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Pittsburgh Pirates WAR: Barry Bonds or Ralph Kiner?

Brett Barnett

I often peruse Baseball Reference. Generally speaking, it contains all the information I could ask for – at least from a historical perspective. If you’ve ever read my writing, you may have picked up on which stat I – rightly or wrongly – value above all else: WAR.

Wins Above Replacement is intended to be the most comprehensive way to assess player value, compare between eras, and compare entirely different positions, like shortstops and pitchers. The way WAR is calculated varies at each site where it’s calculated, like at Baseball Reference or at FanGraphs. Here is the BBRef calculation of WAR, and here is the FanGraphs version, if you’re interested.

Something I noticed is that, at times, one player has a higher WAR than expected and even beats out another player whom you may have reasoned had attained higher value. The question I’m posing today may or may not fall into that category for you, reader. So, I propose the question, “Who, by Baseball Reference’s standards, attained a higher WAR in Pittsburgh: Barry Bonds or Ralph Kiner?”

Bonds spent seven years in Pittsburgh, patrolling the outfield. He won two MVP awards and made two All-Star appearances as a Pirate. Many know him because of what he did after he left Pittsburgh while he was in San Francisco. That’s when his home run totals began to explode and when he ultimately passed Hank Aaron.

He was a .275/.380/.503 hitter with the Pirates and blasted 176 home runs to go along with 1,804 total bases. He led the National League in several statistical categories, like SLG (.565), OPS (.970), and OPS+ (190) in 1990. During the 1992 season, he led all of baseball in some significant categories: BB (127), OBP (.456), SLG (.624), OPS (1.080), and OPS+ (204). Throughout his career, Bonds was a force to be reckoned with.

Kiner, on the other hand, played one more season with the Pirates, totaling eight with Pittsburgh. He began his career in 1946 and last appeared with the Pirates in 1953. Kiner, like Bonds, put up some massive numbers. He led the NL in OPS twice, once in 1947 (1.055) and once in 1949 (1.089), as well as all of baseball in 1951 (1.079). Those same years, he also led all of baseball in slugging percentage (.639), (.658), (.627) and OPS+ (173), (186), (185).

There were other categories he led, including walks three times, RBIs once, and total bases once. But there’s a more glaring stat that Kiner led the league in. Between 1946 and 1952, Kiner led the league in home runs six times, and in the National League once. He totaled 301 home runs in Pittsburgh, while being a .280/.405/.567 hitter.

The conclusion? Bonds finished with 50.3 Baseball Reference WAR, while Kiner finished with 43.3 WAR.