Monday, December 2, 2013

The Keltner List: Barry Bonds 1986-1998

One way to break down the career of Barry Bonds is to look at the pre and post PED versions of the player.  If Game of Shadows  was correct (and it was, in my opinion) Bonds began using PEDs before the 1999 season and continued after until 2004. This makes 1998 a convenient starting point for this conversation, because it has to do with Mark McGwire, who admitted in 2010 that he used steroids. It also includes Sammy Sosa, who most likely used steroids but has not admitted as such and will not any time soon. Why 1998? Bonds had one of his finest seasons.....and no one seemed to notice because of one player known to be on the juice and another who will never admit it. What if he had told the baseball world to screw off and walked off into the sunset?

To that end, let's apply the Keltner List to the half of Bonds' career that he was presumably clean (1986-1998). Perhaps he decided to go off and live in a hut somewhere, or maybe he decided to garden and hang out with his kids. I don't know. I will go through this assuming that Bonds retired in anger after the 1998 season.

Here are his offensive stats from 1986 to 1998:


1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball?

He was by several writers, ball players and coaches. James called him the most under appreciated superstar in his lifetime and tabbed him as the best player of the 1990s. Jose Rijo said he was the best player he had ever seen. His college coach, Jim Brock, said he was the best athlete that he had ever coached. Tony Gwynn said he was the best player in the NL, no question

At his height, the "Best Player in Baseball" discussion started with either Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr. Note the discussion started with these two players; they were a blend of power and speed that had not been seen in years, since Willie Mays, Bobby Bonds or perhaps Mantle before his knee problems.

2. Was he the best player on his team?

Bonds was the best player in Pittsburgh from the moment he arrived in 1986. Granted, being the best player on a team that lost 98 games is a dubious honor. Bonds was the centerpiece of the Pirates when they won three consecutive division titles from 1990-92.

Bonds moved to the Giants in 1993 as a free agent. In 1992 the Giants had a good young closer (Rod Beck), Matt Williams, Will Clark and Royce Clayton. That team lost 92 games. In comes Bonds and Dusty Baker and the 1993 Giants win 103 games. He was the best player on those Giants teams; you hear a lot about players "making their teammates better." Bonds hit 5th for most of that season and Williams hit 4th; Williams hit 20 HR in a down year in 1992. With protection he hit 38 in 1993. When Bonds hit 4th in 1994 and Williams 3rd in 1994, Williams had 43 HR at the time of the strike. Williams was a damn good third baseman and a good power hitter. Bonds helped him to a new level.

3.Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

In 1987 I would have picked Tim Raines as the best left fielder in the NL. After that, it is Bonds despite some fine seasons by Kevin Mitchell. His only competitor in the AL during the late 1980s was Rickey Henderson, but by 1990 I'd take Bonds.

4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

Much is made of Bonds failures in the post season. In Pittsburgh 1990-2 Bonds slashed .191/.337/.265 with 14 BB and 6 SB in 20 games. In 1997, Bonds went 3-12 against the Marlins.

In 1990 Bonds hit 8 HR over the last 28 games as the Pirates went 18-10 and took the division by 4.

In 1993, the Giants held a 9 game lead over the Braves on Aug 11th, then lost the division by 1 game.  The Giants had two series with the Braves after Aug 11th and the Giants lost 5 of 6 games. In those six games, Bonds hit .409 with 2 HR, 3 RBI and 2 SB.

In 1997, Bonds hit seven HR in his last 17 games. In a crucial 6 game road trip in September, the Giants won four games and Bonds drew 8 walks, scored 7 runs and stole 3 bases.

Bonds usually played well down the stretch for teams in a race.

5.Was he a good enough player that he could contribute past his prime?

In 1998, Bonds, age 33, hit 37 HR, the seventh consecutive year he had hit 30 or more. He stole 28 bases, marking the 10th consecutive year he had 20 or more steals. He was awarded his 8th Gold Glove award (four of which he deserved) and hit .300 for the fourth time in his career. He also drew 29 intentional walks to lead the NL, marking the seventh consecutive season he had done so. That bears repetition: Barry Bonds pre-steroids led the NL for seven consecutive seasons in intentional walks. Bonds did not lead the league in any other offensive category, but slashed .303/.438/.639, scored 120 runs, posted 122 RBI with a WAR of 8.1. So, yeah I guess he could.

6.Is he the best player in baseball history not in the Hall of Fame?

With the reduced numbers, I would argue that Ivan Rodriguez is perhaps the best player not in the hall, and he is not yet eligible. Other than that, I would say that Bonds is the best player in history not in the hall of fame.

7. Are players with similar statistics still in the Hall of Fame?

At the end of the 1998 season, four of the top 10 comps for Bonds (Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays) are in the hall of fame. Of the other six, four (Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Griffey) deserve strong consideration. The other two (Juan Gonzalez, and Manny Ramirez) were damn good players.

8. Do the players number meet Hall of Fame standards?

Applying the Hall of Fame Standards developed by Bill James (link to definitions here: gives Bonds a rank of 57.91. Rounding to 58, this gives him the same total as the following:

Larry Walker, Ivan Rodriguez, Cal Ripken, Al Kaline, Vladimir Guerrero, Joe DiMaggio and Wade Boggs.

Of these, 4 are Hall of Famers: Ripken, Kaline, DiMaggio and Boggs. Walker has been eligible since 2010 and is getting votes on 20% of the ballots. Rodriguez and Guerrero are eligible in 2016 and one is a first ballot vote while the other (Guererro) should get strong consideration.

Much is made that before the PEDs, Bonds only led the league in HR once, and then he hit "only" 43. This is silly, as Bonds posted 3 pre-1998 Slugging titles, 4 OBP titles and lead the NL in WAR 7 times in 11 seasons.

Here are some Top-10 seasons for Bonds between 1986 and 1998:
Home Runs 9, Stolen Bases 9, Runs 12, Doubles 4, extra base hits 11.

Between 1986 and 1998, Bonds was in the top 10 in the basic offensive categories 109 times in 13 seasons. So, even discounting the post 1998 numbers, Bonds career is certainly of a hall of fame caliber.

9. Is there evidence to suggest that the player was considerably better or worse than his statistics suggest?

Bonds was usually in the top 10 in outfield assists in the NL; his throwing arm was accurate but very average. At age 24, Bonds posted a .258 BA with 19 HR. He also drew 93 walks and stole 32 bases.  This is the secret greatness of Bonds. Between 1990 and 1995, he was the perfect combination of power and speed. Walk him? Sure, put the guy on who successfully stole a base 78% of the time (223 out of 288). Pitch to him? Well, he averaged .74 RBI per game in those five seasons. 1998 was the last season in which Bonds stole 20 bases. In 1988 Jose Canseco posted a 40/40 season. Canseco went 20/20 two other times. Bonds did it 10 times in 13 seasons and went 30/30 five times during that period. In the field, Bonds as a youth could outrun mistakes.

10.Is he the best player eligible who has not been inducted?

Yes, even discounting the post -1998 stats.

11. How many MVP type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

Bonds won three MVPs before 1998: (1990, 1992 and 1993). He finished second in the 1991 voting to....Terry Pendleton????!?!?!?!? Bonds hit more HR, drove in 30 more RBI, stole 33 more bases in 76 fewer at bats than Pendleton. But, the Braves went from worst to first that year and some Dodgers writer gave a first place vote to Brett Butler. Bonds lost by 15 votes.

Bonds finished in the top 5 in voting in 1991, 1994, 1996 and 1997. He finished 8th in 1998.

Including pre-1999 Bonds, there have been ten players who have won three MVP awards. Two (Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez) are active. The other seven (Stan Musial, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Roy Campanella, Mike Schmidt, Jimmie Foxx and Yogi Berra) are all in the hall of fame.

12. How many all star type seasons did he have? How many All Star teams did he play for? Did most other players selected to that many All Star games get elected to the Hall of Fame?

Bonds made 8 All Star games and started seven of them. 14 Other players (as of 1998) had started 7 All Star Games; all are in the Hall of Fame.

13. If this man was the best player on his team, could that team conceivably win the pennant?

Yes, undoubtedly.

14.What impact did the player have on baseball history?
I think the pre-1998 Bonds (and Ken Griffey) cap the argument that the 1980s were the best decade in baseball history as far as talent. I think the next 15-20 years will match and surpass the 1980s, but it was the blend of abilities that Griffey and Bonds had that made an impact. Bonds also was at the forefront of the OPS movement. He (along with Rickey Henderson, Brett Butler and others) brought the base on balls back from the wilderness. The only catch was Bonds by 1989 was a cleanup hitter, a place traditionally reserved for power hitters. He was that and more; better than Dawson in Montreal, better than anyone since Willie Mays.

15.Did the player uphold the standards of the hall of fame?
Arguably, no. Before the PEDs, Bonds was viewed as truculent as Howard Cosell would say. He could be downright arrogant, mouthy and disrespectful. But, as Jim Leyland pointed out, "Barry needed a bit of controversy around him." Bonds personal life turned out to be a mess with a nasty public divorce between 1998 and 2000. His teammates complained about him off and on. He got into a shouting match with Jim Leyland in spring training. But, if the Hall kicked out people who were thought to be jerks, there may be 9 guys left in there.

 Consider that in 1999, The Sporting News voted Bonds the 34th best player of all time with stats through 1997. Bonds is a hall of famer without one HR or anything else after 1998.

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