Keltner List: Barry Bonds (by Kevin Lee)

Here’s an easy one: who threw the ball when Sid slid?

Before this discussion, here’s Mac’s preamble for these lists:

The Keltner List was developed by Bill James as a device to evaluate a player’s Hall of Fame candidacy. In The Politics of Glory James says that it is probably his favorite tool to do that. (You can read about the background in that book, or do a Google search, for further information.)

In a year when one “no-brainer” will be elected (Griffey, Jr.) and one won’t (Bonds), I decided to ask why. The answer, of course, is that people will vote based on their opinions of these ballplayers. There’s no negative vote—they just don’t put a guy on their ballot. Amazingly, nine people didn’t vote for Hank Aaron! With that standard, how could “cheater” and a world-class ass hope to get in?

My argument is that without recognizing Bonds, there’s a huge whole in the story of baseball at the turn of the last century. And he could play as well as anybody who ever played. So I worked on a list.

  1. Was he ever regarded as the best player in baseball? Did anybody, while he was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in baseball?

    Besides Barry? From 1990 to 2004, he either was the MVP or was in the top five 12 times.

  2. Was he the best player on his team?

    Rick Rhoden was considered the best Pirate in 1986 when Bonds only won Rookie of the Year. In 1988, Andy Van Slyke got the nod. With a 6.4 WAR to Bonds’ 6.2 WAR. Barry was the best on every other team until double knee surgery in 2004 made him close to human.

  3. Was he the best player in baseball at his position? Was he the best player in the league at his position?

    He came up as a centerfielder, but they had Van Slyke, so Barry became the best Left fielder for the next ten years or so. No one seriously questioned his Gold Gloves. He could hit some, too.

  4. Did he have an impact on a number of pennant races?

    Yes, but not in ways Barry would want you to remember. His playoffs appearances were usually bad, often abysmal. In 2002, he looked good against us, did well against the Cardinals, and was magnificent in the World Series. Do you remember he was walked 13 times in that Series (7 intentional). He only hit 4 homers and 2 doubles when they did pitch to him. When they lost, I almost felt sorry for him! The next year he was back to his old ways.

  5. Was he a good enough player that he could continue to play regularly after passing his prime?

    Hard to define his prime, but if you use the two years after knee surgery (ages 41-42), he was still a valuable ballplayer. You know why he didn’t get a job, but Bonds filed a collusion suit and although it was thrown out, it made some people admit in public he could still play.

  6. Is he the very best player in baseball history who is not in the Hall of Fame?


  7. Are most players who have comparable career statistics in the Hall of Fame?


  8. Do the player’s numbers meet Hall of Fame standards?


  9. Is there any evidence to suggest that the player was significantly better or worse than is suggested by his statistics?

    I felt as if his defensive skills were undervalued, but I don’t have the acumen or understanding of defensive stats to prove this. Let me offer this instead: Chipper Jones will be known by his offensive excellence in many categories: Runs, hits, walks, RBIs, runs scored and we loved it. Bonds was the first to hit .300, with 100 RBI. 100 Runs Scored, and 50 stolen bases. He’s the only member of the 500-500 Club.

  10. Is he the best player at his position who is eligible for the Hall of Fame but not in?


  11. How many MVP-type seasons did he have? Did he ever win an MVP award? If not, how many times was he close?

    Mentioned above. And he was very happy when Torii Hunter robbed him of a home run in the 2002 game, although he tackled him in the infield.

  12. How many All-Star-type seasons did he have? How many All-Star games did he play in? Did most of the other players who played in this many go into the Hall of Fame?

    14 games, started most of them. The only other 14 gamers not in the HOF are Jeter and Alex and Ivan Rodriquez.

  13. If this man were the best player on his team, would it be likely that the team could win the pennant?

    Seven times he was the best player on teams that went into the playoffs.

  14. What impact did the player have on baseball history? Did he introduce any new equipment? Did he change the game in any way?

    We could talk about the Pirates’ two decades of futility after he left. If the best player in baseball wanted out of there, why should a prime free agent consider it? And his uncanny sense of the strike zone at the end. Most sluggers claim to look for a ball in a spot, but if you didn’t throw him a strike, he wouldn’t swing. Ever. He guessed wrong about 40 or 50 times year, but 232 walks! Unbelievable.

    No, it will be his use of steroids and their dramatic results that changed how we viewed him, and ultimately, his generation of ballplayers. In 1999, when he had an elbow injury that some traced to his beginning use of the drugs, he started the season late and finished 24th in MVP voting. Can you imagine Barry Bonds hearing that basically two dozen ballplayers were better? With all the love for McGuire and Sosa in his face?

  15. Did the player uphold the standards of sportsmanship and character that the Hall of Fame, in its written guidelines, instructs us to consider?

    Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

Here’s Tom Verducci, making the negative case. Maybe no one has made the negative case better.

He has a vote; I don’t. But we both love baseball. Tom’s description and acceptance of Bagwell made me feel an itch that goes back to Pete Rose. How do I describe a big chunk of baseball history and not recognize Rose? I didn’t like him, thought he was a cornball, but he was the guy who showed up every day and said “we’re gonna stick this game right up your wazoo!” And then usually did.

How do I tell a huge Reds fan named Gavin Lambert, (2b-SS for 9 year old Knightstown, IN travelling team) (my grandson) who Charlie Hustle was and why determination means as much as size in baseball?

Bonds? He made me and a whole stadium laugh. I saw him face the Reds in 2004. In his first AB, the second pitch was a called strike. He flashed that big smile and signaled the ball was “up here”, near his cap. Everybody laughed, even the ump. Because we knew at that point if it had been a strike, Barry would’ve hit it. A single through the box that would’ve undressed Charlie Brown seemed to confirm it.

The point’s been made. No b.s. Let him in.

32 thoughts on “Keltner List: Barry Bonds (by Kevin Lee)”

  1. Bonds and ARod were both the best players in the game even without the drugs. I don’t think there is any dispute to that. The only thing in question is whether they should get the Pete Rose treatment.

  2. #9 is an interesting question because there *is* evidence that Bonds was “worse” than his statistics suggest (for given values of “worse.”) At least when looking at statistics like 73 HR in a season, or 762 HR in a career, or any other statistic you want to dispute, there is evidence that he was not naturally *that* good.

    Was he *significantly* worse than those statistics? And even if he were significantly worse than his statistics, his statistics would still be pretty great.

  3. I think there is a difference between recognizing and honoring. All these players will remain in the record books, but I don’t think we need to build them a shrine.

  4. It comes down to sports writers making a point by sticking it to a certain, incomplete group of cheaters. It’s dumb. Put him in with a whole big exhibit about how much of a cheater he was and how it irreparably damaged the game. Be as sanctimonious as you want. But have something.

    Same thing with Rose, IMO.

  5. What I hated most about Bonds wasn’t Bonds himself, but the anticompetitive fervor that befell opposing managers regarding pitching to him. The walk totals weren’t earned, they were bequeathed, and that to me was the real embarrassment to the game, as opposed to all the sanctimonious moralizing about steroids.

  6. From MLBTR:

    The Braves face plenty of uncertainty in their bullpen and will likely pursue relief help this offseason, writes’s Mark Bowman. Arodys Vizcaino will pitch in the late innings, and Chris Withrow (elbow) will likely be ready as well. But Jason Grilli and Shae Simmons are both making their back from injury and will be question marks, while Mike Foltynewicz could wind up in the rotation. That means the Braves could be in the market for righties like Joakim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Tyler Clippard and Darren O’Day, along with lefties like Tony Sipp.

    I really hope we don’t throw a ton of money at the bullpen. If it comes down to it, I’d rather put Folty in the pen and add a starter than roll the dice with Folty and add a reliever. There are enough pieces of spaghetti to throw at the bullpen wall to have to go out and spend more than $3-4M on the pen.

  7. Honestly, there’s no reason to spend money on anything other than young players who are going to be here for a while. I’d rather they fess up and keep their powder dry for long term high value fa’s or overslot/international signings. I wouldn’t mind the 90+ loss season if it came with a clear commitment that the club was going to spend on real or potential stars and not throwing money at stopgaps to appear competitive, if in fact the budget is as limited as advertised.

  8. @9

    I’ve been thinking all of those things you’ve said for a while now, but then I look at Kansas City. I can’t help but see that there is some similarities in the roster construction of Kansas City and Atlanta.

    -Almost no home run power (KC is 24th in homers) but plenty of slugging (11th in baseball in slugging)
    -Lots of on base percentage (6 regulars with OBPs above .350)
    -Lowest strike out rate in baseball (best in baseball, 150 less strike outs than the next team, which is us)
    -Shut down bullpen
    -Deep rotation but no ace
    No stars

    I just can’t help but look at their team and think that the Braves can mirror that style with the majority of the pieces in the system. It’d be nice to land a couple big FAs, but let’s fix the gunshot holes on the team, and we have a chance. Get some power in the outfield, even if it means trading Markakis, Maybin, and/or Bourn, and fix the freaking bullpen. One would assume that a full season of having Swisher will help a little, but we were far and away the worst slugging team in baseball, and there are just too many positions locked into no power. You can’t have SS, 2B, RF, CF, and half of your LF platoon producing zero power. That’s where the Braves will have to make some difficult decisions. I don’t know if there’s a “star” out there that solves enough of the Braves’ problems to justify spending 3/4 of the available FA money on him.

  9. They believe that Olivera and Freeman will be the power. They have spent a fair amount on both, and I don’t think we have enough information to say they’re wrong.

  10. Freeman has adequate power for a first baseman. Olivera projects (I think) to have adequate power for a 3B. Even if Olivera meets expectations, that’s not a duo who can make up for deficient power throughout the rest of the lineup. We’re not exactly talking about Stanton and Donaldson.

  11. @12

    Exactly. The front office probably thinks they’ll provide power, not the power.

    I think a big component of all this is that you can have a Markakis, a Maybin, a Simmons, or a Bourn on your team; you can’t have them all.

  12. I’d miss neither Maybin nor Bourn. I like Markakis, but I wouldn’t mourn his trade; but please, let’s keep Andrelton.

  13. We don’t have the pitching yet. We can win with a defense-first no-power lineup, but you have to have awesome pitching. It seems like everyone on the Royals and Mets throws 95-plus. We have a couple of live arms but the gap between us and those two staffs is as wide as the grand canyon.

  14. ERAs of the 6 Royals starters who logged the most innings:


    I know this doesn’t fit in with your “the Atlanta Braves can’t do anything right” narrative, but hopefully it helps. Now the Mets? Different story all together.

  15. And Rob Cope, that includes or is adjusted for being backed by a better defense than Los Bravos, overall.

  16. It’s easier to become the Royals than it is to become, say, the Dodgers, but I don’t look at the Braves and say we’re close to being the Royals. Our system is lacking position players who have reasonable power, great contact skills, and stellar defense all in one package. I guess we could trade some pitching prospects for that type of player, but that has yet to happen.

    The funny thing is, Heyward is essentially a Royals player. How much he’ll make will show that it’s getting harder to acquire players that, say, the arbitration process is unlikely to value highly.

    ERA caveat: the Royals have to face a DH instead of a pitcher.

  17. @18

    Right, if I’m Dayton Moore and I win the World Series, I’m staying in on Heyward unless/until the money gets absolutely stupid. That’s a big outfield, and Alex Gordon is on the wrong side of 30 now.

  18. A thought on Mike minor.

    Rules say he can’t be tendered below 4.5 mill. this year was 5.6. IF he had had a good (not great) year this year, we would be looking at 7, maybe. But, nobody KNOWS if he will ever be good enough to be a 4th starter at ML level.

    Proposal. Offer Minor 4.5 with a player option for 2 or 2.5. That way, if he is “done” he gets as much as the maximum arb. If he is better, then he has a shot at arb again. Upside to Braves on guaranteeing that much is that IF he is at least decent, then they have another arb and then if he is better than decent, another arb and a shot at a pick by making a qualifying offer.

  19. @23

    Don’t sell yourself so short.


    I’m not sure I’d consider Olivera a prospect, and it does call into question how the Cuban players should be considered when they come over. At the same time, and I’m not particularly sure how prospect criteria is determined from site to site, but Folty and Wisler each have about 100 IP in the big leagues. Could one argue that these guys are prospects?

    I’m also wondering why Manny Banuelos isn’t on their list. He’s only 24, has pitched very few big league innings, and still has plenty of potential. Maybe he qualifies for their list but simply didn’t make the top 10. At the end of the day, these lists are just something for fans to read, and I doubt they’re truly representative of how each organization feels about their internal talent.

    As for the lack of power issue, I’m really coming around on Matt Weiters. Health is an issue, but if he can stay healthy, there’s really not much of a difference between him and Brian McCann. Boy, would our team look a whole lot different with a lineup of:

    Mallex Smith
    Nick Markakis
    Freddie Freeman
    Alex Gordon
    Hector Olivera
    Matt Weiters
    Andrelton Simmons
    Jace Peterson

    Trade Maybin, Swisher, and Bourn for whatever you can get, and use the savings for a couple 4th/5th startiers. Sign reclaims and throw two dozen options at the bullpen and see what sticks. Hope Teheran rebounds. Boom, .500+ team overnight. Borderline playoff contender.

    Sign me up, Coppy! I’ll fix it!

  20. How much different would our bullpen have looked last year if Vizcaino and McKirahan don’t get suspended and Simmons doesn’t get hurt? Not making excuses, just pontificating on how a few suspensions or injuries can change the bullpen outlook. A bullpen of Grilli, Johnson, Avilan, Vizcaino, Simmons, McKirahan, and whoever to start the season last year could have been pretty effective.

  21. @28, Way to sneak Gordon into that line-up using the Wieters enthusiasm as misdirection…

    But I am indeed an ignoramus. Proof? @all, yep that’s not Dustin Petersen at all. It’s DJ. We should trade for him.

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