Should Josh Hamilton Get the Barry Bonds Treatment?

Josh Hamilton had an awesome 2010 at the plate, hitting .359/.411/.633 for a .447 wOBA, and he put on quite a show in the ALCS, too. This has prompted the suggestion that the Giants should give Hamilton the ‘Barry Bonds Treatment’ in the World Series, simply walking Hamilton every time he’s up. Anyone who has watched Hamilton hammer the ball can relate to this sentiment, at least on a visceral level. The Yankees certainly came close to giving Hamilton the Bonds Treatment in the ALCS, and that obviously didn’t work out too well for them. At the risking of beating another sabermetric shibboleth into the ground, let’s take a look at the numbers.

The place to start is to figure out how good Hamilton probably is. He had a .447 wOBA this season, but that isn’t the whole story. CHONE’s August 23 update estimates Hamilton’s true hitting talent in context at .386 wOBA (my conversion from the projected line). When we’re looking at intentional walks, we need to compare that to the hitters who typically hit after him: Vladimir Guerrero is at .364, Nelson Cruz is at .376, and Ian Kinsler is at .357. No surprise here: Hamilton is clearly the best hitter of the group.

Just because he’s the best hitter that doesn’t necessarily mean he should be walked in every situation. For a good summary of reasons why, read MGL’s discussion here. His basic advice:

My recommendation to any manager would simply be to never worry about walking anyone intentionally, at least in the early and middle innings. Pitch to everyone. One, except perhaps in rare, ideal situations, you are probably reducing your team’s chances of winning. Two, it is not worth the time and effort, and perhaps a little stomach acid and a few extra gray hairs worrying about it.

That’s probably the best rule to go by, and definitely better than much of the decision-making we’ve seen. But let’s get into a bit more detail for Hamilton’s case. The Book goes into great detail regarding the iBB; the idea is that given a particular game/out/base stat, the hitter at the plate’s expected wOBA versus the pitcher needs to be a certain higher proportion than the following hitter(s) in order for an intentional walk to be the right move. For the sake of space, for the most part I won’t do detailed analyses of individual Giants pitcher splits or other Rangers hitters other than Guerrero (whose projected numbers are the most relevant, and aren’t all that much better or worse than Cruz’s or Kinsler’s).

While Hamilton has hit everyone well this year, like many good hitters, he has a pretty big platoon split. Given his projected wOBA of .386, I estimate his platoon skill as .400 wOBA versus RHP and .355 vs. LHP. That’s decent vs. LHP, but hardly intentional walk territory, especially given that Guerrero’s estimated wOBA skill vs. LHP is .382! So neither Jonathan Sanchez nor Madison Bumgarner, both southpaws, should ever walk Hamilton to get to Vlad. When the later innings come around and the starters are out of the game, the Giants should bring in Javier Lopez to face Hamilton in crucial situations.

That takes care of many situations, but what about against right-handed starters Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain? Neither has a terribly big split, but we’d expect them to have less success against lefty hitters than against righties. Here we need to look at the ratio: Hamilton’s expected .400 wOBA is about 1.12 times Vlad’s expected .358 vs. RHP. When does the big chart in the Book say that calls for a walk? In the bottom of the seventh, runners on second and third, one out, and the pitching team down by five; in the top of he eighth runners on second and third, out, and the pitching team down by five; in the bottom of the eighth, runners on second and third, one out, and the game tied or the pitching team is behind; and the top of the ninth, runners on second and third, one out, and the game is tied or the pitching team is behind. That’s it, and since those are all relatively late game situations, the Giants will often be able to bring in a left-handed reliever to face him.

Of course, if you think Hamilton is better than a .400 wOBA hitter versus righties, it changes things. If Hamilton is a .430 wOBA true talent hitter versus RHP, the ratio of that to Vlad’s .358 is about 1.20. But even though the situations where an intentional walk is called for increases, most of them are still in the latter innings with the pitching team behind, one out, and runners on second and third. Again, in many of those situations the Giants probably should be able to bring in Javier Lopez to pitch to Hamilton.

Josh Hamilton is clearly the Rangers’ biggest threat at the plate, and there are some situations when an intentional walk would be the right move. But for most game states, or with a lefty on the mound or available to come in, the Giants shouldn’t give him the Barry Bonds Treatment.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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ev
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ev
5 years 8 months ago

Hey… you are a pitcher; you pitch to him. That’s your job and you don’t knuckle under.

Ken
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Ken
5 years 8 months ago

I’ll admit that I haven’t watched the Rangers this postseason. However, I’ve heard that the Rays had quite the success against Hamilton pitching him low and away with soft stuff, particularly with Price. This seems to play into Lincecum’s strength with his best pitch being the split/change. Cain will likely have more trouble seeing as he’s more of a fastball pitcher and plays up in the zone.

Gopherballs
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Gopherballs
5 years 8 months ago

The Giants have not intentionally walked Josh Hamilton all year. You would be crazy to start doing something now that you did not do while getting through the regular season, the NL playoffs, and into the World Series. You can’t change it up this deep.

fredsbank
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fredsbank
5 years 8 months ago

how could they have intentionally walked josh hamilton all year, when they didnt play the rangers all year…?

B N
Guest
B N
5 years 8 months ago

Interesting to read, if a bit self evident. It’s not like Hamilton is any better than many of the other great hitters in any given year, so he’s not likely to need intentional walking. Heck, people aren’t walking Pujols with regularity and I’d take Pujols over Hamilton.

The more interesting question is… should Barry Bonds have gotten the Barry Bonds treatment? At it’s face from this analysis the answer would seem to be no, usually. However, given that Barry was so much better than the surrounding lineup hitting during 2004 (when he was walked all the time, basically). How often should one walk a guy who slugs 0.812? Probably less than 100 times intentionally, I’d hope, but maybe not.

Wally
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Wally
5 years 8 months ago

During his peak, Bonds was basically a .500 wOBA hitter, with very little platoon split (+/- .010ish? that’s a rounding a error for him). So, I’ll ignore the platoon split.

In 2004 Bonds generally had Feliz or Snow batting behind him. Feliz’s true talent wOBA was probably around .320 circa 2004 and also had little platoon split. Now Snow had a pretty good year in 2004, with a .416 wOBA. However that was fueled by a .365 (career around .300) and a 10.7% HR/FB rate (nothing else over 7 since we’ve been keeping track). So lets say he’s a .350 hitter, which I think would be a little generous. As for a platoon split, Snow has about a +/- .010 split, same as bonds. So that’s basically irrelevent.

So if Snow is batting 5th, the ratio is about 1.43, and if its Feliz, its 1.56. Given those kinds of ratios, you’re basically clear to walk him when ever you want, so long as you’re not up by more than one run early. And you probably don’t want to walk him with no one out. Though even in those situations it probably isn’t too bad.

Lawl
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Lawl
5 years 8 months ago

Nah, we got this shit.

MikeS
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MikeS
5 years 8 months ago

Hey, Hamilton’s no saint but I don’t know why you’d throw him to a grand jury?

Oh. You mean walking him.

Crumpled Stiltskin
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Crumpled Stiltskin
5 years 8 months ago

The Barry Bonds treatment (in the world series) ended up working for the Angels because Bonds’s teammates weren’t very good and didn’t come through, but I’d bet if employed over a whole season, it would have pretty terrible outcomes.

Walking a guy is not just about the guy behind him or putting a guy on base, or the current inning. It’s about turning the line-up over, and Bonds and Hamilton hit high enough in the order, that’s four extra at bats your giving over the course of any one game aside from putting a runner on base who had a chance to make an out basically two out of every three times he hit the ball. (That’s the reason it sometimes makes sense late in the game, with few enough outs, you don’t necessarily turn the line-up over.)

What made Bonds so good, especially in those last years, is his patience. He only swung at the pitch he was looking forward, and he rarely missed, but if you’re considering walking him intentionally anyway, then the best thing is to deal with him only in those parts of the zone where he’s less likely to hurt you, and if you walk him, okay, but at least you didn’t give it to him for nothing. (This is not an un-intentional intentional walk as it’s not throwing just junk. It’s trying to hit that outside corner every time, and if you miss you miss wide.) And if you can’t help hanging a fat one, then you probably shouldn’t be pitching in a big game.

I mean a guy who walks every time, isn’t his wOBA a 1.000?

It seems a like a good hitting team with a a guy whose wOBA is 1.000 is only going to get better. Hell, even a bad hitting team is going to get better.

Alireza
Guest
5 years 8 months ago

Um…Jeff Kent was pretty good at baseball at that point.

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