Before he became the third-most-famous dad of a Toronto Blue Jays starting infielder, Dante Bichette held a similar title in a different barbershop quartet: the Blake Street Bombers. In both groups, Bichette fits comfortably in the George Harrison role as the love-able third cog, the character actor capable of carrying a film (say, as the 3-hole hitter), but nonetheless of tertiary relevance after two obviously-more-famous counterparts (Craig Biggio and Vlad Guerrero, Paul and John, Larry Walker and Andres Galarraga). Along with Vinny Castilla (who rightly-or-wrongly has fallen into the Ringo role in the Blake Street Bombers), Bichette helped the Rockies to their first playoff appearance in franchise history (1995) and became an indelible part of Colorado baseball history.
Bichette wasn’t destined for stardom, necessarily. He capitalized with a case of perfect time, perfect place (emphasis on place, as Coors Field in ’95 wasn’t a bad place to take your home hacks). 1995 wasn’t Bichette’s first season as a productive regular, nor was it his best by WAR, but it was his loudest: .340/.364/.620 while leading the league with 40 home runs and 128 RBIs.
It was a feel-good story for both Bichette and the Rockies, the former of whom had found belated stardom at the age of 31, and for the latter, as the organization enjoyed its first taste of success as an MLB franchise. Don Baylor’s club didn’t set the world aflame, but they did scratch out a 77-67 record, good enough to capture the newly instituted Wild Card slot to make the National League playoffs. The Rockies would fall to the Braves in four games and fail to reach the playoffs for a second time in the era of the Blake Street Bombers, however. They would not return to the playoffs until capturing the Wild Card in 2007, long after Bichette’s departure following the 1999 season.
As for Bichette, 1995 wasn’t all that anomalous. He would make the All-Star team and earn MVP votes in four out of five seasons from 1994 to 1999 (including a second-place finish in ’95). Over that five-year stretch, Bichette had an overall slash line of .320/.352/.542 while slugging 146 of his 274 career home runs. All of the above considering, and Bichette looks like a classic short-peak superstar, maybe even worthy of consideration for the colloquial hall-of-very-good.
But the story changes when you get a look at his Wins Above Replacement totals. For his career, Bichette amassed a surprisingly meager total of just 5.7 bWAR across 14 seasons. There were 18 position players with at least 5.7 bWAR in 2019 alone. By measure of fWAR, Bichette was slightly better, putting up a total 8.9 fWAR. In other words, he wasn’t very good? Frankly, it’s difficult to view Bichette’s WAR totals in context. His era brings no measure of complications, but we’d normally worry about that era from an inflation standpoint. Looking at his fellow Bombers, Castilla managed 19.4 bWAR, which matches more closely to his standing in the baseball zeitgeist. Galarraga’s numbers are lower than what one might expect for the Big Cat (31.7 bWAR), but they still point to a solid career. Larry Walker was the best of the Colorado bunch, putting up a Hall-worthy 72.7 bWAR, for which he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame this year.
Of course, nobody was looking at Wins Above Replacement when Bichette was a player. Given his offensive output, it’s still not surprising he made four All-Star teams. His career WAR numbers actually undersell his peak abilities as a player, largely because his overall numbers were hampered by three seasons of negative bWAR, including a disastrous -2.3 bWAR/-2.1 fWAR campaign in his final season with the Rockies in 1999. Bichette’s offensive output was down that season, but it still wasn’t bad: .298/.354/.541 with 34 home runs and 133 RBIs. That hardly looks like a -2.3 WAR season – and yet – it was (the MLB average slash line that season was .267/.338/.417).
Needless to say, Bichette was not a standout defender or baserunner. He was clocked for -34 runs from fielding that season along with -5 runs from baserunning per baseball-reference. He somehow made 13 errors as a left fielder that year (while also collecting 17 outfield assists). The last time an outfielder committed double-digit error totals was Ian Desmond in 2016 with the Rangers, his first season in the outfield as a converted shortstop. It’s not so surprising, then, that Bichette’s offensive numbers don’t buoy the other parts of his game to better bloat those WAR totals. Had Bichette played in the American League where he could have been utilized as a designated hitter, perhaps his career numbers would have a slightly different shape than they do now. Of course, the same could be said for if he’s played his peak seasons for a different franchise.
Regardless, Bichette found a time and a place to make an impact on the game. Plus, his contribution continues in the form of his son, Bo Bichette, who put up 2.3 bWAR as a 21-year-old for the Blue Jays last year. Bo looks astoundingly like his father even down to the haircut, but he brings a more well-rounded game to Toronto’s infield. At this rate, Bo will eclipse his dad’s bWAR total before the midpoint of his age-23 season.