No, this is not a reference to that short period in the late '70s when the funk-rock band "Eric Burdon and War" was fronted by a young Bob Welch after Burdon left to pursue a solo career. (Welch even re-wrote the lyrics to "Low Rider" to be an ode to the split-fingered fastball. It was a dark time for music.)
Since Our Man Justin is having a phenomenal year, it's been mentioned a lot in the media lately that he could potentially win the most games in a season since Bob Welch's 27-6 year in 1990. So, off to baseball-reference.com I went, and I noticed something very bizarre about WAR and pitching, at least in Welch's case.
I'm aware that wins, as a pitching stat, are overrated. I'm also aware that the 1990 Oakland A's went to the World Series, so they were a pretty good team. Regardless, I was pretty surprised to see Welch's 1990 season as being described by WAR as being like, say, The Black Crowes: good, but not great. Consider these two seasons, '87 with the Dodgers and '90 with the A's:
Statistically, these seasons look pretty similar, except for Welch's record; yet, his WAR seems to have plummeted by over 4. Full disclosure: I'm not entirely sure what goes into WAR, but I do know it's a pretty neat statistical toy we can use to evaluate players.
But, is it valid for pitchers? Don't get me wrong, Justin's juicy 8.7 WAR this season (as of today) looks pretty darn impressive, and it is. However, we might just want to take it with a grain of salt before we point to it as the be-all, end-all of evaluating a pitcher's value for the team.
(P.S.: Welch finished 9th in MVP voting in 1990.)