Remembering (Incorrectly) Bill Buckner

For some reason I can’t remember, I was looking at Bill Buckner’s career stats – as I became a diehard baseball fan in the 1980s he was on the downside of his career, but my recollection was (outside of the hightop black shoes and misplay in Game 6) that he was an excellent hitter and solidly underrated player (sort of a predecessor to Mark Grace).   Looking back at his career stats, we see that he won a batting title in 1980 with the Cubbies, led the league in doubles a few times, and amassed 2715 hits over his two decade career.  2715!!!!  For reference, here is the list of the 15 players that have at least that many hits and aren’t in the hall of Fame.  Of those 15, five are obviously HOFers (Rose, Jeter, Biggio, Chipper and Griffey Jr).   Another three are surefire HOFs if you ignore the PED issue (ARod, Palmiero, and Bonds), and another is a surefire Hall of Famer whom I assume will pass through without steroid issues (Ivan Rodriguez).  Very select company, to say the least.

Looking at these numbers made me start thinking about who had accumulated the least bWAR though they enjoyed long, productive and relatively lauded careers.  Though baseball-reference’s Play Index, I did a search of players since 1972 who have accumulated at least 2000 hits and less than 30 bWAR.   Lo and behold, our hero “tops” the list:

Player WAR H BA OBP SLG
Bill Buckner 14.3 2603 0.290 0.322 0.411
Ruben Sierra 17.0 2152 0.268 0.315 0.450
Juan Pierre 17.5 2173 0.296 0.345 0.361
Todd Zeile 19.2 2004 0.265 0.346 0.423
Joe Carter 19.3 2184 0.259 0.306 0.464
Orlando Cabrera 21.5 2055 0.272 0.317 0.390
Michael Young 25.7 2270 0.301 0.348 0.443
Garret Anderson 25.7 2529 0.293 0.324 0.461
Mark Grudzielanek 26.5 2040 0.289 0.332 0.393
Garry Templeton 27.8 2096 0.271 0.304 0.369
Don Baylor 28.3 2131 0.261 0.342 0.436
Carlos Lee 28.4 2273 0.285 0.339 0.483
Paul Konerko 29.2 2211 0.282 0.358 0.496
Marquis Grissom 29.7 2251 0.272 0.318 0.415

(For reference, Mike Trout has accumulated 12.9 bWAR through is career to date.)

By a significant margin, Buckner posted the worst bWAR of the group, beating out a group of players that, much like Buckner, I think most people would consider “solid” if not great players. Ruben Sierra hit over 300 career HRs, Joe Carter hit a World Series walkoff HR and nearly 400, Don Baylor won an MVP in 1979.   As you dig into Buckner’s numbers as well, it is not just that he was a liability in the field (he certainly was below average, posting a –12 fWAR over his career), but his adjusted OPS+ of 100 (exactly league average) confirms that Buckner’s accumulation of counting stats masked his liabilities as a hitter (low power, few walks) as well as a fielder.

Another fond memory of childhood destroyed by the evil empire of sabermetrics…

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About Bill Porter

Bill is an aspiring sportswriter (attorney by day) born in Washington DC, raised in New York, and currently living in San Francisco with his wife Kirsten and two spazzy labs, Fletch and Bear. Follow me on Twitter at @wfporter1972
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