In 1999, Dante Bichette was playing his 7th and last season with the Colorado Rockies. (After that year, Dante was traded to the Cincinnati Reds – and was done as a major league player after 2001.)
By conventional baseball standards, most would say that Dante had a pretty good year during that ’99 campaign – where Bichette had 38 doubles, 34 home runs, scored 104 runs and drove in 133 (runs).
Why would that be considered good? Well, if you wanted to start a fraternity and call it the “38/34/104/133 Club” (meaning you needed to match or better those levels), there are only 27 men in baseball history to ever post a season like “that” -
Don’t get confused here. This does not imply that Bichette’s 1999 was one of the greatest seasons of all-time, or, that he should be in the baseball batter’s pantheon. There’s some funky stuff with the cutting of this club. First, runs scored and runs driven in are just as much a reflection of who is batting around you as they are an indication of your production. Therefore, that factor helps and hurts some with respect to making the group. Secondly, the doubles-homers thing can get tricky. For example, if a guy is hitting 50, 60 or 70 home runs in a season, then the odds are against him hitting many doubles as well – since his shots are flying over fences rather than falling in for two-baggers. And, the lack of doubles would then leave that great hitter off this list. Lastly, specific to Dante, there’s the whole Coors Field thing – where Bichette played all his home games in 1999. This is an extreme hitter’s park – and it inflates batting production by 25-35%, give or take – due to its high altitude. Balls fly out of Coors Field faster than they do at a brothel with a CDC warning of Syphilis detection posted in the vestibule. Although, while aided by Coors in ’99, it wasn’t as much as you would think for Dante that season. See his home/road splits that season:
In any event, getting back to the point, sundry caveats aside, albeit layman logic, many would consider Dante Bichette’s 1999 season to be a positive performance. But, was it?
That brings us to “WAR.”
What is “WAR”? It’s an acronym that stands for “Wins Above Replacement.” And, what is “that”? Here’s how Wiki describes it:
Wins Above Replacement or Wins Above Replacement Player, commonly abbreviated to WAR or WARP, is a non-standardized sabermetric baseball statistic developed to sum up “a player’s total contributions to his team”. A player’s WAR value is claimed to be the number of additional wins his team has achieved above the number of expected team wins if that player were substituted by a replacement-level player: a player that may be added to the team for minimal cost and effort.
Individual WAR values are calculated from the number and success rate of on-field actions by a player (in batting, baserunning, fielding, and pitching), with higher values reflecting larger contributions to a team’s success. WAR value also depends on what position a player plays, with more value going to weaker hitting positions like catcher than positions with strong hitting such as first base. A high WAR value built up by a player reflects successful performance, a large quantity of playing time, or both combined.
How do you calculate WAR? Well, it’s sort of akin to Keebler’s Elfin Magic. If you really want to know, then look it up. Just be warned that the explanation has been found to induce narcolepsy at the levels found when listening to Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Brass tacks, here’s the deal with WAR. Zero means average. Negative is bad. Positive is good. The higher the positive, the better. And, the greater the negative, then it’s really bad. Got it? Coolamundo.
Let’s go back to those 27 dudes in the “38/34/104/133 Club.” Take a guess at how many of those seasons had a WAR total that was a negative number. And, remember, it was 27 players – but, some of them did it more than once. Therefore, in reality, we’re talking about 42 “player seasons” here in total.
Whaddya think? Maybe 20 times it was a WAR under zero? Perhaps a dozen? More like six? Three?
Here is the answer: JUST ONE – DANTE BICHETTE IN 1999.
And, it’s not even close. Bichette’s WAR in that “good” 1999 season was -2.3. Yup, negative two point three.
The next “lowest” WAR in our little club was +3.6. In fact, in 86% of those seasons – meaning 36 times in 42 attempts, the player has a WAR of +5 or higher.
But, just to be fair, what killed Bichette’s value in 1999 was his fielding and base running – where, per the sabermetric determinations that are part of WAR, he had somewhere around “way below average” to “terrible” production in those departments. His hitting stats were what they are – pretty good even if assisted somewhat by Coors. Yet, in terms of “overall value,” his 1999 season was not good – per WAR – since the shortfalls in his “other than hitting” game offset the positive contributions from his offensive production. And, “that,” ladies and germs, is what WAR is good for – much more than “ab-soul-loot-lee nut-tin.”
Lastly, don’t feel bad for Dante. Sure, his 1999 season was not really all it was cracked up to be at first blush. However, he did alright for himself. He played in over 1,700 big league games. Got paid over $40 million in the process. And, he produced two sons who went on to become very high (round) major league draft picks – Bo and Dante Jr. That’s all pretty impressive.
He’s always got that…along with his 1999 season being the poster child for the difference between conventional offensive counting stats and overall value (or worth) according to WAR.