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September 14, 2004

Breaking Balls

Barry, Barry Good

by Derek Zumsteg

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Barry Bonds looks to 700 home runs as I type this. By the time you read this, he may have launched it: He's facing Doug Davis in Miller Park Tuesday. I like Doug Davis, but Davis versus Bonds isn't likely to be one of the great pitcher-batter duels of our age.

After Davis, Bonds faces Jorge de la Rosa. My "pitching probables" page doesn't even want to speculate on who might be the unlucky kid who draws the short strand of spaghetti out of Ned Yost's hand Thursday when the Brewers report to the park.

If Bonds returns to SBC Park without having hit number seven oh oh, I hope it's pandemonium in San Francisco. Tickets selling for $100 over face, kayakers punching each other for position in McCovey Cove, mass hysteria, dogs and cats living together.

At his current rate, assuming teams don't walk even more to deny him a milestone, or pitch to him because the Giants drop out of the race, Bonds should reach about 705 by the end of the season. I'd love to see him go on a tear and break Ruth's record before the end of the year, but he just doesn't get enough chances to make that realistic. It would require a radical change in approaches by opposing teams, one they're unlikely to make.

Before I talk about 700, I wanted to throw some random impressive stats out at you. All are raw, and include Bonds hitting at Pac Bell/SBC and Candlestick Parks, and Pittsburgh.

Bonds posted a .400+ OBP every year from 1990 on except 1999, when he put up a .389
Bonds posted a .500+ OBP every year from 2001 on

Or, to put this another way for Bonds:

Years with an OBP over .350, since 1986: 17
Years with an OBP over .400, since 1986: 15
Years with an OBP over .450, since 1986: 7

Many people talk about his late-career power surge, but Bonds on average has hit 42 home runs a year. His power is embarrassingly huge. Check out these slugging numbers:

Bonds has a SLG over .400 every year of his career
Bonds has a SLG over .450 17 of his 19 seasons
Bonds has a SLG over .500 15 of his 19 seasons
Bonds has a SLG over .550 14 of his 19 seasons
Bonds has a SLG over .600 11 of his 19 seasons
Bonds has a SLG over .650 6 of his 19 seasons (.650 = #88 on the all-time list)
Bonds has a SLG over .700 4 of his 19 seasons (.700 = #35 on the all-time list)
Bonds has a SLG over .750 3 of his 19 seasons (.750 = #10 on the all-time list)
Bonds has a SLG over .800 2 of his 19 seasons (.800 = #4 on the all-time list)
Bonds has a SLG over .850 1 of his 19 seasons (All-time record, .863 in 2001)

I got up from my desk and took a knee after I typed that. All hail Barry Bonds, who in an average year is the best player in his league, and in a typical good year puts up one of the best 100 hitter-seasons in history.

Bonds even warps statistics around him.

An average #3 hitter in the NL is batting .279/.364/.482
An average #4: .285/.376/.522
An average #5: .278/.354/.470

That's a big jump there. In the AL:

#3: .283/.352/.474
#4: .270/.350/.463
#5: .272/.346/.445

How weird is that? That the NL would have such a weird blip in their order, since usually there's a pretty slight but consistent...

Oh, riiiight. Bonds bats fourth, with his .614 OBP and .826 SLG. He could bat anywhere, and you'd see a weird blip in the stats. He's not of this Earth.

There has never been a hitter as good as Barry Bonds. Never. I think Babe Ruth was the greatest player in baseball history--a lot of that comes from his great pitching--and Barry Bonds kicks his ass. If Bonds had pitched well for a couple seasons, I wouldn't even make an argument for greatest player. And honestly, I feel stupid even making that distinction: So what if Ruth could hit and pitch well? Bonds hits so well that he makes Albert Pujols look like a piker. He shouldn't go into the Hall of Fame at all; he should build his own house next to the Hall of Fame. When you're done looking at all those chumps, you leave the Hall and walk on over to hang out with Barry for a little while. Have some lemonade or something.

Back to the issue of the seven and two zeros. Bonds passed Willie Mays at 660, and since then no one's paid much attention. The next burst of media coverage awaits at the three home runs at or about #714. But let us reflect on this for a moment.

It took Ruth 22 seasons to hit 714, Bonds 19 to approach him. In fairness to Ruth, his first years were spent splitting duties, and in a time when spitballs were allowed and weird parks and other factors also conspired against home runs; he might easily have hit another hundred or more if he'd hit full-time, in better conditions, from his debut in 1914 at the age of 19. Headed into his 21st season, Hank Aaron had hit 713, and would spend three years from 1974-5 scraping out those last 42.

Seven hundred home runs doesn't matter in itself. It's a round number, like turning the year to 2-0-0-0. But unlike that change, this achievement is historic. What Bonds has done is more than impressive, or worthy of attention. He's the greatest hitter we're likely to ever see, and this accomplishment is just one fact in a career of accomplishments that puts every other hitter to shame.

Whether or not he keeps playing to set the career mark--and I hope that he does--make the effort to watch Bonds while you can. It's going to be something we tell our children and grandchildren about.

Related Content:  Barry Bonds,  SLG

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