Coming off the heels of a deeply controversial Hall of Fame election year, it seems a relative consensus among Major League Baseball fans and players alike that the Baseball Writers Association of America has botched this class.
On one hand, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have fallen off the ballot. Ten years have passed since their first appearance and neither reached the 75 percent vote threshold necessary to gain induction. Meanwhile, David Ortiz enters the Hall on his first ballot. The issue there is the lack of consistency among voters. Ortiz has a positive performance-enhancing drug test on his record, while Bonds and Clemens do not. The point is not to advocate for any farfetched belief that both did not take steroids but instead that Ortiz is amongst those names. The BBWAA takes a wavering stance, claiming “no PED users allowed” yet makes exceptions for the ones that are nice to them in press conferences. Personally, I see no reason not to vote all three into Cooperstown, simply on the basis that it is a museum that tells the history of baseball, and these three are distinctive pieces of sports history.
If you looked at the statistical page of every MLB player ever to grace a professional diamond, you would find yourself in awe at the baseball-reference page that bears Barry Bonds’s stats. If numbers spoke for themselves with no outside factors, you would conclude that Bonds is without question the single greatest baseball player of all time. Obviously, there are outside factors, and they must be considered, but it does not change the fact that for 22 seasons Bonds was a compendium of ludicrous statistics.
Look At This Chart:
This claim is made further evident by a chart that appeared on the Giants sub-reddit two years ago that detailed the career statistics of Bonds when facing pitchers who have since been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
I mean, are you seeing this? Apart from a singular plate appearance against the greatest reliever in the history of baseball, Bonds is an above average to superstar hitter against every single Hall of Famer. His OPS against John Smoltz, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Pedro Martinez, and Roy Halladay alone would be the highest of any qualified hitters in 2021.
Comparing Bonds and Harper
An interesting comparison is juxtaposing the cumulative stats of that chart with that of 2021 National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper. Harper has a few more plate appearances, 599 to Bonds’s 537, but that is what makes this even more impressive. In comparing slash lines, they find themselves remarkably close to a tie.
Harper’s line: .309/.429/.615/1.044
Bonds’s line: .306/.440/.596/1.035
While Harper bests Bonds in three out of four categories, it is important to note how close to one another they find themselves. Bonds would have been a legitimate MVP candidate with his stats, especially if he could keep them up for enough plate appearances to equal Harper. Keep in mind Bonds was facing the greatest pitchers of a generation, with a combined 17 Cy Young Awards as well as ten relief pitcher of the year titles. Harper on the other hand, faced (while still good) a far less talented group of pitchers throughout the season.
Counting Stat Comparison
Beyond just rate stats, Bonds keeps pace with Harper in terms of counting numbers too. While Harper put up 35 home and 84 runs batted in, Bonds put up 31 and 73. To compare equally, you can establish a rate per plate appearance, allowing for an average to be established between both. Bonds homers on 5.7 percent of PAs, while Harper is at 5.8 percent, nearly identical. Over the same course of time, Bonds would have nearly replicated an MVP season against Hall of Fame pitchers.
What is the most outstanding is Bonds’s walk rate. In 537 ABs Bonds walked 102 total times, in comparison to 67 strikeouts. That means he is walking at an elite 18.9 BB% which would be in the 99th percentile of the 2021 season. Only Juan Soto has better plate discipline in this comparison, walking 22.2% of the time. When it comes to K%, he registers a 12.4%, which would also be in the top-6 among qualified hitters in 2021.
While this is statistically inconsequential, it is always fun to examine how dominant a certain player is. Purely in on the field talent, Bonds is the best player on earth. Will anything change yesterday? No, he will reach the Hall of Fame through some committee sometime down the line saddled with a tainted legacy. It is worth mentioning that Bonds also faces substantiated domestic abuse claims, as do many of the names on the 2022 ballot. There is an understandable case to be made both ways, one that argues his career constitutes baseball history regardless of any controversy, while the other could argue his name entering Cooperstown is a mark against the record of MLB. One thing is for certain though, no pitcher ever seems to have Barry Bonds’s number.
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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images