Wins above replacement would make a terrible daily stat.
For one thing, there are all sorts of margins of error in the calculations -- around park factors, baserunning opportunities, value of positional adjustments and defensive ratings -- that mean relatively little in a season, but could really tilt a single day. But for another, WAR is all about taking a very complex range of data and turning it into something simple. A single game, though, already is simple. WAR would arguably make it unsimple.
And so, WAR is not a daily stat. Nobody publishes it or talks about it, and you can't go back and look at what Babe Ruth was "worth" on July 3, 1923. But one byproduct of emotionally committing to Mike Trout's shockingly plausible pursuit of the greatest WAR of all time is checking his WAR, every day, and seeing it move, every day. The brain on Trout starts to develop a sort of scale for daily WAR. And thus:
If you're wondering, a full season like Trout's past three games would apparently be a 37-WAR season— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBB) June 14, 2018
That seems like a lot. Is 37 WAR in a season a lot? For context, Trout's career high in WAR is 10.5 in both 2012 and 2016, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Trout hit .636/.714/1.818 in those three games that would project to 37 WAR over a season, and presumably did some other cool stuff, so you'd certainly expect it to be a lot. But it got me wondering.
Baseball-Reference has kept its daily WAR updates, going back to 2013, accessible. By looking at a player's WAR totals as of one date and subtracting his WAR totals as of the previous date, one can deduce a player's daily WAR. How exceptional are Trout's past three games? What would a 40-, or 50-, or, dare we dream, a 100-WAR player look like? And how many WAR would The Kid Who Only Hit Homers be worth? We can answer those questions.
First, a big caveat: Defensive runs are published only in whole numbers, even though it is calculated in decimals. What that means is that a player can be worth 7.51 runs on defense when the day starts -- which would be published as 8.0 runs -- and "add" 0.98 runs with a series of amazing catches. But as far as you or I would see, he wouldn't have added any defensive value at all. Whereas, if he were to lose 0.02 runs in the system, it would look like a whole run for the day. Over the course of a season these rounding details don't really matter -- at most, a player's WAR could be "off" by a run. (It takes about 10 runs to make a WAR.) But a run in a day, prorated over 162 games, is 16 WAR! You see the problem?
Instead of getting frustrated at the system, just get frustrated at me, because I'm telling you right now: This is all just fun and games and you shouldn't take it seriously at all. We're just playing today. (Also, for the record, defense doesn't play a factor in any of the following.)
OK, let's go:
The Brandon Guyer game
1-for-1, three hit-by-pitches (Oct. 2, 2015)
Guyer is the ultimate getting-hit-by-pitches dude. He led the league in 2015 and 2016, despite getting about half as many plate appearances as a regular. It's a huge part of his offensive value, and Oct. 2, 2015 was his most perfect in-character day: no outs made, three bruises, all offense, all his way.
The daily WAR: 0.14
Over a season: 23 WAR
So, if Guyer, an unexceptional outfielder who gets hit 486 times and literally never makes an out, were to play an entire season, he'd be worth 23 WAR. That would be a record! And, in fairness, in many games he'd bat more than four times and produce even more than that. But there you go: The Perfect Brandon Guyer WAR.
The Billy Hamilton game
2-for-3, a walk, five stolen bases (June 14, 2015)
Most days Billy Hamilton doesn't reach base three times, but when he does -- and when Jon Lester is at the peak of his yips on the mound -- he runs. He stole second against Lester once, third against him twice and worked in two other steals against relievers.
The daily WAR: 0.27
Over a season: 43.7 WAR
A season of Hamilton's best game, repeated 162 times, would be worth as much as Jose Canseco's entire career, and, dare I say, almost as weird.
The Bryce Harper game
0-for-0, six walks and a hit-by-pitch (May 8, 2016)
At the time, Harper was coming off an MVP season and had an OPS over 1.000, so the Cubs and Joe Maddon decided to avoid him. He was walked seven times in the first three games of the series, but in the fourth game -- a 13-inning contest -- Maddon went all-in. Three of the walks were intentional, and in seven plate appearances, Harper saw only three strikes.
The daily WAR: 0.28
Over a season: 45.4 WAR, though that's aided by the length of the game. If this actually happened, the 162 consecutive 13-inning games might be the bigger headline than the man who walked 972 times.
The Brandon Crawford game
7-for-8, with a double and a triple (Aug. 8, 2016)
In a 14-inning game, Crawford had the only 7-for-8 in major league history. (Four other players have had seven hits in a game, and one player had nine, all coming in 1975 or earlier.) Hits are worth more than walks, so Crawford's day easily outvalued Harper's, even with the extra out. In retrospect, the Marlins would have been better off just walking him.
The daily WAR: 0.33
Over a season: 53.5 WAR
The Anthony Rendon game
6-for-6, three homers and a double (April 30, 2017)
Rendon entered the game with a .566 OPS for the season; he ended it with a .768 OPS, and just like that, a bad season was pretty good. He also improved his WAR for the season from 0.2 -- for a month, that's a below-average major leaguer -- to 0.8, which put him on pace to be named on MVP ballots, which he was.
The daily WAR: 0.61
Over a season: 98.8 WAR
We've reached the point where adding this player to most teams would give them more theoretical wins than actual games. The problem with measuring the value of three homers, a double and two singles in a game is that most games are decided by far less than three homers, a double and two singles, which means a lot of that value is wasted adding on to eight-run leads. Still: Fun!
The J.D. Martinez game
4-for-5, four homers (Sept. 4, 2017)
The slugger (with Arizona at the time) made one more out than Rendon, but home runs kill rallies in the best possible way, so the math slightly favors this configuration of 16 total bases.
The daily WAR: 0.64
Over a season: 103.7 WAR
And that's from a poor defensive left fielder! If this 648-homer hitter could play a good third base, he might crack 105.
The Scooter Gennett game
5-for-5, four homers (June 6, 2017)
This is the most total bases anybody has had since 2013, and it matches both Martinez's four homers and Rendon's lack of outs. Gennett drove in 10 runs in the game, but most home runs don't drive in two-and-a-half runs apiece; a home run is actually worth about, on average, 1.4 runs. A single is worth about 0.4 runs (on average), so a theoretical Always-Four-Homers Scooter Gennett would give his team about a six-run head start.
His Reds lost 94 games last year, but only 15 were by more than six runs. Eight more were by exactly six runs, and if we assume the Reds would lose half of those games in extra innings, then The Gennett Who Only Hit (Mostly) Home Runs has now turned the Reds into a 19-loss team. They go 143-19. They're the best team ever -- by a mile -- and it's all because of Gennett. Still, you'd have to agree that Gennett's WAR would be overstating things a bit.
The daily WAR: 0.73
Over a season: 118.3
Sadly, there's a cap to how much one player can realistically do, and we've reached it.
A few leftovers:
• Max Scherzer's 17-K no-hitter in 2015 was about 0.63 WAR, less than Gennett's four homers, which makes sense. It's rare that we think of a hitter as being able to do more than a pitcher, but all a pitcher can really do is lower a team's "expected" runs allowed from around five to zero. A hitter can raise its "expected" runs scored from around five to, theoretically, with enough plate appearances, a billion.
• Paul Goldschmidt's five-game stretch earlier this month, when he hit .682/.720/1.591 and raised his season OPS by 160 points, increased his WAR by 1.21. That's a 39-WAR pace, just a tick better than the three Trout games that set all this off.
• But Harper probably has the best three-game stretch of our time period: From May 6, 2015 through May 9, 2015, he hit six homers in 12 at-bats. He singled twice and walked. His WAR for three games checked in at an even 1.0: A 54-WAR pace over a full season. He finished the year with less than that.
Trout, meanwhile, chugs along. He's on pace for 14.3 WAR this year, still ahead of the Babe's best year, still on track for the best of all time. Keep watching.