What Does WAR Mean in Baseball?

This stat is used by coaches and teams to determine the impact a player has on the game.
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

WAR is a statistic you use to compare and evaluate players. It determines the impact a player has on the defensive and offensive side of the ball. The acronym stands for Wins Above Replacement. Coaches might use the stat to determine which players to use in a game, or which players to select and replace on the roster. Essentially, the stat takes runs generated by a player and translates them into wins for the team. 

What is WAR?

WAR is a formula that can be used to show positively or negatively how a player impacts the team. It is a way to measure how the team would do if that player was replaced by another player. WAR measures the achievement of the team with that player on the field. It shows how valuable a player is to the roster and compares them to a player that could replace them. WAR scores typically fall between a 0 and a 6. The number can dip into the negatives or exceed the positive 6. The higher the number the more valuable a player is to your team. 

To calculate a player’s WAR, you need to compile a number of different statistics about each player to determine their WAR. This includes everything from fielding to base running, hitting, runs scored, runs allowed, what position a player plays, and what league they play in. Independently, these statistics are interesting, but calculated together they show you a great deal about the players on your team. 

How Do You Calculate WAR? 

To calculate WAR there are a number of statistics that you need to gather for a hitter. You need their RBIs, Fielding Runs Above Average, Positional Adjustment, League Adjustment, Base Running Runs, Runs Added or Lost Due to Grounding into Double Plays and Runs per Win. Once you have those stats the formula is rather simple. It is WAR= (Batting Runs (RBI) + Fielding Runs Above Average + Positional Adjustment + League Adjustment + Base Running Runs) + Runs Added or Lost Due to Grounding into Double Plays/Runs Per Win. 

What you are doing is calculating how efficient a player is hitting, fielding, pitching (if applicable), baserunning, and measuring it against their plate appearances. 

If a player hits for a high average, but hits into double plays or gets thrown out a lot on the bases, they will have a lower WAR. Some statisticians will even take the era the player played and the stadiums they play in into consideration. The player’s position does matter in the formula. 

How Do You Calculate WAR for Pitchers? 

Calculating WAR for pitchers is different than the formula for position players. There are two different ways that pitchers’ WAR can be calculated. 

RA9 WAR centers around the idea that win value is measured by how many runs are allowed per 9 innings. RA9 WAR makes the pitcher responsible for the ball with each pitch. FIP WAR on the other hand narrows down what the pitcher is responsible for. 

You calculate WAR for pitchers using the following statistics – ERA, Defensive Adjustment, Fielding Independent Pitching, Pitching Winning Percentage Above Replacement. According to Fan Graphs, you plug that information into this formula: WAR = [[([(League “FIP” – “FIP”) / Pitcher Specific Runs Per Win] + Replacement Level) * (IP/9)] * Leverage Multiplier for Relievers] + League Correction

What is Good WAR in baseball?

The simple answer to what a good WAR is is that the higher the number, the better the stat. Some statisticians would break it down into simple categories. A score of 0-2 would be your basic level player. A score of 6 or higher is a sign of a higher caliber player. All-stars and MVPs will score over a 6. An average player scores about a 3 on the scale. 

Is it a Good Stat?

Statisticians argue that WAR is one of the most effective stats to use to evaluate players. WAR takes a cohesive and thorough look at a number of statistics. This perspective allows you to get a wider view of a player and how they can positively or negatively affect your team. WAR is a stat that puts players and performances in context. Calculating WAR can be confusing, but once you have the stat completed it will reveal a great deal about the player you are examining. 

Who has the highest WAR All-Time?

This is a complicated answer. The career leader for WAR all-time is Barry Bonds. Against position players, Bonds finished with a WAR of 162.8. He narrowly beat Ruth who finished with a 162.7. The interesting tidbit about this is that this stat does not include Ruth’s time as a pitcher. 

When including Ruth’s stats as a pitcher, he jumps to the top of the all-time WAR list. Ruth tops that list at 183.1. The next highest player on that list is also a pitcher. Walter Johnson comes in second at 164.8. In comparison, Bonds drops to fourth on the list. 

Highest in a Season?

The highest single-season WAR all-time for position players belongs to Babe Ruth. In fact, Ruth owns the top three spots on the all-time single-season list. In 1923, a 28-year-old Ruth posted a 14.2 WAR. Barry Bonds is the highest-rated modern-era player. In 2001, Bonds posted an 11.9 WAR. This places him sixth on the all-time list. 

What does Career War Mean?

WAR is a comprehensive stat. A Career WAR shows collectively how many wins over a replacement your player collected over the course of their career. Comparing individual seasons to a career stat will show you if a season was an outlier (again positively or negatively). The more a player plays, the more accurate and revealing their WAR may be.

Final Word

Although WAR is a complex statistic to calculate, what it reveals is worth it. WAR can help you make both lineup and roster decisions. You will find that WAR is a great statistic to measure a player’s performance. It is also a great statistic to use comparatively. If you are a player, it is a great stat to use to track your progress as a player. 

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