Like Son Like Father?

When I was reading Howard Bryant’s book: “Juicing The Game” I came across Barry Bonds’ comment where he felt that his father Bobby Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. I’ve always felt Bobby Bonds was underrated as a player. My impression of him when he was playing was partly a result of how the media portrayed him: He was moody, he struck out far too much, he was an underachiever often hearing and reading that he never lived up to his billing as “the next Willie Mays.” He was remarkably talented—that was glaringly obvious to anyone with 20-20 vision—however when this was mentioned the above caveats were always attached to the remark.

Ultimately, my final impression of Bobby Bonds was that he was tremendous player who never quite got his due, but a Hall of Famer?

Not really.

Of course as I’ve gotten older I’ve become a bit more cynical of the evaluations of others, after all the media practically deified Kirby Puckett and Pete Rose, so today I take what I heard and read back when Bonds’ played with the proverbial grain of salt. My attempts at studying sabermetrics have allowed me to look at more data when assessing a player’s career.

However when I read Barry Bonds’ remark about his father I did a quick check on his career at Baseball Reference and it reinforced my initial thought that he fell short of being Cooperstown worthy. Some quick examples:

Black Ink: Batting – 6 (322) (Average HOFer ~ 27)
Gray Ink: Batting – 132 (128) (Average HOFer ~ 144)
HOF Standards: Batting – 35.8 (188) (Average HOFer ~ 50)
HOF Monitor: Batting – 66.0 (264) (Likely HOFer > 100)
Overall Rank in parentheses.

Good but certainly not Hall of Fame great …

Similar Batters

1. Ron Gant (910)
2. Reggie Smith (888)
3. Jack Clark (884)
4. George Foster (883)
5. Fred Lynn (875)
6. Roy Sievers (868)
7. Dick Allen (866)
8. Bobby Murcer (864)
9. Rocky Colavito (862)
10. Jimmy Wynn (860)

Not a Hall of Famer in the bunch. All terrific ballplayers and maybe you could make a decent argument for a couple in the list but still … zero.

Also against him was that Bonds was just a three time All Star—a ridiculously low total for anyone with Hall of Fame aspirations. He was also known for his propensity for striking out and only very recently was his single season record broken. One of the major things called to mind when remembering Bobby Bonds was a negative. When a player started a season on a home run tear people used to talk about Roger Maris; if a player had struck out 150 times by the end of August, folks brought up Bobby Bonds.

Of course the above measurements are statistical blunt instruments. A quick-and-dirty way to look how a given player stacks up against the all time greats.

However I thought I’d take a scalpel to the numbers to see what happens. In the interests of full disclosure, what’s going to follow is an attempt to build the best Hall of Fame case for Bobby Bonds that we can make.

To begin with, Bonds was truly a complete player …

Some of Bonds’ most notable achievements:

  • He was a 30/30 (30 home runs/30 stolen bases) man five times … tied for the all time mark with son Barry.
  • He won three Gold Gloves
  • He is fourth in baseball history in power/speed average*. The top five are Bonds, Rickey Henderson, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, and Joe Morgan

Hall of Famers tend to have rare aspects to their careers. While their numbers may superficially seem similar to other players (see Similar Batters above)—in reality they’re not. Bobby Bonds had a rare combination of power and speed that few players have had. Interestingly only Barry and Bobby have had careers with five 30/30 campaigns in them and have hit at least 300 home runs and 400 stolen bases.

When assessing a player’s Hall of Fame credentials you can look at it two ways: career and peak. Some players had Hall of Fame careers based on peak performance (Ralph Kiner, Sandy Koufax) while others, while never having a mind boggling peak, amassed terrific numbers over the course of their careers (Don Sutton, Paul Molitor) and of course there are the rarest of the rare: players with amazing peaks that were simply part of an equally amazing career. Bonds overall career numbers don’t scream “Hall of Fame” … he never hit 400 home runs, he didn’t garner 2000 hits, he wasn’t a career .300 hitter, he didn’t have 1500 runs or RBIs; in fact he had just over 7000 at-bats (234th all time). What about his peak? Generally, what I consider “peak” is a player’s 5-10 best seasons. In Bonds’ case, his peak ran from about 1969-78 … 10 seasons, so he had a long peak.

Since that consisted of 71% (10 of 14 seasons) of his career, you could even say that the bulk of his career was played at a very high level.

To look a little closer at his 10 best years we’re going to take a few questions from Bill James’ “Keltner List” as a guide. The results, quite frankly, surprised me:

Was he the best player in his league at his position?

Yes, from 1969-78 he lead all NL right fielders in Runs Created Above Average (205), runs (1047), stolen bases (247), walks (745), hits (1578), doubles (256), triples (56) and home runs (287), while copping a trio of Gold Gloves for fielding excellence.

Was he the best player in baseball at his position?

From 1969-78 he lead all major league right fielders in the same categories except RCAA (Reggie Jackson finished ahead in that department with 338). Throw in Bonds’ superior fielding and I think you can make a case that for a decade Bonds was the best right fielder in baseball.

Is he the best eligible player at his position not in the Hall of Fame?

At the moment … yes, however in a few years he’ll be challenged for that distinction as players like Larry Walker, Sammy Sosa, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, and perhaps Bobby Abreu become eligible.

So the question we have to answer is this: Is a player who, for ten years, was the best at his position, a man who is only one of two players with five 30/30 seasons and more than 300 home runs and 400 steals, the fourth best power/speed threat in baseball history, who was also a Gold Glove defender, a worthy Hall of Fame candidate?

Barry Bonds thinks so.

What about you?

* As defined at Wild Pitch Blog:

PWSA = [(HR x Ratio) + (SB x Ratio)] x 10

For the 2004 season here are the ratios:

Home runs = There were 5451 home runs.
This means that each home run was worth 0.000183 (1/5451

Stolen bases = There were 2589 stolen bases.
This means that each stolen base was worth 0.000386 (1/ 2589)

EXAMPLE

Lew Ford had 15 home runs and 20 stolen bases.
PWSA = [(HR x Ratio) + (SB x Ratio)] x 10
(15*0.000183) + (20*0.000386) x 10
(0.002745 + .00772) x 10
Therefore Lew Ford’s 2004 PWSA is .105

Resources:
Baseball Reference
Lee Sinins Sabermetric Encyclopedia
Wild Pitch Blog

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