Monday, November 20, 2017

From the Handbook: Win Shares

I'm going to skip ahead again today because last week, in conjunction with the AL MVP announcement, Bill James posted this essay dissecting what he sees as a fundamental problem with WAR -- Wins Above Replacement -- and then Joe Posnanski posted this piece to amplify James' points, and ... well, here I am.

WAR was developed about the same time -- maybe a little later -- that James concocted Win Shares. He made Win Shares the basis of his major revision of The Bill James Historical Abstract near the close of the 20th century, followed that with a book to explain Win Shares in detail ("Win Shares" -- an obvious title) and then pretty much dropped out of public sabermetrics. Whatever current cutting-edge analysis he does, he does for the Boston Red Sox. He's far more likely to publish books about crime than baseball these days.

He didn't do a lot to promote Win Shares in the battle for acceptance. WAR won. You can find competing versions of WAR on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs; it's not easy to find Win Shares online.

But I've always preferred Win Shares. I'm sure part of that is that James writes so well. I've never encountered an explaination of WAR that didn't leave me gasping for air as I drown in concepts I can't grasp. James I can follow. I'm more confident I understand Win Shares than WAR.

Anyway ... back to the Handbook. The Handbook annually publishes Win Shares. And Win Shares has a notably different take on who was important for the Twins than WAR does, or at least the Baseball Reference version.

bWAR has Byron Buxton as the most valuable Twin (5.1 WAR). Some other position players: Brian Dozier is at 4.4, Joe Mayer 3.4, Jason Castro and Miguel Sano 2.5 each, Jorge Polanco 2.1, Eduardo Escobar 1.3.

Win Shares has Dozier well ahead of the rest with 26. Mauer has 18, Buxton, Polanco, Sano and Escobar 14 each, Castro 12.

My sense is something of a mixture, and I suspect it of being heavily biased in Buxton's favor because I have maintained for so long that the Twins needed to prioritize outfield defense. I think Buxton's the most important player on this team. I think bWar has that right.

But I think Win Shares is more correct on the rest of them, and in particular Escobar. He's underappreciated by bWAR (in my opinion).

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