The Book of Mike

"This is no junior college. This is the notorious University of Miami.” -- Marlins starter Dontrelle Willis, after getting knocked around for six runs in 2 1/3 innings by the Canes.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Bonds Walks into Record Books

We’ll take a break from Marquis Weeks week here at The Book to talk about the incomparable Barry Bonds. Let me start out by saying that if you are as bothered as me about how many walks Bonds is receiving – particularly those of the intentional variety – you should probably consider seeking professional help. Actually, probably is definitely not a strong enough word.

If you are planning on catching at least some of the upcoming presidential debates between George W. Bush and John Kerry because you’re hoping that at least one of the candidates will take a firm stand on the issue of intentional walks, you are not alone (you’re at least with me), but you’re still in need of help.

How ridiculous has this gotten to be? Let’s take a look.

After last night’s 1 – 1 (with a triple), four walk performance, Bonds now has 213 walks on the season. That total means that Barry has already re-raised the single-season record that he already owned by 15 walks. This marks the third time in the past four years that Bonds has re-set the single-season walks record.

That’s simply absurd, particularly when you realize that the single-season walk record stood for seventy-eight (78!) years before Barry came around and obliterated it in 2001. The walk record that some guy named Babe Ruth set in 1923 stood at 170 until Barry started scaring everyone. In fact no one got closer than Mark McGwire’s 162 in 1998 (another memorable monster home run season) – it’s fair to note though that Ted Williams also reached the 162 mark twice in his career, both in 1947 and 1949.

What’s even more amazing is that the difference between the single season walk record set by Bonds and the pre-millennium record held by Ruth of 43 walks (as it stands going into today’s games) was enough to distant Ruth from the 69th place holder previously (the total of 127 walks has been achieved by seven players, including Jeff Bagwell most recently in 1997 – and Bonds in 1992). By the time the season has concluded and Bonds picks up even more walks (he’s projected to end up with 227) his lead over Ruth (57 walks) will equal the lead Ruth once held over anyone near the top-100 (it would take far too much time for me to compile the exact rankings since I can only find records that go as deep as 100 men – at that point we’re still 10 walks shy of the margin Bonds will hold over Ruth.

Rob Neyer wrote an article a few weeks back talking about the home runs we’ve been deprived of seeing because Bonds is walked so much (I haven’t linked to it here because it’s an Insider article, and I’m tired of everyone’s complaints that they don’t have access). Had Bonds been walked merely at Ruth’s previous record rate in his three recent record season’s, we most likely would have benefited from more than 80 Bonds at-bats. If you conservatively assume that Bonds would have hit a home run in one-of-every-ten of those at bats, that’s 8 more Bonds home runs that we’ve missed out on. And that’s about as conservative of an estimate as you’ll find. That assumes that Bonds was “only” walked at the previous record rate in 2004, 2002, and 2001 (Barry missed some games in 2003 so his total wasn’t that eye-popping – only good enough for 14th all-time). I think that’s conservative since no one came within 5% of Ruth’s walk record until Bonds came along and blew through it in three of the past four seasons.

It’s not just the run-of-the-mill, we’re afraid to pitch to Barry walks, that are running up Barry’s totals. The intentional walks are even more egregious. They’re excessive, ill-conceived, and are denying fans (and Barry) of the opportunity to witness something historic. One could argue that the free bases that managers are regularly giving the Giants and Bonds have likely propelled them into the National League Wild Card lead.

Barry has been intentionally walked 111 times this season. In 2002 and 2003 combined he was “only” walked intentionally 129 times. He’ll likely end up pretty close to that two year total this year. That’s simply absurd.

Like with the regular walks record, Barry obliterated long-standing intentional walks records with his recent performance. Prior to 2002, the record for intentional walks had stood since 1969, when the Giants’ Willie McCovey established the mark with 45 free passes. At the time that record was a significant “improvement” on the previously established total of 33 (by Ted Williams in 1957). Still, Bonds eclipsed both of those marks well before the All-Star break this season.

To help put Bonds intentional walk totals into perspective, consider some of the marks of other all-time greats. This helps to illustrate that Bonds is not merely selective at the plate, but that he is being pitched around to a greater degree than any slugger in history (although this is somewhat debatable as the records simply do not exist for Ruth – they weren’t kept until 1955).

Hank Aaron received 293 intentional walks in his entire 22-year career, including his career high of 23 in 1968. Willie Mays was walked intentionally 192 times in his career, including a high of 20 in 1956. McCovey, previously mentioned as the old-record holder, earned 260 intentional walks in his career. Mark McGwire, a contemporary of Bonds’, received a total of 150 in his career, including 28 in 1998 (the year he hit 70 home runs). Another current player, who is still adding to his total, Sammy Sosa, has earned a total of 144 intentional free passes (coming into this season), including his career high of 37 in 2001 (the year that the free pass to the big slugger really came into vogue).

How does Bonds compare you ask? Well, you already know that he has 111 intentional walk this year alone. That stacks up pretty well compared to those folks listed previously. You could take Aaron, Mays, McGwire, and Sosa’s career highs in intentional walks and find yourself in the neighborhood of Bonds’ total this year alone.

In just the last three seasons, Bonds has 240 intentional walks, which is more than McGwire, Sosa, and Mays totaled in their entire careers and stacks up pretty favorably with what Aaron and McCovey were “given.” When you look at it from a career perspective though, it’s not even close. Bonds has 594 intentional walks – and he’s still adding to that total, regularly.
At this point, I don’t think it’s even necessary to say anymore. I haven’t even gotten into any of the statistically sound analysis that has been done to prove that walking any player so regularly is not a good gamble (particularly when the player hitting behind him is on course to set the record for highest second half batting average of all-time; if it were not for Bonds, we might be talking about J.T. Snow’s MVP candidacy right now). Sure, Bonds is great and likely the greatest player of all-time and he’s in the midst of the greatest run of any player of all-time. That’s difficult to argue. However, it’s hard to argue that he’s twice as great as anyone who’s ever played the game before, but that’s how other teams are treating him.

Maybe other teams will keep walking Bonds throughout the rest of the regular season and it will propel the Giants deep into the playoffs – maybe even to a World Series win. I almost hope that doesn’t happen though. I fear that if Barry did get himself a ring this season, he might hang it all up and go home, just a little bit short of the few records he has left to break.


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