Friday, October 06, 2006

Barry Bonds post-mortem, part 2: Right on cue

Gotta hand it to Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN. In a column he wrote for today, Wojo writes: "The martyr -- who missed 31 games in 2006, had only 367 at-bats, couldn't field his position, hit 29 points below his career average and produced his lowest home run total (in 112 games or more) since 1991 and his lowest RBI total (in 112 games or more) since 1989 -- is at it again. "

That's pretty much right on cue, as predicted two weeks ago, when I wrote: "Much commentary on Bonds’ performance this year has focused on how he is suddenly 'human' (at age 42, who isn’t?) or that he’s not as feared as he once was, or that the assumed steroids must have worn off... On the surface, these observations might seem to have some merit: As I write, Bonds has a .262 batting average, his lowest since 1989. His .532 slugging percentage and his .988 OPS are his lowest since 1991... He has scored 69 runs; he’s never been below 89 as a qualifier. His RBI total of 68 is his lowest since 1989, and only in his abbreviated 2005 season did he fail to exceed the 44 extra base hits he has so far this year – even in his rookie season of 1986 he had 45. Even his walk rate is way down this year."

Give Wojo credit, he's an "on the surface" type of guy, and in any case his basic thesis is that Bonds is a fraud. The implication, clearly, being that without the presumed steroids, Bonds is essentially an ineffective and hobbled has-been. Perhaps odd to note that Wojo omitted 1999 from his comparison seasons by limiting to "112 games or more"; of course, that season, in 434 plate appearances, the then age 34/35 Bonds batted just .262 with a .389 OBP, both lower numbers than this year.

Of course, then I went on to note that Bonds is having one of the best batting seasons ever for someone his age. Possibly the best season ever. Wojo makes light of Bonds playing "only" 130 games this season; the comparison seasons show that pretty much no one his age has ever been productive playing significantly more than that (of all the age 41+ seasons on my list, none exceeded 137 games played).

Bonds ended up the 2006 season with a .454 on base percentage. Although he fell 6 plate appearances short of being a "qualifier," he still wins the on base percentage title, since his lead would still be intact even with 6 more hitless at bats. He also finished with a .999 OPS; although that's the first time since 1991 he's under 1.000, it's still within 10 points of both his 1995 and 1999 seasons, and is good for 6th in the league. He should get MVP votes for how he carried the Giants in to contention near the end of the season; whether he will get votes may depend on how many voters think like Wojo.

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