A Season for the Ages

Barry Bonds terrorized major league pitchers and managers in 2004. The proof: He walked 232 times — 120 of which were intentional. Both numbers are single-season records, which, to this point, no one has come close to touching. Needless to say, Bonds’ 2004 was a pretty unique year.

Certainly, Bonds was no stranger to walks during his career. His 120 IBBs in 2004 nearly doubled the old record (68) — which Bonds also had. If you look at single-season leaders in IBBs, Bonds’ name appears six times in the top 10. While Bonds received a lot of intentional walks throughout his career, his 2004 took things to the extreme.

Bonds’ 2004 was so unique that we, as fans, were unlikely to ever see a season like that again. For various reasons, the use of the intentional walk has seen a large decline since Bonds was racking them up in the mid-2000s. While there was certainly research that cautioned against using the intentional walk that was readily available at the time, that research has been more circulated and trusted today. There’s also been a change in front office thinking over that time period.

General Managers are now almost required to have some grasp of sabermetric principles and hire their coaching staffs accordingly. Progressive managers, who are willing to embrace new ideas and not just accept the status-quo are being put in charge of teams now. The entire baseball landscape has changed, and it’s taken the intentional walk to the grave.

Since 2006, walks have steadily declined across the league. While a drop from 1,406 to 1,216 over the course over five seasons may not seem like all that much, a look at the average number of intentional walks reveals a drop from .29 to .25 — which is a significant decline. If this season is any indication, the intentional walk should remain steady once again.

Due to that decline, no current player receives nearly the amount of respect Bonds received in 2004. Even last season — when Jose Bautista was hitting at a “Bondsian” level — he only received two intentional walks the entire season. While managers have shown Bautista more respect this season, he’s still only on pace for 19 intentional walks. Albert Pujols has had more success with intentional walks over the past few seasons — that’s what being the best hitter during the 2000s will do for you — but even he fails to come anywhere near Bonds’ ridiculous 2004. The game has changed and managers have adjusted accordingly.

Barry Bonds posted one of the most unique seasons of all time in 2004. The fear and intimidation he instilled in managers around the league may never be replicated. In 162 regular season games, Barry Bonds was handed 120 intentional base on balls; a truly staggering number. No player has ever come close to reaching those heights, and it’s nearly impossible to predict another player who can come along and duplicate the feat. Today, even the best hitters in baseball don’t receive the respect managers gave Bonds in 2004. What we have here is truly one of the most bizarre seasons in baseball history; one that we — as fans — will likely never experience again.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

62 Responses to “A Season for the Ages”

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  1. Tom says:

    Let’s just label it a “drug induced haze” and forget about it.

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  2. bill says:

    Nobody else had an .800 slugging percentage either.

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  3. Mr. wOBAto says:

    There really aren’t words to describe how transcendent Bonds was. Remember the discussion here about Konerko and his possible HOF candacy? Bonds nearly equalled Konerko’s career WAR in just 01-02, the man twice slugged over .800(there are 7 qualified LF in all MLB with an OPS over .800{including Mike Morse who is really a 1B}) a .400 OBP is elite(there are 8 qualified hitters this year with a .400 OBP) Bonds had a .600 OBP in 04 in a string of 4 consecutive seasons with a .500+OBP while playing in a premier pitchers park.

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  4. Cosx says:

    I can’t find the stat to confirm it, but I believe for much of ’04 Bonds had more home runs than swinging strikes.

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    • Mr. wOBAto says:

      His Mar/April line of .472/.696/1.132 line isn’t even human

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    • duncanbishop1 says:

      I tried to find this for you. Says he had 981 strikes against him, and his SwStr% was 4.0%, so 981*.04=39.24 swings and misses. 45 HR is clearly more than 39-40 missed swings.

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      • mattinm says:

        I thought swinging strike percentage was the percentage of swings that resulted in strikes, not the percentage of strikes that were of the swinging variety.

        The former would assess a players ability to hit the ball while swinging (which I’m assuming is what we’re after) while the latter would really penalize “count-workers” like Youkilis who either don’t swing until late in the count and overvalue “free-swingers” who don’t rack up as many non-swinging strikes.

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      • Aaron W. says:

        That is effing ridiculous.

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      • Phillie697 says:

        “I thought swinging strike percentage was the percentage of swings that resulted in strikes, not the percentage of strikes that were of the swinging variety.”

        Can you please point to something in baseball where a swing does NOT result in a strike. I mean, I’m assuming you are still talking about baseball right?

        Foul ball, batted ball in play, swing-and-miss… They all result in strikes. I’m assuming the total number of strikes against him includes all foul balls, even those in x-2 counts, but I could be wrong.

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  5. Neal says:

    Not to mention the number of intentional HPBs Bonds accumulated in that time.

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  6. CircleChange11 says:

    Stating that intentional walks have declined due to an increased trust in sabermetric research and it’s increased circulation is hard to take seriously. They’ve decreased because home runs and offense are reduced. Pick your reason as to why, but it’s likely NOT due to the increased acceptance of sabermetrics.

    Miguel cabrera, a greta hitter with little to no protection, still gets IBB’d a bunch, and it doesn;t really help the Tigers. While not to the extreme level of Bonds, it still happens.

    Just removing the offense of Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire, is going to lead to reduced offense, walks, home runs, etc leaguewide. Those guys slant the data pretty well.

    Joey bats is on pace to IBB 30 times, which is more than any of McGwire’s season highs, and Sosa only IBB’d more during 1 season.

    What we’re seeing is the death of the mega power hitters, and I think we can reasonably assume why that is.

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    • Jeff says:

      This so much. Joe Maddon in particular was absolutely terrified of Cabrera last year and intentionally walked him at almost every opportunity during their late season series in Tampa where Miggy was being protected by the immortal Second Half Boesch. Maddon is almost universally considered one of the most progressive managers in the game, so your argument about progressive/sabr managers never using the IBB doesn’t really hold water.

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    • Rob says:

      I agree 100% that this interpretation isn’t very reliable. But I disagree that it’s due to the death of the “power hitter”.

      I think what’s being observed is just an aberration. Bonds 2004 was a unique season in just about every way. Managers feared him, so they didn’t pitch to him. It was insane how he was treated. You simply can’t look at that season and draw any league wide conclusions of this variety – because there are no other players who are looked at in this way.

      I’m convinced that, as great as Bonds was, little can reliably be drawn from those numbers. He, essentially, played a third of a season due to walks. And the other two thirds, he was so heavily pitched around that he could essentially sit back and choose which pitches he wanted.

      Anyway. IBB in the AL have remained fairly constant. IBB in the NL have seen some fluctuation – but Pujols has been given free passes at an historic rate. The fifth most IBB, all time, in a single season were handed out to Pujols in 2009. This is a sign that the walk has issued a drastic shift in management thinking?

      I don’t think so.

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    • Garrett says:

      “Those guys slant the data”. What a naive and unproven comment.

      Lets remove Pujols. He slanting the data too.

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  7. DHolc says:

    I miss Barry Lamar Bonds.

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  8. Bryan says:

    Interesting article. Have you looked at the strength of the lineups around the players you mention? Off the top of my head it seems like Bonds was the only decent hitter in those lineups while guys like Pujols have always had other good hitters around them. The idea of an IBB to Pujols to pitch to Holliday and Rasmus with a runner on is a lot worse than walking Bonds to face Edgardo Alfonzo and Marquis Grissom with a runner on – it is almost like Bonds hit 8th all year in the NL where even bad 8-hole hitters often get an IBB so that it is possible to pitch to the pitcher. Also, Bonds last season was in 2007, so if you want to look at the Bonds-free drop in IBBs the decline from 2006-2010 is smaller when Bonds 2 seasons of 38 (2006) and 43 IBBs (2007) are removed (though it still exists).

    I don’t like to play grammar police (sorry for what follows) but 3 times in one article was too much – “Pretty unique,” “so unique,” and “most unique” do not exist. To be unique is to be one of a kind and something can’t be more one of a kind than something else – it is unique or it isn’t.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Pujols’s IBBs actually went UP after acquiring Holliday.

      Previously the cleanup spot was held by the combination of Ludwick/Duncan/Ankiel.

      Pujols IBB’s more times in 2009-10 than during any 2 seasons of his career.

      This year, Albert is rarely being IBB’d.

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  9. Tiger says:

    Maybe the proverbial “Unintentional Intentional Base on Balls” or “Strategic Base on Balls” should become a new stat.

    Having seen most of Bautista’s plate appearances this season, I would say that
    he has had many more of those than IBB’s. Dunno about Phat Albert.

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  10. Feeding the Abscess says:

    And to think, he injured his knee in the last week of the season and ended with a major thud (ended up missing nearly all of 2005 with the injury), ending 1 for his last 13 with no HR or RBI. Had a .613 OBP and .834 SLG at the time it happened.

    Gotta love the 1.607 OPS at home that year, too.

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  11. buddy says:

    It really sucks that Bonds was blackballed from the league after the 2007 season. He led the majors in OBP in 2006-07!

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    • Mr. wOBAto says:

      I think if the Rays were really into the 2% thing they would have given Bonds a 3 year deal

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    • jim says:

      conspiracy much?

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      • Ryan says:

        Bonds came off 2007 hitting: .276/.488/.565 (27.7% BB rate, 11.3% K rate) over nearly 500 plate appearances and offered to play the 2008 season for the veteran minimum of $390,000.

        He was not offered a contract.

        Is it more likely that there wasn’t a team in the league who thought a guy coming off a 157 wRC+ season couldn’t help them at basically zero cost, or that he was expelled from the sport by order of the commissioner?

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  12. Will says:

    His career iso his higher than his career babip.

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  13. Sam says:

    In the future when robots, aliens, cyborgs and mutants are allowed to play in our leagues thhen and only then will Bonds be allowed into the HOF

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Hate him or not, think he cheated or not, in the end, all those other cheaters didn’t do what he did. You can’t deny the man’s talent.

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  14. Jason says:

    Bonds really did seem to be playing slow pitch softball. ….Buck Showalter IBBed him with the bases loaded! Ultimate respect.

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  15. TheGrandSlamwich says:

    I’m no fan of Bonds, but the way he was able to keep his hands in on an inside fastball and manage to keep fair was always an impressive sight to see.

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  16. Bryan says:

    While I know pitchers often pitched around Bonds and also IBB’d him, I always remember that when I watched him bat during the seasons we are talking about there seemed to be a lot of pitches that looked like strikes that were called balls. I remember thinking at the time that the umps were almost letting Bonds call his own pitches – swing and it is a strike, don’t swing and it is a ball (which would have obvious ramifications on the location of the pitches he would have to be thrown if a swing was to be expected). My impression is probably errant, but does anyone know if anyone has ever measured relative strike-zone size between players for called strikes using pitch location data?

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    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      You also have to remember that he stood right on top of the plate, which made pitches over the inner half look inside and pitches outside the strike zone look like strikes.

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  17. Eminor3rd says:

    It needs to be taken into consideration that Bonds never had any other good hitters on his team, either.

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    • Nick says:

      Jeff Kent? That’s just one name that comes to mind.

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    • Nick says:

      Kent was on the Giants from 1997-2002, and posted over 22 HR, 101 RBI, and a wRC+ of 105 or better each year. And his wRC+ was clearly an outlier–second lowest was 122 with the giants. Posted numbers as high as 37 HR, 125 RBI, and 156 wRC+.

      Rich Aurilia posted 20 WAR from ’98 to ’03 playing with Bonds. Hit 116 HR, was above average at the plate (105 wRC+)

      Both of those players were superb at times, and Kent especially was quality with the bat. So you’re wrong.

      One more fringe name was J.T. Snow, who wasn’t particularly adept with the bat but sometimes shined. 2004: 153 wRC+, .327 BA, .202 ISO. 1997: 134 wRC+, .230 ISO, 15.1% BB%, 28 HR, 104 RBI. From ’97-’04, he was above average per wRC+ all but two years, and the two years I singled out, he was far and way above average with the bat.

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  18. Mike R. says:

    If only I could have appreciated Bonds rather than being caught up in all of the drug crap.

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  19. Patricio says:

    This article had potential, but presented far too little information…and it was very repetitive. I feel as though you reiterated that triple digit IBBs would never be accomplished again, at least 10 times.

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  20. Ian R. says:

    One of my favorite stats of all time: Bonds’ 120 intentional walks would have been enough, by themselves, to lead the American League in total walks that year. In fact, he’d have a 35-walk advantage over the actual leader, Eric Chavez.

    Not only that, but those 120 BBs would have led either league in any season since, except for 2007 (Bonds himself led the NL with 132 – no one else was over 120) and 2008 (Adam Dunn led the NL with 122). Barry was just handed a number of walks that only one other player has been able to replicate since. Unbelievable.

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  21. Aaron W. says:

    Barry Bonds:walks::Babe Ruth:HR

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  22. JP says:

    C’mon, Fangraphs. “Unique” means one of a kind, not rare or unusual. Either something is unique, or it’s not. There are no degrees of uniqueness. A season cannot be “pretty unique.”

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  23. marcello says:

    “Since 2006, walks have steadily declined across the league. While a drop from 1,406 to 1,216 over the course over five seasons may not seem like all that much, a look at the average number of intentional walks reveals a drop from .29 to .25 — which is a significant decline.”

    FWIW, these are nearly identical percentage drops, both around 13.5%.

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  24. Hurtlocker says:

    It’s simply amazing that a player can be walked that many times intentionally and still hit .362 when they pitch to you.

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    • Phillie697 says:

      Why would that matter? Are you saying IBBs make a hitter bored to the point that he stops trying to hit when he is pitched to?

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  25. Cuban X Senators says:

    Ok, yeah, the IBB is/was over-used, but when one decides to employ it one should make that decision not just on the batter (& how feared one is of him), but on who follows him in the lineup. Those Giants teams had the best hitter in 75 years followed by league-average at best. Both of those facts deserve the credit for Bonds’ IBB totals.

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  26. Garrett says:

    “Most unique”. Sweet editor.

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  27. MrKnowNothing says:

    I don’t care if a Manager spent his entire life reading nothing but Bill James – he was gonna walk Bonds.

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  28. Michael F says:

    This is the most uniquest article ever, like a snowflake falling in a pretty unique way.

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  29. shthar says:

    Gee, I wonder what the rest of the giants lineup was like that year.

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