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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Tuesday, October 08, 2002
Buying into Bonds
He’s not getting older; he’s getting better.
A Miscellany of Obscure Stats From “The Year After 73”
Only Barry Bonds could have followed up a season in which he broke the home run record with a performance that was not simply an improvement or an elaboration on already-established skills, but one in which entire new dimensions of skill are explored.
In a year when offense declined by more than 10% in the National League, Barry managed to exceed the value of his 73-homer season. That’s beyond mind-blowing—it’s unique in the history of the game.
Other players have blossomed into one-of-a-kind offensive forces, but they’ve never added as much across-the-board value to their profile after they’d established themselves. Babe Ruth and Rogers Hornsby, great hitters who got even better, were aided by a livelier ball and by favorable changes in ballpark dimensions. They were also approaching their peak years when baseball’s offense environment shifted into an entirely new gear. Only Ted Williams produced a late-career level of performance that even remotely approaches what Barry has done over the past two seasons.
How much better than before?
While the following stats aren’t meant to sum up the value of Barry’s
Let’s start with a chestnut from the stat splits that are widely available on the Internet—Barry’s numbers in Innings 1-6 and Innings 7+. Most hitters don’t hit as well in late innings, of course, due to the presence of relief pitchers. As we’ll see, Barry is no exception (not that his Inning 7+ performance is anything worth criticizing). What’s interesting, though, is to look at his career performance vs. what he’s done over the past two seasons. I’ve broken out 2001 and 2002 separately to illustrate the notion of “an entire new dimension in performance” discussed above.
When Career 2001 2002 BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG Inn 1-6 .306 .435 .626 .343 .530 .914 .393 .592 .854 Inn 7 .284 .428 .554 .295 .480 .752 .317 .558 .675
Career data, by the way, is for 1987 to the present.
The biggest difference in Bonds’ performance from Inning 7 on is located in his slugging average. That remains a consistent feature in his 2001 and 2002 seasons, but notice how his late-inning performance has ramped up. In both years, Barry has hit better in Inning 7+ than his career average in Innings 1-6.
And in 2002, Barry hit .393 in Innings 1-6. He’s gone from being a .300 hitter with great power in this game segment to nearly a .400 hitter with great power.
Let’s move on to splits by count. We all know that hitters generally hit best when they hit the first pitch; even someone like Barry Bonds, who has set a new bases on balls record in each of the past two seasons, is no exception. Barry has improved as a first-ball hitter over the past two seasons, right along with all of his other achievements. As the “after count” stats also show, he’s even become a genuinely dangerous hitter after being down in the count 0-2. (If there are any major league pitchers reading this, they may want to avert their eyes at this point.)
Count Career 2001 2002 BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG 0-0 .346 .477 .699 .385 .542 .872 .420 .677 1.029 After 0-1 .262 .350 .512 .246 .381 .499 .333 .490 .724 After 0-2 .198 .267 .378 .122 .246 .429 .250 .377 .614 After 1-0 .316 .480 .655 .377 .596 1.000 .382 .603 .705 After 2-0 .343 .600 .715 .405 .712 1.051 .426 .742 .868
Barry’s performance in count sequences in which he was ahead declined a bit in 2002, mostly because he wasn’t able to keep up his slugging average. He did manage to increase his OBP and his BA.
His performance in count sequences when he was behind, however, jumped through the roof. I wonder if anyone prior to Bonds has managed to produce a .991 OPS in plate appearances where they began down 0-2 in the count. (His OPS in these situations in 2001 was only .675, only a bit higher than his career mark.)
Just for comparison, the average hitter in the NL in 2002 had a .535 OPS when they hit with two strikes. That’s all two-strike situations, not just the ones that started out 0-2 (the OPS “after 0-2” in the NL was .411).
Against the good and the not-so-good
Over at the Big Bad Blog I’ve been looking at team performance against quality of opposition (breaking the actual numbers down, as opposed to the more popular approach of adjusting them). It struck me that it might be interesting to extend this approach to individuals—and what better place to start than with Barry Bonds.
Let’s begin by noting that Barry missed 19 games this season. The Giants went 10-9 in those games. In the games where the Giants played a team below .500 without Bonds, they went 5-2. In the games in which they played a team .500 or better, they went 5-7.
In the games that Bonds played, the Giants were 85-57. Here are Barry’s stats broken out by quality of opponent:
Opp WPct AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG < .500 230 73 86 16 1 25 57 106 32 28 5 0 .374 .571 .778 >= .500 173 44 63 15 1 21 53 92 36 19 4 2 .364 .585 .827
As you can see, Barry didn’t take advantage of bad teams; he actually hit a bit better against good teams. (Remember, we’re talking OBP and SLG here, not batting average.)
How about if we break out Barry’s performance according to game result? In other words, what did Bonds hit when the Giants won, and what did he hit when they lost?
Res AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI TBB IBB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG BBP L 165 25 43 12 1 11 25 66 17 27 3 1 .261 .472 .545 28.6% W 238 92 106 19 1 35 85 132 51 20 6 1 .445 .643 .975 35.7%
Aside from the mind-boggling numbers (that OPS in Giants’ wins, by the way, is 1.618), you’re probably not surprised to discover that Barry hit significantly better when the Giants won. After all, it’s still a reasonably simple game that way—when your hitters hit, you tend to win. Again, though, I wonder how many hitters have amassed a 1.000+ OPS in games when their team didn’t win.
Let’s take this breakout one step further. How do Barry’s numbers look when we separate the Giants’ wins by quality of opponent? In other words, what did Barry hit when the Giants beat a good team as opposed to a bad one? What did he hit against good teams in a losing cause? And what about when the Giants lost to a bad team?
Ask and you shall receive…
Opp WPct Res AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB SO BA OBP SLG BBP < .500 L 83 12 20 5 0 5 11 30 5 15 .241 .442 .482 26.5% >= .500 L 82 13 23 7 1 6 14 36 12 12 .280 .500 .610 30.5% < .500 W 147 61 66 11 1 20 46 76 27 13 .449 .637 .946 34.1% >= .500+ W 91 31 40 8 0 15 39 56 24 7 .440 .653 1.022 38.1%
As you can see, Barry hit better against good teams regardless of whether the Giants won or lost the game.
Since I’ve been wondering about things throughout this article, I might as well keep doing so. I wonder how many hitters have a pattern like this. Someone with serious database skills ought to generate this data for the 2002 season as a whole, and see what the average breakout looks like. What I can tell you is that the Giants hit .295 in games that they won, and .223 in the ones they lost; they hit .306 in games won against poor teams, and .278 in games won against good teams; they hit .238 in games lost against poor teams, and .210 in games lost against good teams.
That seems like a reasonable pattern, though it would be nice to flesh out the stats with OBP and SLG. Most hitters probably follow this pattern.
Barry Bonds—in 2002, at least—did not.
Given what he has accomplished over the past two seasons, that probably shouldn’t surprise us.
We should all be too awed to be surprised by anything he does (except, perhaps, hitting in the post-season…) by this point in time.
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