August 06, 2007

Barry Bonds by the Numbers.: A SportsFilter column looking at how Barry Bonds' home runs compare to his National League contemporaries over the course of his career.

posted by kirkaracha to baseball at 07:12 PM - 17 comments

I'm not making any accusations here or anything like that and I don't want you to think this is motivated by anti-bonds sentiment or anything like that. That said I think more specific stats than just the number of homeruns would have to be observed for this to be a more powerful argument. For instance when Bonds became known as a dangerous hitter, teams pitched around him more often and therefore he walked more giving him less AB's. So if it were the case that he was getting less AB's and more HR's then the numbers could support him using steroids. Nicely done though, I like the effort and the research.

posted by dj sko at 08:32 PM on August 06

Several points 1) Just because others started hitting more home runs is in no way an indication that Bonds did not do steroids. Many of the others on the list are extremely suspect and/or confirmed steroid users. 2) To say that he was a good home run hitter before he "supposedly" used steroids also does not really offer any defense as well. No one is saying that he couldn't hit dingers without using the juice, only that the juice allowed him to hit more of them. Who knows what the total affect the drugs could have on a guy like Bonds...was it three extra each year? ten? 3) I look at that data and have to wonder what caused such a dramatic increase in HR production...smaller parks...watered down pitching...steroids? A combination of numerous causes for sure. However, I believe a very troubling trend appears when one looks at what has happened so quickly after all the attention was focused on steroid use, most numbers on your chart are decreasing from the 2001 numbers. At this point I hope he gets his homer, so we can get on with baseball.

posted by dviking at 12:52 AM on August 07

1) Just because others started hitting more home runs is in no way an indication that Bonds did not do steroids. Many of the others on the list are extremely suspect and/or confirmed steroid users. DING, DING, DING. 3) ... However, I believe a very troubling trend appears when one looks at what has happened so quickly after all the attention was focused on steroid use, most numbers on your chart are decreasing from the 2001 numbers. DING, DING, DING. What dviking said.

posted by scully at 07:35 AM on August 07

I think it should also be noted that Barry Bonds switched to a maple bat (instead of the traditional ash bats) in 2001.

posted by grum@work at 09:45 AM on August 07

Thanks for mentioning that, grum- anyone who's read Robert K. Adair's famous "Physics of Baseball" knows that he even mentions how the heavier bats of Ruth's time were made of hickory (although Ruth used a variety of bats, including ash bats); this was a denser wood, and thus heavier, but if the pitching was mediocre and you could load up from your heels to swing, you'd have a much larger sweet spot. That larger sweet spot meant the transfer of energy was more complete even if you weren't hitting it right on the button; the result means that mis-hit balls go further and with more force. In effect, a hickory bat is almost like an aluminum bat, which confers a huge advantage to hitters in mis-hit balls. So... in a sense, Ruth was swinging an aluminum bat his whole career. :) As the decades passed, the ash bat became the norm, even for power hitters; the ash bat was much lighter, but also less dense and broke easier. If you were off on the hitting, you were more likely to produce weak grounders to an infielder, but you gained that back by having significantly increased bat speed for these 90mph+ pitchers that were coming out of the woodwork. Then in 2001, Barry Bonds uses a maple bat: it's the best of both worlds, in that while it apparently can break easily, it's got a structure that increases the "sweet spot", allowing for a more generous 'good' hitting surface, while at the same time being light and supple, like an ash bat. I'll say this about Barry Bonds: he's always been one of the best players in the game, he's the son of a very very good player, and he is one of the greatest 5-tool players ever to suit up. Recent and unproven allegations of steroids use can't detract from his sure-fire Hall-of-Fame career even before 2001, when he was a 3-time MVP and a charter member of the 400/400 club. His 73HR season was an anomaly, but if you look at all his seasons you see a very Aaron like pattern: speed and average early (but still a lot of high-30 and low-40 seasons, at a time when 40HR might win you the HR crown), then more power and walks as he grew older, more dangerous, and more feared by every pitcher in the league. He is Babe Ruth in the 21st century, and I for one don't believe it has anything to do with steroids. Barry Bonds is, at least until A-Rod finishes his career, probably the greatest hitter that every lived.

posted by hincandenza at 11:03 AM on August 07

Also, the Giants moved to Pac Bell Park at the beginning of the 2000 season, and the stadium was specifically designed for Bonds to hit home runs. Right field is 309 feet. Just because others started hitting more home runs is in no way an indication that Bonds did not do steroids. Maybe not, but his hitting more home runs when everyone else in the National League was hitting more home runs isn't an indication that he was using steroids, either. Many of the others on the list are extremely suspect and/or confirmed steroid users. Are you saying many of the top 25 home run hitters in the National League every year are suspected or confirmed steroids users? Who besides Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa are suspected steroids users? most numbers on your chart are decreasing from the 2001 numbers Well, the 2002-2006 numbers are down from 1998-2001, but they're comparable to the numbers for 1996 and 1997. I look at that data and have to wonder what caused such a dramatic increase in HR production...smaller parks...watered down pitching...steroids? Who knows? The Colorado Rockies and Florida Marlins joined the league in 1993, and the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined in 1998, with no immediate apparent impact on NL home runs. The 1994 strike ended just before the beginning of the 1995 season, which was only 144 games. The strike turned off a lot of fans, and the next season it became a lot easier to hit home runs.

posted by kirkaracha at 11:06 AM on August 07

I can't believe this is still going on. Some want to lynch him, while others just bury their heads in the sand. Can't we just say, something fishy went on but we can't proove it so until further notice Bonds is the homerun king.

posted by Steel_Town at 11:34 AM on August 07

Also, the Giants moved to Pac Bell Park at the beginning of the 2000 season, and the stadium was specifically designed for Bonds to hit home runs. Right field is 309 feet. Sounds very familiar like a guy that you may know named George Herman Ruth. Didn't he play in a ballpark called Yankees Stadium that everyone knows as "The House that Ruth Built" and also, it was 295 feet to the right field wall to accomadate his swing.

posted by BornIcon at 11:52 AM on August 07

Also, the Giants moved to Pac Bell Park at the beginning of the 2000 season, and the stadium was specifically designed for Bonds to hit home runs. Right field is 309 feet. Both Ruth and Bonds hit more home runs on the road then at home. Pac Bell is a pitcher's haven. That's why you've heard of Kirk Rueter. Also, it may or may not be a coincidence that all of the batters who advanced to the second round of this year's Home Run Derby (at Pac Bell) were right-handed. My impression has been that, despite the short distance down the line, Pac Bell is tougher on lefties because of the sharp break outward in right. The thing that bothers me in looking at your study, kirk, is the pattern of Bonds' home run finishes. Just when it appears that he is on a steady decline -- 2nd, 4th, 9th, 13th -- all of a sudden he makes a leap to 2nd, 1st (with a totally freakish outlier), 2nd, 2nd, 4th. Grum pointed this out to me when we've had this discussion in the past, and I believe the only other guy we could find that had a late-career, post-decline jump like that was Darrell Evans. It may well be that Bonds had a late career surge at exactly the wrong time (for controversy's sake). Or maybe Evans found a Fountain of Youth in some pill-form or other. Who knows? It's definitely true that this year, while he can certainly still rake pretty well, Bonds' swing does not have that jaw-dropping, lift-you-out-of-your-seat snap that it used to. At least not what I've seen of him.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 01:12 PM on August 07

Interesting numbers on the home/road splits in the article linked by TCS. Based on Willie Mays' home/road splits (10 more career home runs at home than on the road), it looks like the conventional wisdom of "Mays would have hit 800 if not for playing half his games at Candlestick" is as much crap as "Jim Rice would have hit a ton more homers if he wasn't always roping line drives into the Green Monster that would have been line drive HRs elsewhere." For what it's worth, the updated number on Bonds is 375 HR at home, 380 on the road for his career, meaning he's bridged the gap a bit since the publication of the article linked by TCS (he used to be at +13 on the road).

posted by holden at 01:28 PM on August 07

Well, you left out his 2nd, 1st, and 3rd finishes at the beginning of that streak, so to me it looks like he had six straight seasons in the top four, two off seasons, then five more seasons in the top four. Something changed in 1996. Eight players hit 40 or more home runs that season, as many as had hit 40 or more in the 10 previous seasons combined. The lowest yearly average of home runs during 1996-2006 is higher than the highest average during 1986-1995. I think they juiced the ball, or changed the rules, or something like that. I don't think some of the players using steroids would raise the average home runs for the entire top 25 teams. I'll stipulate that Bonds used steroids, even though he's never failed a test. I just don't care. I'm not condoning steroids, but baseball players, managers, owners, and fans all accepted steroid use throughout the sport and celebrated its effects, and Bonds played the game as it was being played at the time. It's hypocritical for baseball to turn a blind eye on steroids for years, then single out one person. If there's an asterisk, it belongs on baseball, not Bonds. Pac Bell is a pitcher's haven. Bonds hit 140 home runs in seven seasons at Candlestick Park (3 Com Park), and he's hit 156 in less than seven full seasons at Pac Bell (AT&T Park). He only played 14 games in 2005, and hit five home runs total. Bonds' swing does not have that jaw-dropping, lift-you-out-of-your-seat snap that it used to That's true. I think that the effects of age are showing, although he's already hit more home runs this year than he did last year, and 755 was off of the face of the upper deck in the opposite field.

posted by kirkaracha at 03:29 PM on August 07

It's hypocritical for baseball to turn a blind eye on steroids for years, then single out one person. I totally agree. My impression, and perhaps the underlying point to your article, is that Bonds didn't separate himself from the pack as a hitter with steroids (if, in fact, he used them at all). He separated himself by being a most extraordinary hitter. Under any controlled situation in which all players were either given or completely denied any enhancements, he would still rise up to be better than 99.9% of the other hitters. Thanks for pulling out Mays' home/road splits, holden. I had missed that point, but it's a very good one. Something changed in 1996. Bonds moved from Pittsburgh to San Fran in the same season that the Rockies started, 1993. With the Rockies in his division, I was just wondering if Mile High/Coors Field had a pronounced effect on his power numbers since he would presumably play significantly more games there than would players in other divisions. Also, I wondered if there was a counter-effect by playing a large amount in notorious pitcher's parks like Dodger Stadium and Qualcomm. Um, no. (Scroll to the bottom.) Not that I can see. Petco has slowed him down, but that's probably not fair since he's only played there in the very late stages of his career. He has numbers in Colorado that are better than his average, but not shockingly so. Bottom line -- you can't contain Bonds, you can only hope to indict him.

posted by The Crafty Sousepaw at 04:21 PM on August 07

As much as the numbers show that there was a decline in Barry's home run, and then a huge spike (2001), and his increased girth we have all forgotten that he has already admitted to taking steroids (wether you believe that he didn't know he took them or not). "Bonds told a U.S. grand jury that he used undetectable steroids known as "the cream" and "the clear," which he received from personal trainer Greg Anderson during the 2003 season. According to Bonds, the trainer told him the substances were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a pain-relieving balm for the player's arthritis. According to government attorneys, BALCO founder Victor Conte has identified the designer steroid THG as "the clear." A testosterone-based ointment was identified as "the cream." Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery testified that Conte used flaxseed oil containers to send "the clear" to athletes." ESPN.com THG, and HGH still have no reliable or proven way to test for them.

posted by spoosh09 at 06:44 PM on August 07

He separated himself by being a most extraordinary hitter. Under any controlled situation in which all players were either given or completely denied any enhancements, he would still rise up to be better than 99.9% of the other hitters. While I do agree with what you are saying, the problem is that he is about to break the all-time home run record. So, if he gains just a 2% advantage due to the juice, that still makes what would have been a long fly ball a home run. Just a handful of such homers each year, and it does make a difference. When we look at the top home run hitters of all time, the asterisk on Bonds (in many minds anyway) will be that we will never know how many he would have hit without the juice, nor will we know how many Aaron or Ruth would have hit with the juice.

posted by dviking at 06:45 PM on August 07

Bonds has been intentionally walked 645 times during his career, more than the next two guys (Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey) put together. He also holds the records for intentional walks in a game (4) and in a season (120). In 1998 he was intentionally walked with the bases loaded, the first time that had happened in 54 years. In 2004 he was hitting one home run in every 8.3 at-bats, so if he'd been pitched to instead of walked he might've gotten 14 home runs that year. At a rate of one home run in every 15 at-bats over his career, that's a potential 43 home runs. he's already hit more home runs this year than he did last year Correction: he's hit 21 so far this year, and he hit 26 last year. I regret the error. that still makes what would have been a long fly ball a home run Then show me stats that demonstrate that he started hitting the ball further after he allegedly started using steroids than he did before.

posted by kirkaracha at 06:57 PM on August 07

As much as the numbers show that there was a decline in Barry's home run, and then a huge spike (2001), and his increased girth we have all forgotten that he has already admitted to taking steroids (wether you believe that he didn't know he took them or not). No, he never admitted to using steroids. He admitted to using stuff during 2003 season that resembled steroids. He maintained that they weren't steroids, that Anderson wouldn't jeopardize their friendship like that, and prosectors said that it sounded like the BALCO steroids.

posted by bperk at 07:03 PM on August 07

Then show me stats that demonstrate that he started hitting the ball further after he allegedly started using steroids than he did before. Come on, you know that there are not statistics on how long a caught fly ball was. That being said, his numbers clearly take a huge spike up, and then a fairly quick decline. To go from the 33 to 40 per year range, to spike to 73, and then immediately go back to the 40's is very questionable. Especially when you note that '86 to '97 the HR leader never got to 50...then the "steroid bunch" of McGwire, Sosa and Bonds come along and go 70, 65, 50 ,73. Then it drops back to the 40's. I fully understand that some will always back Bonds, I just am not one of them.

posted by dviking at 10:37 PM on August 07

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