Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Brett Lawrie's WAR Discrepancy

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Reuters Pictures
There was something interesting I discovered while perusing Baseball Reference the other day. Brett Lawrie, yes the Brett Lawrie, is ranked 2nd in all of baseball with a 3.8 WAR.

I was reminded of this anomaly after 500 Level Fan also noticed that Lawrie was near the top of the WAR leaders over on B-R. But here's the odd thing ... if you head over to FanGraphs, Brett Lawrie ranks 25th with a 2.3 WAR.

Considering that Baseball Reference and FanGraphs use slightly different formulas for wins above replacement, it's not all that surprising they they came up with varying results for Lawrie's WAR. But that 1.5 WAR discrepancy is a pretty big one.

If we're lead to believe Baseball Reference's take on WAR, Brett Lawrie is having a better season than Josh Hamilton, David Wright and Ryan Braun among many others. In fact, only Joey Votto (4.2 WAR) ranks higher than Lawrie.

Brett's having a great season by anybody's standards, but I don't think he's anywhere close to that echelon of Josh Hamilton or Ryan Braun this year ... not offensively, at least. WAR isn't perfect, but there's something fishy going on there.

Thanks to all the folks out on Twitter that let me know the main difference between Baseball Reference's WAR and FanGraphs WAR is Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) versus Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

Depending on how you look at it, here's the flaw in using DRS over UZR and vice versa; DRS takes the shift into account, while UZR does not.

The last instance I can remember was when the Blue Jays were in Chicago a few weeks ago. They had the shift on for Adam Dunn, and he hit right into it and Lawrie threw out Dunn at first base from right field. He would've been credited with a run saved, but nothing in the way of UZR points.

I personally think Defensive Runs Saved gives a better literal translation of what a defender contributes to a game, as opposed to Ultimate Zone Rating which just spits out an arbitrary number which tells more about a fielder's range.

In layman's terms, Baseball Reference's WAR weighs a little more heavily of defense. In fact, over 80% of Brett Lawrie's WAR is contributed to his glove and range, and not his bat (hat tip to @instreamsports). 

Truth be told, I really don't know whether Baseball Reference's WAR or FanGraphs WAR assessment of Brett Lawrie is more accurate. Lawrie does lead his position at DRS, but he also ranks up there in errors. Then again, he's had far more chances than anybody at his position with the most assists.

The odds are Brett Lawrie is going to get to baseballs and make outs that most other third baseman won't. His relentless and sometimes reckless style of play allows Lawrie to have a much larger body of work than his counterparts at the hot corner.

I gave it an old college try and attempted to figure out the calculations for Baseball Reference and FanGraphs WAR, but it was all just way too over my head. The main difference is DRS vs. UZR, which allows Baseball Reference's WAR to be a little more inflated for Lawrie than FanGraphs.

If you can provide any further insight into the issue, please feel free to share it in the comments below. Thanks!

9 comments:

  1. When in doubt, choose FanGraphs.

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  2. Nice one Ian. Thanks for the shout out as well. Baseball stats are always fascinating, and I don't remember ever seeing something like this before. When I saw Lawrie at the top I did a double take. Was not expecting it at all!

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    1. Yeah, I thought I was looking at some incredibly small sample size or something. It didn't make sense that Lawrie was at the top of the WAR leaderboard, but low and behold it was true!

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  3. Baseball Reference has Darwin Barney as one of the better players in the NL by WAR. Last I checked, he has literally 0 contribution from offense, his WAR was around 80% defense and 20% base running. That alone should shame their system.

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    1. So I guess that means you can be about league average offensively, and above average defensively and still put together a 2-3 win season? Seems kind of strange to me.

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  4. UZR is better.

    Both metrics are trying to measure 'how much better is this guy than average' - though it should be 'replacement', but nobody's figured out what a 'replacement-level fielder' is. Really, if we believe teams care about both fielding and defense, then batting WAR makes no sense as currently defined either, but let's ignore that.

    So when the DRS system sees Lawrie field a ball in shallow right for a putout, it goes 'oh look, not many other third basemen field balls in right field, that Lawrie has got exceptional range, let's give him a full DRS point (or more accurately '1 - %times a 3B makes that play' points). But what we want to know to calculate WAR is how often that play is made by a generic third baseman who's playing with the shift on.

    UZR just throws away all plays involving a shift, so that's not optimal either, but the DRS value Lawrie is getting credited with can be thought of as some combination of true above-average defensive ability and the value of shifting, and we want to credit Lawrie with just the former. On the flip side, it's evidence that the shifting helps.

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    1. care about fielding and offense*, sorry.

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    2. Well said! I think it's hard to find a perfect balance in between the two. But I think all those shift plays that Lawrie is a part of definitely makes his DRS a little misleading.

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