Is WAR Accurate? 2011 Team WAR Wins vs. Actual Wins; 2011 WAR Leaders

All WAR data used below was compiled with FanGraphs’ version of WAR and not Baseball Reference’s.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is one of the most heavily debated statistics.

The hitting side of  WAR is straight forward, as there is little argument that wOBA is the best stat to determine a hitter’s all around worth. The biggest issues with WAR for hitters are the inconsistency of fielding statistics and how much positional value factors into the equation.

There is also some slight debate as to which stat should be used to determine WAR for pitchers — FIP, xFIP, SIERA, or ERA.

But it turns out WAR is actually an extremely accurate predictor of a team’s record even with the inconsistencies and flaws in some of the stats. Before we get into the data, here’s how to project a team’s wins with WAR:

Normally, in one year there would be 2430 wins total between all 30 teams (81*30 = 2430). However, in 2011, there were 2429 total wins because the Dodgers and Nationals had a game rained out that was never made up.

This year FanGraphs gave out a total of 1163.2 WAR, leaving the league replacement level at 2429 minus 1163.2, or 1256.8.

To find the replacement level per team, you then divide 1256.8 by 30, which equates to 42.2. So, to project a team’s record based on WAR, add 42.2 to their total WAR. Now, let’s explore the 2011 WAR data.

Here is a list of every team’s batting WAR, pitching WAR, and total WAR:

Team Batting WAR Pitching WAR Total WAR
Texas 39.1 21.8 60.9
NY Yankees 36.0 23.9 59.9
Boston 39.3 20.3 59.6
Philadelphia 23.9 27.6 51.5
Milwaukee 33.4 18.1 51.5
Detroit 28.9 19.9 48.8
St. Louis 34.3 14.3 48.6
Arizona 31.5 15.9 47.4
Tampa Bay 31.2 14.4 45.6
LA Angels 23.8 18.6 42.4
San Francisco 17.7 23.0 40.7
LA Dodgers 24.0 16.6 40.6
Chicago Sox 13.9 26.4 40.3
Cincinnati 33.0 7.0 40.0
Atlanta 18.6 20.7 39.3
Kansas City 25.3 13.5 38.8
Florida 20.8 15.9 36.7
Colorado 21.7 15.0 36.7
Toronto 21.3 12.6 33.9
Washington 19.7 13.8 33.5
NY Mets 23.5 8.8 32.3
Chicago Cubs 18.7 13.5 32.2
San Diego 22.3 9.3 31.6
Cleveland 14.9 15.5 30.4
Oakland 11.5 18.6 30.1
Seattle 5.3 17.5 22.8
Baltimore 14.7 8.1 22.8
Pittsburgh 14.5 7.1 21.6
Houston 17.6 4.0 21.6
Minnesota 10.3 10.8 21.1

In 2009, FanGraphs found the correlation of WAR to actual wins to be 0.83. With the addition of Ultimate Base Running this year, WAR was expected to become more accurate, and it has. I compiled a ton of WAR data in an excel sheet and determined that the correlation between WAR and actual wins for the 2011 season to be 0.88.

Team Wins WAR Wins Difference
Rangers 96 103.2 7.2
Yankees 97 102.1 5.1
Red Sox 90 101.9 11.9
Phillies 102 93.8 8.2
Brewers 96 93.8 2.2
Tigers 95 91.1 3.9
Cardinals 90 90.9 0.9
Diamondbacks 94 89.7 4.3
Rays 91 87.9 3.1
Angels 86 84.7 1.3
Giants 86 83.0 3.0
Dodgers 82 82.9 0.9
White Sox 79 82.6 3.6
Reds 79 82.3 3.3
Braves 89 81.6 7.4
Royals 71 81.1 10.1
Marlins 72 79.0 7.0
Rockies 73 79.0 6.0
Blue Jays 81 76.2 4.8
Nationals 80 75.8 4.2
Mets 77 74.6 2.4
Cubs 71 74.5 3.5
Padres 71 73.9 2.9
Indians 80 72.7 7.3
Athletics 74 72.4 1.6
Orioles 69 65.1 3.9
Mariners 67 65.1 1.9
Pirates 72 63.9 8.1
Astros 56 63.9 7.9
Twins 63 63.4 0.4
Standard Deviation: 4.61

One standard deviation of the difference between WAR and actual wins is 4.61 wins, which is more accurate compared to the 6.40 FanGraphs found in 2009.  Here are some more facts about this year’s WAR numbers compared to actual wins:

  • 18 of the 30 teams were within one standard deviation.
  • 28 of the 30 teams were within two standard deviations (9.32). Only two teams — Boston (11.9) and Kansas City (10.1) — were more than two standard deviations away.
  • WAR standings would give us the same order of standings for two divisions: the AL West and NL West.
  • The top nine teams in WAR wins includes all eight playoff teams.
  • If Boston had made the playoffs, the top eight teams in total WAR would have been the eight playoff teams.

Here are the 2011 regular season standings side-by-side with the 2011 WAR standings:

American League
EAST W L PCT
NY Yankees 97 65 0.599
Tampa Bay 91 71 0.562
Boston 90 72 0.556
Toronto 81 81 0.500
Baltimore 69 93 0.426
CENTRAL W L PCT
Detroit 95 67 0.586
Cleveland 80 82 0.494
Chicago Sox 79 83 0.488
Kansas City 71 91 0.438
Minnesota 63 99 0.389
WEST W L PCT
Texas 96 66 0.593
LA Angels 86 76 0.531
Oakland 74 88 0.457
Seattle 67 95 0.414
National League
EAST W L PCT
Philadelphia 102 60 0.630
Atlanta 89 73 0.549
Washington 80 81 0.497
NY Mets 77 85 0.475
Florida 72 90 0.444
CENTRAL W L PCT
Milwaukee 96 66 0.593
St. Louis 90 72 0.556
Cincinnati 79 83 0.488
Pittsburgh 72 90 0.444
Chicago Cubs 71 91 0.438
Houston 56 106 0.346
WEST W L PCT
Arizona 94 68 0.580
San Francisco 86 76 0.531
LA Dodgers 82 79 0.509
Colorado 73 89 0.451
San Diego 71 91 0.438
American League
EAST WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
NY Yankees 102.1 59.9 0.630
Boston 101.9 60.1 0.629
Tampa Bay 87.9 74.1 0.543
Toronto 76.2 85.8 0.471
Baltimore 65.1 96.9 0.402
CENTRAL WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
Detroit 91.1 70.9 0.563
Chicago Sox 82.6 79.4 0.510
Kansas City 81.1 80.9 0.501
Cleveland 72.7 89.3 0.449
Minnesota 63.4 98.6 0.392
WEST WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
Texas 103.2 58.8 0.637
LA Angels 84.7 77.3 0.523
Oakland 72.4 89.6 0.447
Seattle 65.1 96.9 0.402
National League
EAST WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
Philadelphia 93.8 68.2 0.579
Atlanta 81.6 80.4 0.504
Florida 79.0 83.0 0.488
Washington 75.8 86.2 0.468
NY Mets 74.6 87.4 0.461
CENTRAL WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
Milwaukee 93.8 68.2 0.579
St. Louis 90.9 71.1 0.561
Cincinnati 82.3 79.7 0.508
Chicago Cubs 74.5 87.5 0.460
Pittsburgh 63.9 98.1 0.395
Houston 63.9 98.1 0.395
WEST WAR W WAR L WAR PCT
Arizona 89.7 72.3 0.554
San Francisco 83.0 79.0 0.513
LA Dodgers 82.9 79.1 0.512
Colorado 79.0 83.0 0.488
San Diego 73.9 88.1 0.456

The purpose of WAR is to provide a stat that quantifies a player’s total value in one easy to use metric. WAR does just that. And with the .88 correlation, it’s exceptionally accurate.

The only thing about WAR’s accuracy that scares me: The Orioles, who posted 22.9 WAR in 2011, need to add 27-37 WAR to give themselves a chance at the playoffs. That’s a tough task.

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