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May 7, 2002

The Daily Prospectus

Barry Bonds, Pt. 1

by Joe Sheehan

Those of you who have had your fill of Barry Bonds will probably want to skip to Keith Woolner's latest column.

For the rest of you...

.628

I've spent a lot of time making the point that I, my colleagues here at Baseball Prospectus, and the many other people who do the kind of work we do love baseball, not numbers. The type of analysis that we perform is an outgrowth of a passion for the game that we all had long before we ever knew about strikeout-to-walk ratio or context-neutral performance or career paths.

But, geez....628.

That’s Barry Bonds's on-base percentage, a figure that is so far off the charts as to be mind-boggling. It's a number that would have been a league-leading slugging percentage for most of the 20th century. It's a number higher than the OPS of a handful of major-league regulars, and not all of them Pirates. Bonds is making an out less than 40% of the time he steps to the plate. In a game of failure, he's had success like no one reading this has ever seen.

It's only the most staggering of the feats, facts, and figures associated with Bonds to date, which include:

  • 40 walks and just five strikeouts in 69 at-bats
  • Nearly as many times hit by a pitch (four) as strikeouts
  • A .391 batting average, despite often facing a shift that makes it difficult for him to hit singles
  • An .899 slugging average, even better than the all-time record he set last season (.863).

Bonds has been playing a different game than everyone else for a while now. Since August of 2001, in slightly more than half a season, he's hitting .381/.591/.956 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Everyone knows about Bonds's combination of power and plate discipline, but how many people realize that he's been a .381 hitter in his last 200-odd at-bats?

We don't have the kind of breakdowns of Babe Ruth's 1920 and 1921 seasons, or even Ted Williams's 1941, that we do for Bonds's last two years, so comparisons are difficult. I think it's within reason, though, to say that Barry Bonds is playing at a level that no one in major-league history has ever before played. His complete dominance at the plate over an extended stretch could only possibly be matched by the absolute peak of the greatest hitters in history.

Bonds may well be showing us the outer limits of what a hitter can do, and it's an amazing sight to behold.

It's hard to believe, but there really is a downside to all of this. We'll get into that tomorrow.

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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