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Baseball statistics you should be using: wRC+

Let’s figure out how to use a key statistic

Billy Butler #16 of the Kansas City Royals hits an RBI double in the second inning against the San Francisco Giants during Game Six of the 2014 World Series at Kauffman Stadium on October 28, 2014 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Billy Butler, undersold by traditional statistics but a productive hitter by wRC+
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Every sport has its own statistical parlance, and baseball is no exception Indeed, baseball has one of the most complicated relationships with statistics out of any sport. It was the original battleground for the scary analytics boogeyman that you can hear discussed whenever you turn on the TV or read a sports section, and there are so many different statistics that it can make one’s head spin.

And while using home runs, ERA, batting average, and the like to discuss the game isn’t bad—most baseball fans are likely to understand your usage of them—that’s not the language used by talent evaluators, coaches, and front office personnel today. The battle over analytics is over, and every team in the league speaks it.

If you haven’t used any of those new statistics, don’t fret. There are sad, nerdy gatekeepers in baseball just like anywhere else, but you shouldn’t feel intimidated by any statistic. So today, we’re going to have a short discussion about one of the most useful statistics out there, one that will deepen your knowledge of baseball in a meaningful way. That statistic: wRC+. Let’s get going.

What is wRC+?

Technically referred to as Weighted Runs Created Plus, a more helpful description of wRC+ is that it is an adjusted version of Weighted Runs Created. I know that even one sentence in, some of your eyes have started to glaze over. But while the calculations behind wRC+ are somewhat complicated, the premise is truly simple.

In baseball, offense is all about runs. We all know that a home run is more valuable than a double, which is in turn more valuable than a walk. We also all know that Major League Baseball’s offensive output varies year to year as rule changes, ball changes, strategy changes, and other factors also change. Additionally, we all know that more runs are scored in certain ballparks than others.

What wRC+ does is take into account how valuable a hitter is at creating runs, and then adjusts it to both park and league factors. Like other adjusted statistics, a wRC+ of 100 is league average, and each point above or below 100 is one percentage point more or less productive than league average.

Why is it good?

Why is wRC+ good? It’s easy: wRC+ is the single best way to quickly measure a player’s offensive production, better than batting average, OPS, or a triple slash line. That’s because wRC+ properly values everything a player can do at the plate, allowing you to compare across playing styles. At the end of the day, despite the difference in playing styles, a slapstick hitter and a slugger are trying to create runs, and wRC+ allows you to easily compare the production.

Additionally, wRC+ is extremely useful not only because it allows you to easily compare differing styles of offense, but it allows you to compare any player from any era. A wRC+ of 105 means a player hit 5% better than league average, regardless if teams were scoring three runs per game or five runs per game on average that year.

What are some of its drawbacks?

The main drawback to wRC+ is that it does not show you how a player got their wRC+ figure. If you see a wRC+ of 88, for instance, that simply tells you that a player is producing 12% below league average, not how that player is doing so; wRC+ tells you nothing about plate discipline, home run figures, walk rates, or anything else. To be fair, though, that’s not the point of wRC+. Rather, its purpose is to give you a single number that quickly and accurately signifies offensive production.

Another drawback to wRC+ is that it does not take baserunning into account, and therefore does not represent the entire offensive value of a given player. In other words, a fast, quality baserunner will be more valuable offensively than a lumbering, poor baserunner, even if they both have the same wRC+ figure.

How do I use wRC+?

The first step in figuring out how to use wRC+ is familiarizing yourself with what its numbers mean. For instance, we all know that a .300 batting average is very good, a .275 average is good, a .250 average is ok, and a .225 average is bad. Since batting average is such a widespread statistic, that knowledge is common. Until wRC+ is used more often in broadcasts and on ESPN shows, that knowledge is harder to acquire unless you spend lots of time looking at statistics.

Below, I’ve pulled up the wRC+ figures of some players for the last decade for comparison. These players’ career wRC+ figures are not exactly on the nose—and they don’t reflect individual seasons—but they’re illustrative of the type of hitter that you find every 10 points.

  • 60 - Mostly unplayable. Chris Getz, Andrew Romine, Nicky Lopez
  • 70 - Borderline unplayable. Alcides Escobar, Chris Owings, Austin Romine
  • 80 - Bad hitter. Cheslor Cuthbert, Jarrod Dyson, Abraham Almonte
  • 90 - Below average. Maikel Franco, Kurt Suzuki, Andrelton Simmons
  • 100 - League average. Salvador Perez, Brian Goodwin, Danny Valencia
  • 110 - Above average. Whit Merrifield, Wil Myers, Joey Gallo
  • 120 - All-Star. Manny Machado, Trea Turner, Miguel Sano
  • 130 - Perennial All-Star. Buster Posey, Jose Abreu, George Springer
  • 140 - Superstar. Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton
  • 150 - Hall of Fame level. Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Aaron Judge
  • 170 - Mike Trout. Mike Trout

You can use wRC+ the same way you’d use any other offensive statistic, by comparing and contrasting players or simply by evaluating how well a player is doing. If you haven’t used it before, you might find some very interesting things, too, that might contradict previous knowledge. And that’s ok! Learning is good.

As to how you can find wRC+, well, that’s easy—go to Fangraphs. You can see individual wRC+ as well as team wRC+ in the “Leaders” and “Teams” menu tabs, respectively. And if you’re interested in reading about the statistical guts under the hood of wRC+, you can do that too.