What do you know about fear?
Fear is for the summer, for the long at bat, and for the guy who hit 73 home runs in one season.
Barry Bonds was indisputably the most feared man to ever step into a batter's box, yet people constantly gloss over the gaudy numbers because of his links to the steroid scandal in Major League Baseball. We'll eventually cover that, but I want to start by stating my stance on steroids. Steroids as a whole, are illegal now in Major League Baseball, as they should be, but we can't simply disregard a player who took steroids. Lots of people say of guys like Bonds and Alex Rodriguez: "they were HOFers before steroids," which of Bonds and A-Rod, if they started roids in 1999 and 2001 respectively, is 100% true, but that's not my case. My stance is that the games were still played, and the players still had to play baseball, so I understand that Bonds had a competitive advantage, but you can't tell the story of baseball without him. The Hall of Fame is littered with anti-heroes, like Ty Cobb, John McGraw, Gaylord Perry, and Leo Durocher, but the biggest anti-heroes of all are still on the outside looking in, the steroid users, like the Bonds, Jose Canseco, and Roger Clemens.
Contrary to what you may think, this is not an article where I'm going to sit here and say that Barry Bonds should or shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame (he should be), because in my mind, there's no debating that, what I'm setting out to prove is how special of a ballplayer Barry Bonds was, and that baseball took him for granted.
Barry Bonds, like Ken Griffey Jr, had a father who was a very good MLB player. Bobby Lee Bonds could've been a Hall of Famer if he stuck around a bit longer, as at the time of his retirement, he and Willie Mays were the only members of the 300-300 club.
Baseball-Reference has a stat known as "Power-Speed #" which is a Bill James statistic calculated the harmonic mean of your home run and stolen base totals, or 2 x (Home Runs x Stolen Bases)/(Stolen Bases + Home Runs)
Both Bonds' unsurprisingly rank super high, as Barry finishes first with an ungodly 613.90, and Bobby finishes 5th, behind Barry, the aforementioned Mays and Rodriguez, as well as Rickey Henderson.
Bobby Bonds and the media never got along super well, something that ran in the family. Barry said that "it irritated him that the media didn't give his father enough credit for his career." It may have been for this reason that Barry always had it out for the media, and the media had reasons to have it out for him.
It should be said though, that Barry and Bobby were not particularly close growing up, but once Barry attended Arizona State, the father and son began to get closer together. Bonds starred at Arizona State, and was primed for MLB stardom, but little did we know just how good he'd be.
Those were the five players selected ahead of Barry Bonds. Surhoff was a good but not great MLB player, Will Clark was a fringe HOFer, Bobby Witt was a decent pitcher, Barry Larkin is in the Hall of Fame, and Kurt Brown never made it to the show.
That's a wide range of outcomes for the top 5 picks in the draft, but the 6th pick, Barry Bonds, began a career that will never cease to be interesting.
Bonds profiled as skinny outfielder with good power potential and wonderful speed. Coming into 1986, Bonds was the Pirates' top ranked prospect.
In 71 games of A ball in 1985, Bonds raked. He hit .299/.383/.547 with a .930 OPS, 13 homers and 15 stolen bases in just 71 games. He then skipped double A entirely, as the Pirates wanted to rush him up to the majors. In 1986, Bonds played just 44 games of AAA ball, and he raked again. He slashed .311/.435/.527, walked more than he struck out, hit 7 home runs and stole 16 bags.
The Pirates called him up and he made his much anticipated Major League debut on Friday, May 30, 1986. Do you want to know how I know it was much anticipated, take a look at the attendance numbers. The Pirates had played a home series against the Braves right before the debut, and the total attendance for those three games was 23,792, but for Bonds' debut, they eclipsed that number, as 25,320 screaming Buccos showed up on that Friday night. Bonds was a very good rookie in '86, and likely didn't get the credit that he deserved due to his .223 average, but he walked 65 times, hit 26 doubles, 16 home runs, and stole 36 bases along with playing wonderful defense in center field. He finished 6th in rookie of the year voting.
Bonds' rise to the top took a few years, as he had another very good season in 1987, but not worthy of any awards, except for Gold Glove, which he didn't win that year. He then put up another very good campaign in 1988, finally putting his average and on-base skills on display together. His wRC+ that year went from 114 to 146, but his defense wasn't as good. Obviously, given that defense is harder to measure than offense, season to season volatility is extremely common, even amongst the best defenders in baseball.
In 1989, the offense wasn't where it was in '88, save one key distinction. 1988 was the last time in Barry Bonds' career that he struck out more than he walked. Bonds struck out a decent amount in his first four seasons, but he also walked a lot, especially for a youngster, sporting an 11.9% walk rate through four seasons. 1989 was Bonds' best year defensively, as he put up a ridiculous +37 TZ in left field, the highest single season TZ by a left fielder since Baseball-Reference started using play-by-play data to calculate it in 1953.
Through 4 seasons, Bonds had the 11th most bWAR amongst players who'd played at least 90% of their games in the outfield, and the 7th most dWAR.
(Disclaimer: For leaderboards, I'll use bWAR because it's easier to create leaderboards with bWAR and OPS+ than it is with fWAR and wOBA)
An already impressive 5 tool player, Bonds still hadn't gained any award votes (besides ROY) or an all star appearance, but that changed in 1990. He once again put it all together, but this time, to a different level. He slashed .301/.406/.565 with 33 homers and 52 stolen bases, becoming just the second 30-50 man ever, after Eric Davis, another super interesting player. Nobody has done it since. Bonds had another stellar defensive season, and put up 9.9 fWAR. His first All-Star appearance and his first postseason would coincide, however, the playoffs didn't go so well.
Bonds batted a putrid .167/.375/.167 in the NLCS against the Nasty Boys Reds. Bonds went just 3-18, and all three of those hits were singles. He did walk 6 times, but it didn't matter, the Bucs lost in 6 games, and Bonds went into the offseason as the reigning NL MVP, but without a postseason extra base hit.
Bonds would lead the Pirates back to the NLCS in 1991, putting up worse numbers, but still 7.8 fWAR. The 1991 Pirates also had a nasty pitching staff, as one of just 10 staffs since the mound lowering to have 5 starting pitchers with 20 or more starts, a sub 3.60 ERA, and a sub 4.00 FIP. Unfortunately for that staff, who pitched 5 games giving up 3 or fewer runs in the 7 game series, the Pirate bats were once again dormant. A series that featured the previous two NL MVPs batting .167 and .148 respectively shouldn't make much sense. And guess who the .148 was, yep, Bonds. Terry Pendleton, the Braves' 1991 NL MVP had an awful series, but Bonds and the Pirates offense was even worse. They had a .598 OPS for the 7 game series, which ranks 5th to last amongst all teams in a 7 game LCS. The Pirates would once again enter the offseason disappointed, a feeling Bonds would get used to.
In 1992, it was World Series or Bust in the Three Rivers. The Pirates were going to have to either pay Bonds big money, or let him go to free agency after '92, and if you know anything about that organization, you know which one they were gonna choose.
Barry put up his best offensive season yet, slashing .311/.456/.624 for a 1.080 OPS and a 198 wRC+. The 198 would be his highest wRC+ until 2001, when his most ridiculous stretch began. Bonds once again won National League MVP, his third straight top 2 finish, and his third consecutive Gold Glove and Silver Slugger combo season. He finally came alive in the postseason, going deep to lead off an eventual 8 run top of the second, an inning where Bonds was the final out in a bizarre way.
See the play at 39:29 of this video.
However, Bonds' .433 OBP in the series wouldn't be enough, because Francisco Cabrera would single to left field, and gold glover Barry Bonds threw the ball home weakly, allowing the winning run to score in Game 7.
This was the last pitch of Barry Bonds in a Pirates uniform, so let's take a look at what he did in that Pirates uniform.
Bonds put up an .883 OPS, 145 wRC+, 48.4 fWAR, 251 SB, and 176 HR in his 1010 games in a Pirates uniform, taking home 3 Gold Gloves, 3 Silver Sluggers, 2 All-Star appearances, and 2 MVP's. Amongst all Pirate hitters, he's 7th in bWAR, but to find somebody with fewer games played than Bonds on that leaderboard, you'd have to go all the way down to 17th place and nearly cut the WAR in half.
He's also third all time in Outfield dWAR through 7 seasons, behind only Andruw Jones and Kevin Kiermaier.
Wonder where he ranks amongst all hitters through seven seasons in bWAR.
He ties for eighth with Arky Vaughan, behind 5 Hall of Famers, and two current Los Angeles Angels, who are both future 1st ballot HOFers.
Bonds was granted free agency by the Pirates, and he looked for a new beginning.
Rumors put Bonds with the Braves, Red Sox, and Yankees, but the team that stepped up to pay Bonds in 1992 was the team the Bobby made his name on, the San Francisco Giants.
His 6 year, $43 million contract was the most expensive in baseball history, and for the Giants, he was worth every penny.
In his first season with San Francisco, he won his third MVP in four years, putting up career highs in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, H, 2B, IBB, HR, RBI, bWAR, and fWAR. This concluded a four year stretch, from his fifth through eighth seasons, where he provided the 5th most bWAR amongst outfielders in their fifth through eighth seasons.
The 1993 Giants were absolutely stacked as well. They had not only Bonds, but Matt Williams, Willie McGee, Will Clark, and Robby Thompson helping win 103 games, but miss the playoffs by one game thanks to the Atlanta Braves. The 1993 NL West Pennant race is considered "The Last Great Pennant Race," as in 1994, the new Wild Card system was instituted, well technically not until 1995 because of the strike. The Giants were unfortunate to come out just one game behind the Braves, who had a TEAM ERA+ OF 128!!!
The aforementioned strike shortened the 1994 season, but Bonds still raked, hitting 37 dingers and 173 wRC+ in just 112 games. I should probably mention that Bonds won his fifth consecutive GG/SS combo in 1994.
1995 was another wonderful Bonds campaign, as he put up his fourth consecutive 1.000 OPS season, something only 17 men have ever done, but Bonds wasn't done with 1.000 OPS. It's a mark he'd hit 12 times in qualified seasons, and another 2 times in seasons where he almost qualified, as well as a .999 in an almost qualified season.
In 1996, Bonds became the first National League player to do 40-40, smashing 42 home runs and stealing 40 bases, but we'll fast track to May 28, 1998.
Bonds had been one of the most feared hitters in the league for a while, pitchers didn't like to pitch to him. He'd led the league in IBB each of the previous 6 seasons, and he unintentionally walked at a league leading pace too as well, something we'll get more into when we discuss his 2001-2004.
Facing the Diamondbacks with the bases loading, trailing 8-6, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Buck Showalter opted to intentionally walk Barry Bonds.
As you can see, it turned out to be the right decision, as Brent Mayne lined out to right field. It was super unlucky of Mayne to line out, as his liner was similarly struck to statcast balls with xBA's of .400, .600, or even .800, he just hit it right at Brent Brede.
Foolish Baseball on YouTube used statistics from Tom Tango combined with Bonds' and Mayne's splits that season, to show that Bonds had a higher percentage chance of driving in the tying run from second, than Mayne did driving in the tying run from third.
Taking another look at WAR, Bonds had 110.1 fWAR through the year 2000, which is well above the average for a Hall of Fame career, as a matter of fact, only 14 hitters (not including Barry Bonds) had that much fWAR in their entire career. 13 of those guys are Hall of Famers, the other one is Alex Rodriguez. And remember, Bonds had this much WAR before his 4 most ridiculous seasons, let's talk about those.
The Giants possessed a beast in Barry Bonds that nobody had ever seen before, even previous versions of Barry Bonds were nothing like 2001-2004 Barry Bonds. Before we get into his individual numbers, a look at team success.
In 2001, the Giants won 90 games and missed the playoffs, 2 games back of Arizona for the division, and three back of St. Louis for the Wild Card. In 2002, the Giants made the playoffs with 95 wins, and Bonds carried them to the World Series. After two disappointing postseasons in 1997 and 2000, both with OPS below .700 for Bonds, he turned it on in 2002.
Unfortunately for Bonds, he didn't win that World Series, they lost in 7 to the Angels, but his 1.994 OPS in the 30 PA is something I can't comprehend. I'm still trying to understand 7 games of .700 OBP. He also hit a ball that Tim Salmon said was "the furthest ball [he's] ever seen hit," a quote that the camera caught him saying in the dugout.
2003 was an upset loss to the Marlins in the NLDS, and 2004 was missing the playoffs by 1 game. The Giants never won a title with Barry Bonds, but that's not why we remember him.
Barry Bonds Slash Line and HR totals from 2001-2004
2001: .328/.515/.863 73 HR
2002: .370/.582/.799 46 HR
2003: .341/.529/.749 45 HR
2004: .362/.609/.812 45 HR
ML Leaders in Slash Categories and HR NOT including Bonds from 2001-2004
2001: .350/.477/.737 64 HR (Ichiro and Helton/Giambi/Sosa Sosa)
2002: .349/.460/.677 57 HR (Ramirez/Ramirez/Thome Rodriguez)
2003: .359/.458/.667 47 HR (Pujols/Helton/Pujols Thome and Rodriguez)
2004: .372/.469/.657 48 HR (Ichiro/Helton/Pujols Beltre)
Remember, the second set is a composite effort of everybody not named Barry Bonds.
2001 and 2004 are the most memorable of the 4 seasons, as in 2001, Bonds broke the single season home run record, and in '04, he walked 232 times.
His .609 OBP in 2004 means that for every 1000 times Barry Bonds came to the plate, he'd get on base 609 times, which is well above second place, Barry Bonds in 2002, you kind of get the point. I still don't understand that season, Jon Bois simulated it as if he didn't have a bat, and he STILL OBP'd .608!
Barry Bonds accounted for 2.47% of all National League home runs in 2001, and 1.88% of all National League home runs during that four year stretch. This is during the steroid era when more and more dudes are hitting more and more home runs. Of course this pales in comparison to the 14% of AL Home Runs hit by Babe Ruth in 1920, but that was 1920, this is the steroid era. But Home Runs are not his most notable stat during this stretch.
Let's look at wRC+, which is wOBA on the + scale. Bonds put up 235, 244, 212, and 233 wRC+ in these seasons, good for a 232 wRC+ over the entire stretch. How about fWAR, he put up lots of that too. 12.5, 12.7, 10.2, 11.9, good for 47.3 fWAR in just 4 years. 33 Hall of Fame hitters have fewer career Wins Above Replacement than Bonds had in just four seasons, his ages 36-39 seasons.... bWAR has him at 43.4 Wins Above Replacement in those 4 seasons, which is still 13.3 more than second place, and 27.5 more than the first guy who is HOF eligible, but not in, Bob Johnson.
Barry Bonds had incredible plate discipline, it's the reason he was able to walk so much even before he started to get pitched around, so it should be no surprise that Bonds led the majors in walks eight times. Once he did gain the reputation of being one of the best hitters in baseball, he started walking even more, and being intentionally walked even more. Barry Bonds was the most feared hitter to ever live, given that he was walked so much, and that fear came from the threat of the home run. Like it or not, Barry Bonds is both the single season and career home run king because he hit more home runs than anybody else in both capacities. You could obviously say that it doesn't matter because he was on steroids, but the baseball games were still happening, the pitchers still had to pitch to him, well, not all of the time.
His 2004 was his most impressive walking season, where he was walked 232 times, a Major League record by a wide margin.
Bonds accounted for a ridiculous 2.16% of all NL walks in this four year stretch, including 2.66% in 2004. In that 2004 season, he walked 232 times, I'm not sure if I've said that yet. If you take the AL and NL leaders in walks in 2019, Alex Bregman and Rhys Hoskins, and sum their 2019 walks totals, they walk a combined 235 times, which is just three more than Bonds despite having 778 more plate appearances than Bonds. 778 Plate Appearances is coincidentally the single season record, set by Jimmy Rollins in 2007. What that means, is that it took the LEAGUE LEADERS in walks in 2019 a record equalling number of plate appearances MORE than Bonds to walk just 3 more times than Bonds did. But that's not even the most incredible number.
We'll get to the one you know we're getting to in a second, but I would like to mention this:
NL Averages 2001-2004
2001 w/o Bonds: .261/.326/.423
2002 w/o Bonds: .259/.326/.408
2003 w/o Bonds: .261/.327/.416
2004 w/o Bonds: .262/.327/.421
Barry Bonds single handedly brought NL OBP up 5, 5, 5, and 6 points, and slugging, 2, 2, 1, and 2 points in this four year stretch, meaning that he brought NL average OPS up 7, 7, 6, and 8 points despite having only 0.61% of the total National League Plate Appearances.
To put that in context, I took Mike Trout and Alex Bregman, the two best hitters in the American League last year by oWAR, and removed their totals from the league averages.
AL 2019 w/ Trout and Bregman: .253/.323/.439
AL 2019 w/o Trout and Bregman: .253/.320/.437
Trout and Bregman account for: 1.38% of all AL PA in 2019
Despite accounting for more than double the percentage of total league plate appearances, Trout and Bregman only brought AL OPS up by 5 points last year, which is lower than Bonds lowest season in that stretch.
We've arrived at the number. Let's go on a tour of some records before we say the number.
The single season record for each of these stats accounted for what percentage of the league's total of this stat? That's the question I'm asking. This is AL/NL, not MLB wide, and this is NOT the highest percentage. As stated earlier, Babe Ruth once accounted for 14% of all AL home runs, but that is not the single season home run record anymore, so it's not part of this.
Single Season _ record was what % of league total?
HR: Barry Bonds, 2001, 2.47%
H: Ichiro, 2004, 1.23%
2B: Earl Webb, 1931, 2.88%
3B: Chief Wilson, 1912, 5.26%
RBI: Hack Wilson, 1930, 2.90%
R: Billy Hamilton, 1894, 1.68%
SB: Rickey Henderson, 1982, 9.32%
BB: Barry Bonds, 2004, 2.66%
TB: Babe Ruth, 1921, 2.61%
HBP: Hughie Jennings, 1896, 8.02%
And then there's Barry Bonds' intentional walks in 2004, of which he had 120, and they accounted for 13.81% of all National League intentional walks. If you want to broaden the spectrum, from 2001-2004, Bonds accounted for 8.17% of all National League intentional walks, which is a higher percentage than all but Rickey's stolen base record, but this is over a four year stretch, not just one record breaking season.
The most ridiculous part it that it takes summing the top 9 IBB getters in 2019 to get to Bonds' total in 2004. That look at the leaderboard also leaves me wondering why in the world Maikel Franco was intentionally walked 19 times last year....
Bonds in 2004 was intentionally walked one more time than Alex Bregman, the MLB's walks leader in 2019, walked in total in 2019.
Needless to say, Bonds won all four NL MVP's during this stretch, no other player has won more than 3 MVP awards for their entire career, this gave Bonds 7.
Barry Bonds leaves behind a complicated legacy due to his links with the steroid scandal. It was quite obvious that Bonds was on steroids, and yes, that should be acknowledged. His evolution from a power-speed guy into a monster of destruction was aided by steroids, he would not have broken Mark McGwire's record without them, nor would he have broken Hank Aaron's record without them. But here's the caveat, he did break those records, and that must be acknowledged. His 756th home run ball is branded with an asterisk, and he was blackballed from the game after 2007, and he'll likely never get in the Hall of Fame, and he has to live with all of that.
Bonds certainly could've been a DH in the AL in 2008, as his ZIPS projections projected a .456 OBP and .518 SLG, but nobody wanted to carry his baggage. He was a clubhouse cancer, disliked by media, and despised by fans. He's baseball's anti-hero, a man who has numbers that don't make sense, 8 Gold Gloves, 7 MVP's, a 1.051 career OPS, 12 Silver Sluggers, 14 All Star games, 2 Batting titles, 762 home runs, 162.8 career bWAR, 164.4 fWAR, the single season home run record, 2558 walks, more IBB than Clemente and Lajoie have total walks, but also a bad relationship with media, fans, teammates, and a steroid scandal that tarnished his legacy. Many dismiss his numbers entirely, saying "he was on roids, he doesn't count," but they still happened. While I certainly acknowledge that Bonds had a competitive advantage, he is a crucial part of the story of not just the steroid era, but baseball as a whole.
We outta here baby
We outta here baby
We outta here baby