Barry Bonds and the Hall of Fame: A Thought Experiment

I’m sure you’re familiar with the “Case For The Hall” series that I have posted here periodically. Since joining the M-SABR team, I have profiled Edgar Martinez and Billy Wagner, and more cases will be coming in the future, of that I am certain.

This post is not that. I think Bonds’ case for the Hall of Fame is pretty straightforward; he’s one of the greatest players to ever play the game and his career is tainted by steroids. If you, as a voter, can overlook the steroid use, let him in. If that’s a dealbreaker, don’t. If you think that his stats prior to his steroid use (which purportedly began sometime between the start of 1998 and 2000) would have gotten him in regardless, vote him in. If you don’t, then perhaps you shouldn’t.

My point here is this: Bonds is either a surefire Hall of Famer for you or he isn’t. If he is, it’s because he is the Home Run King or would have been in without the ‘roids, and if he’s not, it’s most likely because of the ‘roids. I’m not here to convince you one way or the other. This article is not going to serve that purpose. But it is going to be a Barry Bonds Hall of Fame thought experiment.

The question is a simple one. Given that the following three conditions are met:

  1. The ten-year minimum for a player to be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot is waived.
  2. Barry Bonds’ only played his 2001-2004 seasons (it is as if none of his other seasons even existed).
  3. There is no knowledge or speculation of Bonds’ performance during these four seasons (i.e. we’re just evaluating the numbers for what they are irrespective of his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs).

Would Barry Bonds make the Hall of Fame?

Yes, it’s a little bit of a silly question, but a fun one nonetheless. Let’s dive in.

First, there are some titles that Bonds loses. He is no longer the career HR leader. He is no longer the career walks or intentional walks leader. He can say goodbye to all eight of his Gold Gloves, eight of his Silver Slugger titles, and three of his seven MVP awards.

Subtracting Bonds’ 2001-2004 seasons, these are his career numbers (in other words, what he loses):

2413 G, 10163 PA, 8205 AB, 1741 R, 2362 H, 553 HR, 1558 RBI, 479 SB, 1803 BB, 1300 SO, .288/.417/.566 triple-slash (AVG/OBP/SLG), 404 IBB, 119.3 rWAR, 117.9 fWAR.

So he’s still easily a Hall of Famer, even without his four video game seasons. Just to give you an idea of how dominant he was, even without his four best seasons, here are his career ranks all-time (I’m assuming that Barry Bonds with 2001-2004 still included is still a player at the top of the HR, walk, etc. lists):

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 1.59.46 AM

Sans 2001-2004 Bonds would also be in the top-50 all-time in a handful of other stats. In short: he was still a monster without his best four seasons. Shocked? Me neither.

Again, though, that’s not what I’m here to prove. I’m here to see whether Barry Bonds, in his four seasons from 2001-2004, would have been a Hall of Famer based on those numbers alone. So without further ado, his stats from those four years, courtesy of Baseball Reference:

Screen Shot 2018-04-20 at 2.05.11 AM.png

Two stat totals that aren’t included there: his 43.4 rWAR, 47.3 fWAR, 4 MVPs, 4 Silver Sluggers, and 4 All-Star appearances. The awards really shouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of his Hall of Fame case, but I figured I’d include them because some people like to factor those in.

Right off the bat, I notice a few things. 2001-2004 Bonds (I’ll just call him “juiced Bonds” for future reference) has an intentional walk total of 284 that would rank fourth all-time. Aside from the intentional walks, however, none of the other counting stats jump off the page. The rate stats are a different story.

Juiced Bonds is the all-time leader in career OBP, SLG, and OPS by a longshot (nearly 80 points in OBP, well over 100 points in OBP, and a hair over 200 points in OPS). He’s 4th in all-time batting average but that includes dead-ball era guys; without the dead-ball guys, he’s also first by a longshot. His OPS+ of 256 would rank eons ahead of Babe Ruth’s 206. The 50-point OPS+ gap between Juiced Bonds and Ruth is equal to the gap between Ruth’s 206 and 20th-place Frank Thomas’ 156.

So the ratios would make him a shoo-in. The craziest part about Juiced Bonds’ statline, though, is not the ratios, in my opinion. It’s the fact that over four seasons, Juiced Bonds posted counting stats that could actually compete with the entire careers of other MLB players.

For starters, his 43.4 rWAR over those four years would rank 424th all-time, which is not all that impressive on its own. However, consider that the rWAR compiled over those four seasons alone would put Juiced Bonds in the top 3% of baseball players to ever play the game. 43.4 rWAR would be a rather lackluster total for a modern-day Hall of Fame entrant, but it would still rank ahead of notable names such as Phil Rizzuto, Hack Wilson, and Bill Mazeroski.

Juiced Bonds’ home run total could hang with the big boys, too. The average Hall of Famer, according to Baseball Reference, has 223 career homers. Juiced Bonds had 209 in four seasons. That would put him 70th among all players enshrined in Cooperstown, ahead of Kirby Puckett, Bill Dickey, and Charlie Gehringer, among others. And remember, Juiced Bonds did this in four seasons. Absolutely ridiculous.

Let us not forget that Juiced Bonds would also have a handful of single-season records. In addition to his single-season record 73 HR in 2001, he would also have the top three slots for single-season walks (232, 198, and 177 in 2004, 2002, and 2001, respectively). He would have the top three single-season marks for intentional walks (120, 68, and 61 in 2004, 2002, and 2003, respectively). He would have the two highest marks in OBP in a single season at .609 and .5817 in 2004 and 2002. His OPS+ of 268 in 2002 would be the highest single-season mark of all-time, trailed closely by his 263 OPS+ from 2004 and 259 mark from 2001.

The madness doesn’t stop there. Juiced Bonds would also have the single-season record for SLG (.863 in 2001), OPS (1.421 in 2004), and offensive rWAR (12.4 in 2001). The best part of all of this is that Juiced Bonds was 36 in 2001; 2001-2004 were his age 36-39 seasons.

I think all this says that Juiced Bonds would be a lock for the Hall of Fame, assuming that the voters ignore the ten seasons rule. He would probably be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, too, because he wouldn’t be plagued by the steroid problems that have kept real Bonds out of the Hall thus far.

The bottom line is this: if steroids are enough to keep someone out of the Hall of Fame, Bonds certainly does not deserve to be in. But if we’re going on numbers alone, Juiced Bonds is one of the greatest of all-time, so Bonds’ entire 22-year career is really just something to marvel at.

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1 reply

  1. I’ve been watching baseball for 50 years- Bonds is the greatest player I’ve ever seen. I am not a fan of his- actually I don’t like him and he played for my Pirates. But no one is close to him that I have seen in their prime.

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