Why WHIPs, wOBAs, and WARs?

WHIPs, wOBAs, and WARs

This is a baseball blog, and baseball stories (at least the on-field ones) are told with statistics. The beauty of the game is that we can compare players of different eras and leagues with some defensible proof using quality statistics. Speedsters from yesterday, like Lou Brock (career .336 wOBA, 938 SB) and Rickey Henderson (career .372 wOBA, 1406 SB) can be measured against contemporaries like Billy Hamilton (career .280 wOBA, 243 SB) to tell a story and even make an argument.

So why WHIPs, wOBAs, and WARs? Besides the wonderful alliteration, we establish that this blog is going to tell baseball stories with a deference to useful statistic to back up what we say. The three stats used in the blog title give us a lot more than the somewhat misleading but ubiquitous basic stats like batting average, wins, or runs batted in.

WHIP, or walks plus hits per inning pitched, is a good (though probably not the best) stat for measuring how often a pitcher gets himself in trouble by allowing baserunners. A good WHIP is under 1.20, and the 2017 season saw qualifiers ranging from Corey Kluber‘s fantastic 0.87 WHIP to an ugly 1.54 showing by the Rangers’ Martin Perez (although ballpark factors certainly didn’t help Perez, which is a case for other stats that don’t begin with “W”).

wOBA is probably the least used of the masthead stats, and it stands for weighted on-base average. wOBA was created by Tom Tango and attempts to refine what OPS (on-base percentage + slugging average) does to attribute a higher value to multi-base hits. The wOBA calculation is scaled each year to the league average OBP, so it provides an excellent means of comparing players. Generally, a wOBA of .290 or under is pretty bad, .320 is about average, and players with a wOBA of .400 are your superstars. Mike Trout, as usual, led qualifying batters in 2017 with an outstanding .437 wOBA while teammates Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar brought up the rear with awful matching .269 marks.

FanGraphs does an excellent job explaining the intricacies of wOBA including the 2013 formula for wOBA:

wOBA = (0.690×uBB + 0.722×HBP + 0.888×1B + 1.271×2B + 1.616×3B + 2.101×HR) /
(AB + BB – IBB + SF + HBP)

WAR, wins above replacement, is a stat that attempts to quantify a player’s value over a scrub-type player using how many extra wins can be estimated using that player instead of the scrub. WAR takes into account a player’s entire skillset, including batting, baserunning, and fielding. The formula for calculating WAR varies both for batter and pitchers and between stats providers, but as a comparison stat it makes it easy to say that player x with a 4.6 WAR is clearly more valuable than player y with a 2.3. A good player would be around 3 or more WAR, while your MVP seasons are often more than 6 wins above replacement. 2017 saw rookie Aaron Judge lead the majors with an 8.2 WAR (though he lost the MVP race to Jose Altuve and his still-fantastic 7.5), while the former great Albert Pujols had by far the worst WAR among starters with a -2.0 (despite driving in 101! that says something about the RBI stat).

Of course, every stat has its flaws and detractors, but the the 3 namesakes of this blog do a pretty good job of allowing for informed comparison. The usual caveats apply regarding ballpark and teammate factors, but combining these with other indicators will give you a good sense of the player you’ve got, whether you’re on your couch watching your fantasy player or a real-life GM in a box suite hoping your millions of dollars were a good spend.

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About the Author: Theron Roe

Theron lives in the Pacific Northwest but roots for his homestate Colorado Rockies and first love St. Louis Cardinals. When not thinking about baseball, he reads about politics and enjoys video games and sci-fi.