Over the past three Aprils, Barry Bonds
hit .378 with a .593 on-base percentage and 18 homers (tied for his most in any month over that span). Based on those numbers it’s fair to say that Bonds isn’t exactly a slow starter.
So why is he hitting .188 with just one RBI and no homers through the first six games of the season?
Do you really have to ask?
As if the news couldn’t get any worse for Bonds, the word that a federal grand jury is investigating whether or not Bonds committed perjury when he testified before a grand jury in the 2003 BALCO case.
According to a few lawyers I talked to, as well as ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack, federal grand juries rarely convene unless they have the goods. Moreover, a charge like perjury to a federal grand jury usually means jail time.
The implications something like this could have are unprecedented. Buster Olney wrote that it could give MLB the impetus to separate itself from Bonds. According to Olney:
But a conviction of Bonds in a steroid-related matter would effectively provide Major League Baseball with the opportunity to distance itself from his accomplishments. And I think baseball will seize on that chance.
Say Bonds were to finish next season with 765 homers, breaking Aaron's record, and say, for example, that late in the year Bonds' lawyers arranged a plea bargain that kept him out of jail but provided a firm confirmation that he had, in fact, been untruthful about his alleged steroid use.
It would be too late for Major League Baseball to suspend Bonds' playing career. But nothing would prevent MLB from announcing that, as a matter of policy, it does not recognize Bonds as the all-time home run champion. Hank Aaron, Bud Selig could announce, is the official home run champion of Major League Baseball.
So why is Bonds hitting .188 with just one RBI and no homers through the first six games of the season?
It’s probably because his world is crumbling all around him.
About last night
Fans must have liked to see Chase Utley have a breakout game at the plate with a pair of home runs, as well as Ryan Howard pick up a couple of hits to lift his average to .355 despite the fact that the big slugger says he still doesn’t feel comfortable at the plate.
Nevertheless, who would have guessed that in a game where the Phillies smashed three home runs in the first inning off Braves’ pitcher Kyle Davies (did he throw anything but fastballs in that first inning?), that a leadoff walk to Bobby Abreu in the seventh inning would have been one of the biggest at-bats of the game?
During that plate appearance, Abreu forced reliever Lance Cormier to throw 11 pitches by fouling off five pitches with two strikes. Following the walk, Abreu advanced to third on Pat Burrell’s nine-pitch single to right before scoring what ended up to be the game-winning run on Utley’s sacrifice fly.
Who says Abreu isn’t clutch?
Meanwhile, notorious slow starter Jimmy Rollins is playing very well with a hit in eight of the nine games this season, including his 14th leadoff homer against the Braves last night.
However, if you think Rollins has overhauled his game, the numbers tell a different story.
His on-base percentage is a very hefty .415, which comes largely because he has a .395 batting average. In 40 plate appearances Rollins has walked twice and a season after he faced a team-low 3.42 pitches per at-bat, the shortstop has faced even fewer pitches per plate appearances this season at 2.88. Among the regulars, only Mike Lieberthal’s 2.82 pitches seen per at-bat is remotely near Rollins’ number.
Still, it’s hard to say anything bad about a guy who is hitting the ball. Because Rollins bats leadoff, opposing pitchers don’t want to start off by getting behind in the count. Rollins realizes he’s going to see something thrown across the plate and is using the knowledge to his advantage.
On a funny note, after Rollins stopped at second in the sixth inning when he could have tried for a two-out triple (it would have been close), Courier Post scribe Mike Radano sent me an IM that read: “He’s just trying to pad his doubles.”
Watching Ryan Franklin nearly cough up a four-run lead in last night’s Phillies victory, I started thinking about just how important good relief pitching is. It also solidified my own theory – at least I think so – about a team’s chances if it doesn’t have a good relief corps.
If I were building a baseball team from scratch, my first area of emphasis – after I got a bona fide ace starting pitcher (or two) – would be the relieving corps. For some reason, I always had it in my head that a good team was built from the back to the front. Meaning, the guys who were on the field at the end of the game were very, very important.
In recent memory, those great Yankees teams from the late ‘90s were built with an ironclad bullpen, and so were the Angels in 2002 and the Red Sox in 2004
Actually, I thought the Phillies of 2004 were going to be a bona fide contender because the bullpen appeared to be so strong. I even wrote as much.
Anyway, my eyes tend to gloss over when I read statistical-laden prose regarding baseball. I know all of that Baseball Prospectus stuff is great and informative, and sometimes even correct, but a lot of it puts me to sleep (though I try to read Will Carroll’s injury column every chance I get). So when I was looking for something to prove myself correct, I dug up something written by BP’s Rany Jazayerli and Keith Woolner from a story written on July 8, 1999. Based on the author’s research, it seems as if a good ballclub must have a strong ‘pen.
What we found was that teams with good bullpens actually won more games--about 1.3 more, on average--than would be expected from their totals of runs and runs allowed, while teams with bad bullpens won about 1.6 fewer games than expected. This is, we believe, the first time any study has pinpointed a subset of teams which routinely outperform or underperform their Pythagorean projection.
Unfortunately, I got a little sleepy when reading the entire story, but for those who have a subscription, it can be read here.