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September 6, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Record Watch

by Joe Sheehan

A quick look at the achievements we'll be tracking over the next 3 1/2 weeks:

  • Barry Bonds: Bonds needs 12 home runs to break the single-season record of 70. The Giants have 22 team games left, and it's safe to assume that Bonds will be playing in every one until the Giants' fate is determined, and all of the ones that follow until he breaks, or cannot reasonably break, Mark McGwire's record.

    Bonds is currently hitting home runs at a pace of one every 6.9 at-bats. If he were to maintain that, he would need another 82 at-bats to break the record, an average of 3.5 per Giant game. Bonds isn't coming close to that right now, being walked so often that he's averaging about three at-bats per game. He's either going to have to up his pace, or get more at-bats. The former is possible--witness Bonds's June, or McGwire's finishing kick in 1998--but the latter is probably impossible.

    I made the point earlier this season that the biggest problem Bonds would have is getting enough at-bats to break the home-run record, and that point stands. Remember that in 1998, McGwire's Cardinals were out of contention in September, and there was considerable pressure on the opposition to pitch to him. McGwire's walk rate and intentional-walk rate in September were far below his season rates. Having perhaps the best season of any National League player in history, McGwire was intentionally walked just once in September. Bonds has already received two intentional passes this month, and there are many, many more to come.

    If anything, I expect Bonds to walk more this month than he has prior to it. The Giants play 12 of their final 19 games against teams in the hunt for playoff spots. The other seven are against divisional foes who can be expected to take the games' importance in the race seriously. Bonds will be hard-pressed to get 70 at-bats the rest of the way, which will be the death knell for his chances.

    A consolation prize is that this effect means Bonds is a lock to break the single-season walks record of 170, held by Babe Ruth. He needs just 28 bases on balls to break that, and has averaged about 1.2 walks per game since May 1. I think that unless the Giants determine their fate in the next two weeks, Bonds will fly past 170 and end up with close to 180 walks on the season.

    Bonds is also going to set a handful of NL records, led by highest single-season slugging percentage, and a host of sabermetric marks, including most isolated power, and highest adjusted OPS. It's a truly remarkable season, only clearly surpassed by Ruth's 1920 and 1921 campaigns.

  • Randy Johnson: Johnson needs 58 strikeouts to break Nolan Ryan's single-season mark of 383. Like Bonds, Johnson is going to be in a race the rest of the way; unlike Bonds, this helps Johnson, who isn't likely to lose starts as the D'backs play out the string or set up a playoff rotation.

    Johnson will get five more starts this season, and may get six depending on what the D'backs do as the month progresses. At his current rates, five starts would leave him just shy of 383, while six would push him over. He is close enough to the record that one particularly high-strikeout or low-strikeout outing dramatically alters the picture, so I think this one will go down to the wire.

  • Seattle Mariners: The Mariners, at 100-40, need to finish 17-5 to break the 1906 Cubs record for wins in a season, and 15-7 to catch the 1998 Yankees for the AL record. I don't think they're going to do either.

    This isn't a knock on the Mariners, who have had an amazing season and will end up somewhere between 108 and 112 wins. It is an acknowledgement that the AL West is one of the toughest divisions in baseball now, and probably the one most improved from the beginning of the season. The A's may be the second-best team in the game, the Rangers have been a good team since the All-Star break, and the Angels' pitching has been a quiet strength all year. The Mariners play their last 18 games against this group, and it's not likely that they'll rip off 14 wins in that stretch, which is the way they opened the year.

    There's also the reality that the Mariners have more on which to focus. As the 1998 Yankees showed, even a team with a big lead will continue to play its best players most of the time, but there will be a greater emphasis on preparing for October, particularly over the last two weeks. This, along with a reasonably tough schedule, will probably keep the Mariners from breaking any records.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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