Friday, May 4, 2007

Saving Bonds

Unlike you average middle aged crotchety sportswriter, I am not all bent out of shape by Barry Bonds overtaking of Hank Aaron for the Home Run record. Perhaps, because I never saw Aaron play I don't have a particular attachment to him or his feat, but it's also because: 1) Aaron wasn't the best player of his era and probably is not one of the 10 best hitters in baseball history; and 2) Bonds is a better player than Aaron.

While Aaron was a fantastic player and a true study in consistency and longevity, he is not considered nearly as good as his contemporary, Willie Mays. From a historical perspective players such as Ruth, Ted Williams, Gehrig, Mantle, Cobb, and the aforementioned Mays all have a better career OPS+ than Aaron. Before all is said and done Pujols and ARod will probably be added to that list.

One player who certainly is on that list now is Bonds, the best player of our generation. Even before the steroid suspicions, Bonds had a HOF worthy career, racking up three MVP's and an OPS+ consistently higher than Aaron's 155. Since 2001 (when the steroid suspicions arguably began), he has added four more MVP awards to his trophy case and OPS+'d over 200 in each of those campaigns.

Steroids may have actually had a negligible effect on Bonds's chase for the record. While steroids cause a short term burst in productivity, the body tends to break down after several years of use. As a result Bonds has totaled only 31 home runs over the last two years. Based on career averages he would have hit over 70 round trippers in that same time span, so while gaining production from 2000-2004, he lost production in 2005 and 2006 due to injuries most likely exacerbated by use. If you subtract his HR totals from 2000-2004 (51.5 HR/yr) from his mean performance from 1993- 1999 (38 HR/yr) Bonds gained 67 HR from steroid use. Based on his pre-steroid average he would have hit 41 more home runs from 2005-2006 (72 home runs- 31 home runs he actually hit in those two years), but I am not willing to give him all of those round trippers because the steroids obviously kept him healthy over a certain point in his career where most suffer at least the occasional ailment. So let's just throw out a number and say that at this point in his career Bonds has an extra 50 homers attributed to steroids. At the pace he is going he will probably hit at least another 25 dingers this year, thus cutting his steroid bounty in half. If he were to hit 25 next year, he would be sitting right where he is now and would only need 13 more in that following year to take the record- a very attainable goal. Also, it should be pointed out that for the first eight years of his career he played in a relatively dead ball period and that 1994 was a strike shortened year which further cut into to his career totals. Thus since he would likely have ended up passing the record without steroid use, the outrage towards the "tainted" record is moot. Of course, this argument does not hold much water if Bonds is still on steroids (a distinct possibility), but that brings me to my next point.

What is so wrong with baseball players using steroids? Players have cheated throughout history- doctoring baseballs, corking bats, steal signs. Steroid use is just the newest form of cheating, and it technically wasn't even cheating until recently! If steroid use really makes players hit and throw the ball harder, then I'm all for it. It would make for a better, more exciting product, which would ultimately help the game. Baseball want to put the best possible product out there. The decision to use performance enhancing drugs should be left up to the players. They should be able to choose whether they want a shorter career/life marked by high peaks or a longer/life career where they may make more money and a run at the Hall.

1 comment:

Jimer said...

Production or not, nobody wants to root for an a$$hole. The ability to consistently alienate everyone around him is what got Bonds in this position of antipathy just as much as juicing did.