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May 8, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Barry Bonds, Pt. 2

by Joe Sheehan

Yesterday, I provided an overview of Barry Bonds's amazing performance so far this season, and reaching back to the latter part of 2001. There's no question that Bonds is the most dangerous hitter in the game today.

However, I do believe that we've run into a problem with our advanced metrics. Bonds, over his last 100 games or so, is perhaps the biggest statistical outlier in the game's history. He breaks the formulae, in that the many walks Bonds takes are, collectively, less valuable than our usual tools for evaluating such things would perceive. He's being given so many walks in RISP/first-base-empty situations that they are, if not a negative, certainly not the positive that, say, linear weights might indicate. They're not a bad thing--and they certainly don't warrant the kind of "Bonds should swing more" analysis that has been proffered--but the context of the walks is something to consider when evaluating his performance.

To illustrate this point, let's look at some of Bonds's batting splits. All these numbers are through Sunday's games (AVG/OBP/SLG, no SF included):

With no one on: .333/.529/.771 in 48 at-bats
With at least a runner on first base: .579/.742/1.316 in 19 at-bats
With RISP, and no one on first base: .000/.857/.000 in TWO at-bats

Bonds simply never gets a chance to swing the bat with a runner in scoring position and first base open. In 14 trips to the plate, he's been walked 12 times. These walks have no runner-advancement value, and because they take the bat out of the hands of someone hitting nearly .400 and slugging nearly .900, are only marginally damaging to the defense.

It's not Barry Bonds's job to change his approach. It's Dusty Baker's job to find a way to maximize Bonds's approach. To that end, I think Baker has to consider moving Bonds into the #2 spot in the lineup. The goal in doing so is to get Barry as many plate appearances as possible with a runner on first base:

  • he walks less in this situation than he does with first base open:

    
    2002:
                                 BB   AB   BB%
    No runner on first           30   50  .375
    Runner on first              10   19  .345
    
    2001:
                                 BB   AB   BB%
    No runner on first          124  318  .281
    Runner on first              53  158  .251
    

  • the shift against him is less dramatic in this situation, because teams have to play the ball and the runner on first. This helps his batting average, most notably when he puts the ball in play:

    
    2002:
                            BA     BIPr*
    
    Runner on first       .579     .467
    No runner on first    .320     .256
    
    2001:
                            BA     BIPr*
    
    Runner on first       .361     .349
    No runner on first    .311     .225
    
    *BA on balls in play
    

  • he hits so few ground balls that he's not much of a double-play threat.

  • by batting him second, it gets Bonds some additional plate appearances, and allows the Giants to concentrate more hitters behind him with good batting and slugging averages, hitters who can move Bonds around to score (I'm talking mainly about Rich Aurilia here).

Some people have suggested batting Bonds in the leadoff slot, to get maximum benefit from opposing teams' unwillingness to pitch to him. The problem is that you give up some of the value of his power--he'll bat even less with a runner on base, coming directly behind the bottom of the lineup and the pitcher.

Additionally, if you bat Bonds leadoff, you essentially have to commit to never sacrificing with the pitchers, and I don't see that happening, even with the Giants' corps of good-hitting starters. Sacrificing in front of Bonds will almost always lead to first-and-second, one or two outs, because he's going to be walked with first base open.

Batting Bonds second with David Bell, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, or Marvin Benard leadoff--players who hit singles--would be the best way to get Bonds to the plate with a runner on first base. Actually, I like the idea of leading off J.T. Snow, who walks more than any of these guys and hits his share of singles as well, although he may not be enough of a threat to steal to keep teams out of the Bonds shift.

Now, lineup effects are only going to have so much positive effect, and frankly, if Bonds won't sign on to this plan, there's simply no point in forcing it. But Bonds wants to win, and if he can be convinced that this plan will help the Giants score more runs, and possibly get him more pitches to hit, I believe he'll sign on to it.

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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