Topps Goes to WAR
August 1, 2013
by William Szczepanek
No, this isn't about a feud. And it isn't about Topps' competitors, like the battle with Bowman in 1955, or the skirmishes with Fleer and Donruss in the 1980s. It is about War (Wins Above Replacement), the sabermetric baseball measurement that summarizes a player's total contributions to their team in one statistic. Topps will be adding this stat to the back of their cards in the near future. I think this is a good thing and it shows that Topps is looking to the future for a product that may have seen its day.
Sabermetrics is part of today's baseball geekiness. Baseball has always been geeky and I contend that you need to be somewhat nerdy to really enjoy the game to its fullest. While there are many new sabermetric measurements, WAR is certainly one of the most interesting, because it attempts to answer the question of just who is the best at this game, considering everything. Well, maybe not everything, but close to everything.
While WAR is relevant, I do not think it is the be all and end all of determining a player's worth. For instance, Billy Martin's War rates him as below average or a scrub, but he is pretty well known as a clutch player and World Series hero of the 1950s. Also, Phil Rizzuto was consider an MVP contender over many years of his career, but can only boast of one good WAR year, (1950 - 6.7) when he was the MVP and his rating supported the Award.
For career players like Ted Williams, who 6 times led the league in WAR, he is ranked 14th overall WAR, 11th for position players WAR and 6th for Offensive War. Ted Williams may have been much higher if he weren't fighting for 5 years in other Wars like WWII and The Korean WAR, though his fielding prowess may have hindered him overall. Babe Ruth is rated as number 1 in all categories, which is understandable for his accomplishments over his entire career.
Let's look at the top WAR winners for the Golden Age of Baseball Card Years of 1952 to 1974. Bold indicates MVP for that year.
1952 NL Robin Roberts, Jackie Robinson 8.5- AL
Bobby Shantz 9.6
What is quite noticeable is that WAR and MVP voting are not very consistent, but overall that can be understood since the MVP Award is still a very subjective award.
WAR on Steroids
Now, I think WAR could be very useful if it were expanded to include penalties for steroid use or other forms of cheating. It may be a fairer way of looking at the value of a player rather than just shrugging our shoulders and saying, "Well, it's just part of the game today."
If that's the case then make it a part that is meaningful to both the character of the game and the pocketbook of the players who cheat. Good bye Barry and Sammy and Mark and Roger and Alex and Ryan... and others to be named later.
I'm not sorry to see you go. You see, "WAR is hell."