  Just look for “The Lineup Builder” and you’ve found me!  I’m doing QB rankings all offseason in addition to hosting these baseball sessions.  With the NFL draft this week and QBs all the rage at the top of the draft, I’ll be sharing my thoughts and updated rankings based on where these signal callers are headed.  Don’t miss it!

Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter/X @Derek_Favret.  I’m now on BlueSky as well (@dfavret.bsky.social).

Until next time, my friends.