In recent years, the stat of Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, has become a vital method in how fans and pundits alike judge baseball players. Many an article or television piece is pushed that bases itself on this distinctive model. It’s a curious intersection of mathematics, statistics, and the game we all know and love. There are multiple different applications, but the main objective is to guide a viewer towards a deeper understanding of what makes certain players special. In short, the higher a player’s WAR metric, the more overall value he adds to his team.
A replacement player’s WAR metric is, ultimately, zero. A player’s skill and success add to this number, thus making him more of a commodity than a replacement player. Anything less than zero and one would be looking at ample bench time. Garnering double digits in this category is substantial enough. However, the five players listed here have the greatest active career WAR measurements. To put this into perspective, nobody here has a mark under 70. That means that they were 70 (or more) wins better than the average replacement player. So, without further ado, let’s see these players and how they got there.
The Greatest Active Career WAR Metrics
Max Scherzer, WAR: 75.0
Max Scherzer, or Mad Max, kicks off our list of the greatest active career WAR metrics. His potency on the mound is well documented, as he has won 214 games while striking out 3,367 batters. However, he didn’t arrive overnight. His first two seasons were okay, posting WAR numbers of 1.2 and 1.3, respectively. In 2010, with the Detroit Tigers, he broke out and he’s never really looked back. From 2012 through 2023, he posted WAR metrics of two or higher. His time with the Washington Nationals is of particular note, as he put up seven consecutive seasons of five or more WAR. In the end, Scherzer is destined for Cooperstown, and his WAR numbers are only a boon to that foregone conclusion.
Zack Greinke, WAR: 77.5
Zack Greinke makes this list thanks to a 20-year career. His longevity and tenacity have helped funnel him to the top of baseball’s pitching mountain. He enters the 2024 season a mere 21 strikeouts shy of the coveted 3,000 mark. He’s a six-time All-Star, a Cy Young winner, and even a two-time Silver Slugger. That being said, his WAR marks carry more highs and lows than the average roller coaster. His highest career mark was in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals. He won the aforementioned Cy Young and posted a staggering 10.4 WAR. In 2015, with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he broke the eight mark once more. However, he also has eight career years of a WAR measuring two or worse.
Clayton Kershaw, WAR: 79.9
Clayton Kershaw sits squarely in the middle of the greatest active career WAR metrics. His unbelievable consistency earlier in his career have helped push him to 210 wins and a sparkling 2.48 ERA. He won four consecutive ERA titles from 2011 to 2014 and took home three Cy Young Awards as well. He’s a 10-time All-Star, and is also one of the only hurlers to win the Cy Young and MVP honors in the same season (2014). His consistency has stretched to the WAR boards as well. He has seven career seasons of five or more WAR and he led the league in the metric for three straight years. Recently, his numbers have dipped a bit. However, that does nothing to affect Kershaw’s overall impact on the game itself.
Justin Verlander, WAR: 80.9
Another on this list destined for Cooperstown, Justin Verlander has spent nearly two decades establishing himself as one of the greatest pitchers of all time. His 257 wins lead all active pitchers and his 3,342 strikeouts are second only to Scherzer. He has an astonishing 12 seasons of four or more WAR, and four of seven or more. He’s a three-time WAR champion, a three-time Cy Young winner, and a nine-time All-Star. The multiple cherries on top of this particular sundae are his contributions to two World Championship teams. Though his WAR in 2023 was lower than expected, even at the age of 40, Verlander is still proving that he can stand up to the best in baseball history.
Mike Trout, WAR: 85.2
It is not out of the realm of possibility to state that Mike Trout is the greatest baseball player of this generation. The crazy thing is, Trout has, in this writer’s opinion, yet to reach his full potential. A plethora of injuries have robbed him of three of his last four seasons. The one year (2022) when he played in over 100 games, he crushed 40 homers and finished in the top ten in in MVP voting. But what lands him at the top of this list was his period of absolute dominance from 2012 through 2019. Each year, he made the All-Star team and took home three MVP Awards. From 2012 through 2016, his WAR was a staggering 46.3. Only four of his 13 seasons have ended in WAR totals below six.
Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports