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Fangraphs and Baseball Reference Unify Replacement Level

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Today, Fangraphs and Baseball Reference consummated a relationship we knew to be coming for the last few weeks. While the two sites have always calculated Wins Above Replacement (WAR) differently, they decided to discuss reworking a component of the metric. That component was replacement level, defined as the production of a player who is readily available as a minor league free agent or on the waiver wire.

Today it happened. Dave Cameron can give you all the specifics over at Fangraphs, and I can’t say I disagree with any of the changes. I like that the two leading sites are working to improve WAR and our overall statistical evaluation of baseball. This is a step in the right direction and it’s good for everyone involved.

But there is a weird result from today’s unveiling of the new replacement level that is freaking me the hell out.

Everyone’s WAR is slightly different than it was yesterday.

Now many who hate sabermetrics might use this as a point of assault, but those people who know better know that it’s just a shifting baseline calculation that marginally changes the precise point value of WAR. The substantive results are the same, just refined.

But for someone who reviews baseball statistics quite religiously, it’s trippy. For example, Justin Verlander gained 0.2 WAR for 2012. Buster Posey lost 0.4 WAR. Most of the exact changes are pretty small and don’t change the interpretation much, but when we’re dealing with something like WAR that is imprecise and on a relatively small scale, things get funky. A bunch of players shifted places in rankings. Not dramatically, mind you, just from 2nd to 3rd or 8th to 7th. It’s minor and doesn’t mean much, it’s just weird.

I woke up today and the past had changed. I mean, I know that isn’t true, but it seems like it. Justin Verlander was the best pitcher by WAR last season, but now he is the best by more. Perhaps this means nothing to anyone else, but it was interesting for me.

WAR got better today and given the people in charge of its design, it will continue to get better into the future. Let’s just hope I’m better prepared to cope next time and don’t spend an hour of my day staring at my computer repeating “this is weird” to myself.

But seriously, it was.


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