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June 13, 2002

Breaking Balls

Barry's World

by Derek Zumsteg

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Bonds hitless as Yankees beat Giants 4-2
-- Headline of 6/9 game recap at ESPN.com

Last Sunday, facing the Yankees, Barry Bonds was walked four times and hit by a Roger Clemens fastball once. Ichiro Suzuki can hit a double off a slider in the dirt, and Vladimir Guerrero can take balls off his shoes into the stands, but Bonds's game is built around controlling the plate and pounding the strikes. He's the best hitter I've ever seen in person, the best hitter of his generation, and the equal of the greatest ever—Ted WilliamsBabe Ruth—the batsmen who changed the game.

Why must Bonds be the story in every Giants' loss?

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Bonds has been in a foul mood lately, because opposing teams have taken to walking him all the time, offering him terrible pitches outside and then, when they fall behind, walking him intentionally. Bonds has been snapping at reporters, which always makes it into the press, where his mood and his exact comments are noted, with [expletive] or [bleep] inserted where he curses.

Opposing managers have a huge psychological incentive to walk Bonds. If Bonds homers and costs them the game, they're going to be roasted on a spit the next day. If they walk him, take the bat out of his hand, and force whoever's batting behind Bonds—Jeff KentBenito SantiagoDuane Kuiper—to drive him in, that's considered smart gamesmanship.

Giants lose 6-4 as Bonds homers four times, doesn't wave back to fan

It's also working. Check out Bonds's stat line at press time:

 

Avg   G  AB   R   H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS TBB HBP SO  OBP  SLG
Total   .350  59 163  52  57  9  1 21  41  3  1  77  6  21 .569 .804

When Bonds hasn't driven himself in, he's scored only 31 times. He's been on base 113 times between getting walked and plunked, and scored 31 times. That's only 26%, and he's been standing on second nine of those times via doubles, and three more via steals. The all-baseball average at press time is 6,939 runs scored not by the home-run hitter, and 21,538 batters on via hits or free passes, which is a 32% chance a guy standing around on a base is going to come around.

So the Giants lineup around Barry is so weak he can't even score at the league-average rate. How pathetic is that? Why is Barry to blame for the awful hitting of his teammates?

Bonds contributes "amazing" new baseball defensive metric, Giants fall behind Rockies in NL West

His low scoring rate makes the decision not to pitch to him with runners on base much easier. Barry has 21 home runs in 163 at-bats, so there's a 12.9% he hits a home run. Right there, we get:

Solo: +.129 expected runs
1 man on: +.258 expected runs
2 men on: +.387 expected runs

What do the numbers say? Here's the average run expectation for last year with results pre-and-post walk.

 

Before                   After
empty      0.309        1st        0.574
1st        0.574        1st, 2nd   0.964
2nd        0.743        1st, 2nd   0.964
1st, 2nd   0.964        loaded     1.597
3rd        0.955        1st, 3rd   1.217
1st, 3rd   1.217        loaded     1.597
2nd, 3rd   1.351        loaded     1.597
loaded     1.597        loaded     2.597

Now, if Bonds didn't so anything but hit home runs, it's pretty much a wash to walk him when there's a guy on second base, third base, or second and third. But he hits singles 22% of the time, and doubles 5% of the time. In those three situations, it makes a lot of sense to walk Bonds, and it starts to become a wash with guys on first and third, and considering the Giants' inability to bring him around to score, even with the bases loaded, or a guy on first.

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I'm using this year's stats, yes, and to head off long, testy e-mails I want to say that I did so because while last year was bad, this year has been amazing: Bonds is walking 3, 4 times a game, men on, nobody on, whatever.

What do you do if you're the Giants? First, Bonds has to start scoring when he's on base. He's not John Olerud; he's a decent baserunner. Stack the lineup behind him. I don't believe in protection any more than I do whatever Bud Selig said today, but the Giants have created a situation where opposing managers aren't penalized for giving up a free base nearly every time Bonds bats, and that's an absolute waste of his talents.

Barry Bonds unable to score as U.S. ties South Korea 1-1 in World Cup play

I understand in one sense that because Bonds had the best offensive seasons of all time, it's hard to know what's going to happen, and how to structure a lineup around him. However, putting awful hitters in front of him and bad ones behind has turned Bonds's amazing talent into something safely neutralized. The Giants have a lineup of Bonds, two guys (Kent, Rich Aurilia), who are above-average for their position, and a collection of guys who are average to way below.

The Giants, if they want to get their offense going in a big way, need to acquire some bats, and those right quick. Get a center fielder from the Blue Jays, get a first baseman from freaking anywhere, and start getting the most value from Bonds. They need guys who can make him score, forcing other teams to pay, over and over, for walking him, until it makes sense to pitch to him again. Until then, Bonds will be walked, the Giants won't score, and the blame will all fall on Barry.

--

For more fun, take a look at Barry Bonds' Runs Expected in game situations for 2001 and 2002. (.xls file)

Related Content:  Barry Bonds,  Gamesmanship

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