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August 20, 2003

Prospectus Today

Ode to Barry

by Joe Sheehan

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I truly hope that Bobby Bonds got to see last night's Giants game.

If any other player was doing the kinds of things Barry Bonds is doing this year, they'd start a cable channel in his honor: ESPN 25. "651! Every Homer, Every Angle" "World's Scariest 3-1 Pitches" "Keen Eye of the Big Guy" "Thigh-High Fastball: My Short and Painful Life"

Forget the raw stats, the RBI Baseball numbers he's putting up for the third straight season. Forget how opposing managers handle him the way Arnold Schwarzenegger handles an issue question. Forget how he's about the only left-handed hitter in the world who hits homers at Pac Bell Park.

Just think about last night. The Giants were tied in the 10th inning with their likely NLCS opponent, carrying a five-game losing streak. The Diamondbacks had already won, drawing to within eight games of a team that had been two laps ahead just a minute ago. Injuries had forced almost the entire starting infield to the bench.

Bonds? He had spent the weekend with his father, who is gravely ill from the effects of cancer and open-heart surgery. Stepping to the plate to start the tenth inning, he saw Ray King on the mound. Bonds doesn't see many strikes in high-leverage at-bats, and the ones he does see tend to come from guys like King. As he stared in for the sign, King had allowed no home runs to left-handed batters this year. Or triples. Or doubles. In fact, he hadn't allowed an extra-base hit to a left-handed batter since September 8, 2002.

Like it matters. Bonds turned on a 2-1 pitch and got a baseball wet, and just like that, the Giants were once again healthy.

Last year, Miguel Tejada was voted the AL MVP for doing exactly the kind of thing Bonds did last night, except he wasn't also the best player in the league. And he wasn't the best human-interest story in the game. And he wasn't so good that he dominated every single day from batting practice through the post-game spread. Bonds has an otherworldly performance record for a division leader and has been the hero a bunch of times. That's not an MVP candidate. That's the MVP.

Look, I appreciate that Albert Pujols is a great player having a peak season, even a historic one. I appreciate that he's played more than Bonds has, and that because he's actually allowed to bat in game situations, he gets more SportsCenter highlights and RBIs. In 95% of the seasons in baseball history, he'd be the MVP, and in many of those the unanimous choice.

But he's not Barry Bonds. There's no crime in that, there's no insult, and there's nothing Pujols can do about it.

Sometimes, someone has to play Salieri.

--

Let me be a dorky stathead for a minute. Here are some fun Bonds splits I dug up last night. All of the numbers are through Monday's action, unless noted:

  • Bonds slugged an even 1.000 in July. If my math is right, he's slugging 1.000 in August. That's seven weeks, about 100 at-bats, of averaging one base every time up.

  • In the toughest hitters' park in baseball, a place where left-handed hitters get killed, Bonds is hitting .380/.561/.813. Just for the sake of comparison, Todd Helton is hitting .402/.487/.772...at Coors Field.

  • It's only 22 at-bats, but against pitchers classified as "Finesse" (fewer than .93 (BB+SO)/IP over the past five years, as per STATS, Inc.), Bonds is hitting .545/.688/1.318. I had a season like that once when I was 12, and I'd outgrown the alley in the back where we played Wiffle Ball. No, wait. I didn't hit for as much power.

  • Given any chance to a see a pitcher a second time in a game, Bonds takes advantage:
    
                              AB    AVG   OBP   SLG   HR
    First time:              166   .307  .489  .657   17
    All subsequent times:    151   .377  .552  .854   12
    
    
  • Get ahead on most hitters, and things start to look pretty good. Get ahead on Bonds, and you reduce him to Frank Thomas, more or less. He's hitting .278/.386/.579 when a pitcher gets ahead of him 0-1.

    Bonds doesn't fall far behind too often. He's been 0-2 just 47 times this season. Even then, though, he's a monster: .317/.404/.683.

    Bonds' game-winning homer last night came on a 2-1 pitch. King might have been better off hitting Bonds with it, because when Barry hits the 2-1, he really hits it: .536 with a 1.464 slugging average, eight home runs in 28 at-bats. With last night's bomb, Bonds has established a 30% chance of going yard if he decides to swing at the 2-1.

  • Perhaps my favorite Bonds stat is this: he's come to the plate with runners on second and third 15 times this season. On 14 of those occasions, he was walked. That's on top of one AB and nine walks last year, and two and four in 2001. That's four at-bats and 25 walks in his last 29 times at the plate in that situation.

    Wouldn't you like to see him go to the plate without a bat, or with a souvenir inflatable model, the next time someone doubles a runner to third in front of him?

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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