WAR: What is it good for?

Ben Zobrist led all MLB players last season in WAR. AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

Editor's note: Hot Stove U. is a six-week course devoted to higher learning, a series consisting of 30 need-to-know topics for 2010. On Monday, Jim Caple examined the value of the run as a bottom-line stat, which elicited a strong response from Insiders. But every U. fosters different points of view, right? On Tuesday, FanGraphs goes to WAR.

The Setup

It's generally pretty easy to tell who is good at baseball. You
don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that Joe Mauer's .365
batting average last year was tremendous, especially for a catcher.
Likewise, pretty much anyone can recognize greatness in Prince
Fielder's 46 home runs, Zack Greinke's 2.16 ERA or Tim Lincecum's 261

However, as baseball fans, we were born with the desire to argue over
whether one player is better than another, and these numbers do not lend
themselves to easy comparison. Mauer doesn't have an ERA, because
he's not a pitcher. The Giants don't care that Lincecum failed to hit
a home run last year. Even comparing offensive players to other
hitters can be a problem; Fielder would be a disaster at
shortstop, so stacking his numbers up against Troy Tulowitzki's is
comparing a massively large apple to oranges.

Thankfully, we now have a metric that allows for comparison among
players across positions, and even between pitchers and hitters,
totaling up all the things each does to help a team win, no matter
what his particular skill is. Hitters, defenders, pitchers --
everyone is graded on the same scale. This is why we love Wins
Above Replacement.