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Michael Young's 2012 WAR among the worst ever
by Scott Butler 12/13/12

Why is there so much love for the WAR (Wins Above Replacement) stat?  The Inquirer just mentioned that Michael Young’s WAR was “among the worst seasons in modern baseball history” and “there are only three worse seasons (minimum 600 plate appearances) than Young's minus 2.4 WAR since 1947.” Really?  I guess that means he had the third worst season in Major League history. 

Before we get into how ridiculously ludicrous that is, here’s a brief refresher on WAR.

What is WAR?

Baseballreference.com defines WAR as “A single number that presents the number of wins the player added to the team above what a replacement player (think AAA or AAAA) would add.”  Their scale for a single season is “8+ MVP quality, 2+ Starter, 0-2 Reserve, <0 Replacement Level." As a point of reference, the Top WAR in the AL was Mike Trout with 10.0 and the worst was Casey Kotchman with -1.5.

It's important to note that the pitching WAR is completely different from the WAR for position players. The WAR for position players measures hitting categories plus fielding, but the pitching WAR rates players based solely on pitching categories. I find it humorous that the "all encompassing" WAR for pitchers completely ignores players like Cliff Lee who can handle the bat and guys like Blanton who might as well keep the bat on their shoulders.

Some of these sabermetric stats are very useful, but this is one I will largely ignore. WAR is a subjective stat in which barely a sole knows how it was derived. WAR is also highly cryptic considering there is no uniform formula, and all of the big stat sites calculate it differently. I would imagine most of us could come up with our own scale that would work just as well. 

Let’s use that scale on the Phillies.  Last season, Michael Young would have ranked better than only one regular player (Ty Wigginton).  He ranked worse than Mike Fontenot, Freddy Galvis, John Mayberry, Placido Polanco, Brian Schneider, Michael Martinez, Nate Schierholtz, and Domonic Brown.  Young did not have a great season, but he was certainly better than most of the players I just mentioned.  Here is a list of Phillies regulars in relation to Baseball Reference’s scale.

Phillies WAR rankings
MVP Quality - None
All Star - None
  G PA WAR
Starter
Carlos Ruiz 114 421 4.4
Chase Utley 83 362 2.9
Jimmy Rollins 156 699 2.3
Reserve      
Juan Pierre 130 439 1.9
Kevin Frandsen 55 210 1.5
Erik Kratz 50 157 1.4
Shane Victorino 101 431 1.3
Hunter Pence 101 440 0.7
Freddy Galvis 58 200 0.6
John Mayberry 149 479 0.5
Placido Polanco 90 328 0.3
Darin Ruf 12 37 0.3
Mike Fontenot 47 105 0.1
Laynce Nix 70 127 0.1
Pete Orr 35 57 0.1
Brian Schneider 34 98 0
Replacement Level      
Nate Schierholtz 37 73 -0.1
Michael Martinez 45 122 -0.2
Domonic Brown 56 212 -1
Ryan Howard 71 292 -1.2
Ty Wigginton 125 360 -1.7

The players fit fairly well into the categories, but it is in no way perfect and the rankings are pretty sketchy.  WAR makes a lot of sense in theory in that it basically provides the overall value of a player, taking into account everything he does. But in reality it serves virtually no purpose whatsoever.

How would you rate a player who hit 22 points above the league average in batting average, 7 points below the average in OBP, 10 below in home runs, 7 below in RBIs, and a poor fielder?  Under my own sophisticated ranking system, I rate his 2012 season as OK, not the third worst ever.

Any statistic which ranks Michael Martinez above anybody seems a little shady if you ask me.

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