Questionable Assumption: Would Barry Bonds Have Been a Good Hitter in 2008?

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Questionable Assumption: Would Barry Bonds Have Been a Good Hitter in 2008?

As promised, yet another follow up to the Barry Bonds saga.

Jack Marshall writes,

...[S]igning Bonds in order to make the playoffs would have been a dubious and foolish deal for any team, even if one buys the questionable assumption that he would have played well enough to hold up his end of it.

Questionable assumption? I'm sorry, but did I miss something?

While Marshall is accurate in asserting that Bonds would have been an injury risk had a team signed him for the 2008 season (or even for half of the 2008 season), sometimes the risk outweighs the reward. The risk involved in this scenario would be signing Barry to the league minimum and getting zero at-bats out of him.

The reward? Signing Barry to the league minimum and getting close to the season Barry put up in 2007.

On the surface, to someone who is simply a fan of the game, that might not mean much. I mean, 28 home runs and 75 runs batted in is not going to win an MVP award in this day and age—unless of course you are a scrappy underdog. But further analysis gives us a different story.

Let's first look at some of the numbers Barry put up in 2007 as a 42-year-old.

Barry posted the sixth-highest wOBA in all of Major League Baseball during the 2007 season. This is not a park adjusted figure, but alone, that speaks highly of Mr. Bonds.

Keep in mind Bonds' .429 mark that season would have rated fourth in the league in 2008. That .429 figure would have been tops among American League DHes, and 80 points higher then the league average DH with 300 or more plate appearances, a number that is higher then it should be due to some non-DH qualified hitters making the list (Guerrero and Guillen).

Thus, in the best possible scenario, Bonds is the No. 1-rated DH in the American League ahead of Milton Bradley.

However, despite wOBA being "league-adjusted," I don't feel comfortable simply sliding Bonds' numbers over to the American League and saying, "viola."

What I want to prove is that Bonds would have been a highly efficient hitter had he moved to the American League and DHed. This is giving the author that Bonds absolutely could not play in the outfield—which is a "questionable assumption" given some of the iron glovers that patrol left field, but something I will still accept for argument's sake.

Let us, however, look at one more statistic before diving into the nitty-gritty.

Equivalent Average (EQA) is Baseball Prospectus' league-, park-, and pitching-adjusted statistic that takes into account baserunning—something I will readily accept Bonds can rate low at. Still, from 2005 to 2007, Bonds posted an EQA of .330, .334, and .353. Even if we take Bonds' half-season, injury-wrecked 2005, he still would have rated as the fifth-best hitter in all of baseball in 2008. His .353 mark in 2007 would have rated him as the top DH, ahead of Bradley by 12 points.

In other words, based entirely on what Bonds had done recently, there was little reason to believe he couldn't have been a useful designated hitter in 2008, even for 50 games.

But how useful?

As I dove into when analyzing the JJ Putz to the Mets deal, the provided statistics of O and Z-Swing Percentage and O and Z-Contact Percentages. Briefly summarizing this, via

  • O-Swing%: The percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone.
  • Z-Swing%: The percentage of pitches a batter swings at inside the strike zone.
  • Swing%: The overall percentage of pitches a batter swings at.
  • O-Contact%: The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with outside the strike zone when swinging the bat.
  • Z-Contact%: The percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with inside the strike zone when swinging the bat.
  • Contact%: The overall percentage of a batter makes contact with when swinging the bat.
  • Zone%: The overall percentage of pitches a batter sees inside the strike zone.

Utilizing this data, and understanding that this data translate extremely well from season to season for individual players, we can begin to see what we could have expected from Barry in 2008, based purely on his approach at the plate.

As one might expect, the fewer times a hitter swings at pitches outside of the strike zone (IE. having a low O-Swing Percentage-OS%), the higher the hitters walk rate. Interestingly, this does not correlate to a hitters strikeout rate.

In 2006 and 2007, Bonds displayed his usual excellent eye at the plate, rating in the top five among most patient hitters in the league. Keep in mind, Barry had essentially nothing around him during these two seasons, en route to receiving the most intentional base on balls both years.

Of course that would go on to skew Barry's numbers, as he obviously is not going to swing at a pitch when the catcher is not in his crouch and is a few steps from the plate. Nevertheless, Barry did not receive those type of walks through having Wily Mo Pena-type discipline.

Thus, Barry's ability to lay off outside pitches means he was likely to sustain a high walk rate in 2008. Further, Barry has consistently been among the league leaders in seeing pitches outside of the strike zone, as well as having a very low (which is good) first pitch, strike rate. Again, there is definitely a connection between having no one around Barry, and being a league leader in this area, but clearly Bonds' ability and reputation is enough for pitchers to keep staying away from him.

One area in which Bonds is simply "average" (by Barry's standards) is in regards to making contact outside of the strike zone (OC%). This is not necessarily a negative, but does go to show that the odd occasion where Barry swings at a pitch outside of the strike zone, it's most likely not his pitch.

That being said, Bonds still rates well above average in making contact during these occasions, so the change in leagues shouldn't account for much of a deviation aside from a short adjustment period.

Given, as mentioned, these statistics are fairly constant from season to season, it is safe to assume that Bonds would have been an equally as valuable asset getting on base as he had been the previous years with the Giants. While an adjustment period would have ensued, it is unlikely that he moved to a worse hitters park in the American League, and thus, would have been an equally proficient hitter.

Worst-case scenario, however, is that Barry is platooning at designated hitter. Having additional time off, as well as not being required to stand, jog, and run for up to two hours a night would certainly keep Barry fresh.


I told you not to get involved with that...
Oh, and the answer is "yes," he would have been.
Why is an ethicist, a "fan," analyzing baseball? That would be like me calling Rachel Ray and telling her how to prepare for a formal function. Sure, I like food, but that doesn't mean I know how prepare a high quality meal. I mean, you could get a good look at a cow by putting your head...Wait, the butcher?
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