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January 3, 2014

Pebble Hunting

The Weirdness of Walking Barry Bonds

by Sam Miller


Ten years ago, we all watched something incredible happen: Barry Bonds was walked intentionally 120 times. He had very nearly tripled the previous non-Bonds record. It was the closest our generation got to seeing Babe Ruth’s home run records, to living in those years when Ruth was doubling previous records, doubling entire teams’ totals.

But Ruth’s records become slightly less amazing with the perspective of time. Imagine seeing Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920: Nobody had hit half as many in the 1900s to that point; the Pirates as a team hit 16 home runs that year; the NL home run king that season hit 15. You can imagine being literally frightened by what Ruth was doing, like hearing the Rite of Spring in 1913. Fifty-four home runs would have certainly seemed like a record that would never be broken. But 10 years later Hack Wilson did it, then Jimmie Foxx, then Hank Greenberg, then Luis Gonzalez. By just 1922, Ruth didn’t even lead the league in home runs; guys in the NL were hitting 40. What Ruth did wasn’t impossible, it was just a few years early.

This happens. It happened with saves totals. It happened with stolen bases. It’s happening with strikeout rates. And yet, it didn’t happen with Bonds and intentional walks. Part of what makes Bonds’ intentional walks totals so amazing is that, when he disappeared, the game immediately reverted to its old way of doing things. It was a phenomenon wholly contained within one player’s at-bats.

Before Bonds’ 2001-2004 seasons, intentional walks were going down throughout baseball. After he left, they kept going down throughout baseball:

Since Bonds left, nobody has come close to getting the Bonds treatment. Last year, Giancarlo Stanton was (by PECOTA's estimation) the sixth-best hitter in baseball going into the season. He batted in front of Greg Dobbs, Joe Mahoney, Austin Kearns, Placido Polanco (as late as September!), Ed Lucas, others. The best hitter who protected him, Logan Morrison, had a .709 OPS. Now consider this: Stanton was intentionally walked five times. To put this in perspective: In 2004, Bonds was intentionally walked to lead off an inning three times.

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Related Content:  Barry Bonds,  Intentional Walks

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Hot Stove Scouting Rep... (01/03)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Pebble Hunting: Extrap... (11/26)
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Premium Article Pebble Hunting: The Ye... (01/09)
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Baseball ProGUESTus: R... (01/03)

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