[Ed. note. Clay Davenport isn’t a doctor, nor does he play one on TV. He
does, however, have some interesting observations on the greatness of Barry
Bonds’s 2001 season. Rany Jazayerli yields the floor to him this week.]
I’m having trouble deciding which of Barry Bonds‘s new records is the
I’m pretty sure it is not the 73 home runs. The way 60s have
been hitting the board in recent years, I have to join the pack of writers
that was just a little bit jaded by the assault. So let’s move on.
- One hundred seventy-seven walks. I wouldn’t have thought it would
happen this year, not with all of the hype about expanding the strike zone.
Strikeouts up, walks down… the league walked more than a thousand times
less than they did a year ago, a whopping 12% decline. Bonds bucked the
trend, and broke a 78-year-old record.
An .863 slugging average. I don’t think this one has sunk in yet.
Even with the recent run-up in offense, nobody had done better than Mark
McGwire‘s .752 in 1998, and Bonds just beat that by 111 points. He
breaks an 81-year-old record in doing so, one of the Unbreakable Records of
(Chokes down the stretch? He slugged 1.078 in September and October.)
An OBP of .515. That’s not a record, so maybe I shouldn’t mention it
among these all-time marks. But it is in the top ten all-time, and nobody’s
done better since 1957.
An OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging average) of 1.378. With a
quick look in the book, you’d say that wasn’t a record, either–Babe
Ruth had a 1.379 mark in 1920.
The rules of 1920 were different in the scoring of sacrifice flies–they
were counted the same as sacrifice hits. Ruth is credited with five
sacrifices in 1920; whether they were flies or bunts is not known. We do
have partial Retrosheet data
for that season (thanks again, as always, to Dave Smith and his peerless organization)
that show us two sacrifice flies and no sacrifice bunts, and I’d be willing to
bet that all five were sac flies.
Even if we stick to the two we know about, it is enough to give Bonds the
title as long as both are held to the same rules: by Ruth’s rules, counting
SF like SH, Bonds’s OBP rises to .517, since his two sac flies no longer
count against him, and he leads Ruth by a 1.380-1.379 margin. By Bonds’s
rules, The Babe’s OBP drops from .532 to at least .529, or even as low as
.526, leaving his OPS between 1.373 and 1.376. So that’s another one for
Looking at my stats, Barry finished the season with a .430 EqA. That
beats Ruth’s 1920 mark by 11 points. It even beats Fred Dunlap‘s 1884
season, when a player roughly the caliber of Jeff Kent played in a
league roughly as far below the majors of the day as the Carolina League is
now. Dunlap gets credit with a .426 EqA, because the powers that be made a
ludicrous decision to call the Union Association a major league 85 years
after the fact. Now that eyesore will be removed from the top of the lists.
One hundred ninety-six Equivalent Runs. Old record, 184. It used to
be so even, such a balanced build-up–two Babe Ruth seasons at 184 and 183,
a Lou Gehrig at 180, a half-dozen assorted Ruths and Ted
Williamses and Stan Musials in the 170s. Bonds has run right past
the mark. A lot of that, it is true, results from intentional walks, and
when I run the fullest, absolute total from it that may decrease somewhat.
It won’t decrease 12 runs; of that I’m pretty certain.
One hundred forty-five runs above replacement position. There are
only about 50 players in history who have even generated 145 runs in a
season. To beat another player by that much is unbelievable. To beat Babe
Ruth by so much–the old record was 129–that’s hard to believe, too. And
when you consider that the lead is really bigger than that–because The Babe
was 129 runs better than a replacement-level outfielder, while Bonds
was 145 above a replacement-level left fielder, and you know that
left-fielders are better than the average outfielder–well, that just shreds
all of our notebooks.
One thing Bill James said occurs to me. Paraphrased, the idea is that you
should never say never in baseball, because things can always change, and
quickly, in ways you don’t expect. The main part of my brain says I won’t
see another season like this again, ever. But I have this niggling suspicion
that we will. There are liable to be big changes as a result of this–they
may already be underway, and we just haven’t recognized it yet. There is an
apparent trend in outlier seasons over the past ten years, why I don’t know,
but I am not at all sure that we’ve reached the top of that trend yet.
Clay Davenport is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
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