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September 16, 2004

Prospectus Today

It's Barry's World

by Joe Sheehan

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Barry Bonds week continues here at Baseball Prospectus, as the baseball world waits for its greatest player to reach his next milestone, 700 home runs.

I thought Bonds was pressing the last couple of nights, expanding his strike zone a bit and perhaps overswinging. It made me wonder if he'd shown any tendency to perform poorly as he pursued a milestone home run. It doesn't appear to be the case. While Bonds has gone 0-for-6 with three walks since blasting #699 on Sunday, that's an anomaly. He hit numbers 499 and 500 in back-to-back games in 2001; he took just two games to go from 599 to 600, going 3-for-8 with three walks in that span.

The perception in my head probably comes from Bonds' attempt to hit #660, tying him with Willie Mays, earlier this season. Bonds took six games, going 4-for-16 with three walks, in between his 659th and 660th bombs. I don't think there's any meaning to these numbers, and expect Bonds to hit his 700th is short order, perhaps even today against the Brewers.

It's nearly unimaginable to me that Bonds wouldn't win his seventh MVP award, and fourth straight, this November. Throw out all the metrics that show him to be the best player in baseball; the way in which he changes a game, completely dominates the strategy from start to finish, is what clinches the argument for me. I think National League managers have spoken on the matter: they've intentionally walked him in nearly 20% of his plate appearances. Once every five times Bonds comes to the plate, the opposition simply shrugs its shoulders and says, "nope, we can't beat you."

Once every five times, Bonds makes his opponents give up. You can parse the word "valuable" until it loses all meaning, but you can't compare Bonds to players like Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen when they don't have that line on their resumé.

Here are some other fun numbers on Bonds. (I readily admit that it's times like this that I actually do fit the stereotype of the stat geek who gets off on the numbers.) For someone who has suffered with a reputation as being unclutch, he's been dragging the Giants to the top of the wild-card standings with his teeth. He's hitting .400/.622/.930 since Aug. 1, a stretch in which every game has had huge importance to his team's chances.

My favorite Bonds stat actually isn't that one. Do you know what he hits after he falls behind 0-2?

.341/.386/.707

James Click tells me that the NL hits .194/.235/.303 when they fall behind 0-2. Bonds' 1093 OPS is a "normal" MVP line, and it's what he hits after getting into the worst possible situation for a hitter. Bonds hits like an MVP when he spots the league two strikes, which is insane.

Bonds also hits .372/.471/.791 after being down 0-1 (NL: .234/.269/.365), which just convinces me even more that at some point he should swing at the first intentional ball. I mean, just to see what, say, Jim Tracy would do. After they revived him. Bonds with an 0-1 count is better than every other hitter in baseball--and certainly better than every other hitter in the Giants' lineup--starting with a clean slate. From a pure runs standpoint, it makes perfect sense for Bonds to swing at the first pitch of an intentional walk. I can see an argument against it from a "mockery of the game" standpoint, but then again, didn't we blow past that sign somewhere around the 80th intentional pass? Aren't you dying to know what a manager would do if Bonds spotted him a strike?

Kelly Leak would have done it.

Maybe going 0-1 isn't good enough. Bonds can make it more fun by swinging at the third ball. Make it 2-1 and see what the opposing skipper decides to do. (Bonds hits .363/.611/.775 after getting to 2-1, so this is still a perfectly fine count for him.)

Bonds isn't the kind of guy who is going to do something for entertainment purposes. Still, I'd love to see him just drop the bat or sit down or have the bat boy bring him a hot dog and a Coke when the catcher sticks out his left arm. NL managers have been embarrassing themselves and the game for a good portion of the season, walking Bonds in ridiculous situations like leading off an inning and down five runs. Booing and rubber chickens and watching Bonds come around to score haven't had any effect, so maybe the sight of walking a guy who's not actually holding a bat in his hands would do the trick.

Some other Bonds notes:

  • Pac Bell Park remains one of the toughest run environments in baseball. In 2004, however, it's a berry patch for Bonds. He's hitting .420/.637/.938 at home.

  • Bonds' batting average, currently .368, is all the more amazing when you consider that he faces perhaps the most extreme shift in baseball history, one designed to kill his ability to get hits on balls in play. To a certain extent, it works: Bonds' average on balls in play is just .316. It's rare for a player to have a lower BABIP than his overall average. It's virtually unheard of for a player to have a BABIP 50 points lower than his BA. (You have to have a high home-run rate and a low strikeout rate to pull it off.)

  • Back in April, I wrote about how Bonds was having the Greatest Month Ever. His August--.414/.615/1.000--would top all months but his own April, too. His worst month this year, May, produced a .250/.532/.542 line that would--all together now--make him a reasonable MVP candidate.

  • I was joking about Jim Tracy, but can you blame him for deciding he'd rather sit through a root canal than pitch to Bonds? The guy is hitting .483/.722/1.207 against the Blue Crew this year, with six homers in 29 at-bats.

  • Bonds has an .825 OBP when the count gets to 2-0, with nearly three times as many walks as at-bats. (Intentional walks are a big part of this, but still....825?)

  • Bonds' low RBI total is entirely about opportunities. He virtually never gets to swing the bat with runners in scoring position: just 65 at-bats, vs. 101 walks in that situation. With at least one runner in scoring position and first base open, it's a joke: 22 at-bats, 76 walks.

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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