June 13, 2002
Bonds hitless as Yankees beat Giants 4-2
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 Williams, Babe 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 Kent, Benito Santiago, Duane Kuiper—to drive him in, that's considered smart gamesmanship.
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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?
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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
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.
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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)