Monday, January 23, 2006

Better Living Through Science or How to Build a Better Tomato

Barry Bonds. What can I say about Barry Bonds that hasn't been said already. He is clearly one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He's an incredible physical specimen, who can do practically anything on the field. He is the definition of a five tool player. Of course I'm talking about the Barry Bonds who played in the 90's. The guy who plays now bears little similarity to the player who was arguably the best hitter of the 90's (The argument I guess would be between Griffey, Bonds, and Gwynn).

Here are the average numbers for Barry Bonds for the 5 years previous to 2000 (ages 30-34):
AVG - .292 , HRs 37, Slg % - .600

Here are the average numbers for Barry Bonds for the 5 years starting in 2000 (ages 35-39):
AVG - .341 , HRs 52, Slg % - .782

(Barry Bonds now holds the single season records for walks, Home Runs, Slugging Percentage, On Base Percentage and OPS, all of which he set after turning 35. The only other player who put up a mark in the top 10 in any of those categories after turning 35 was Ted Williams and he is probably the greatest hitter who ever lived. He also only had one season (at age 38) that was record setting after turning 35. At this point, all 5 of Barry's seasons have led to a place in the top 5 in one or more of the previously mentioned categories.)

Just as a mark for comparison as to just how unbelievable those numbers are, his average slugging % over the past 5 years would rank as the 6th highest single season % in history. The only players with a higher single season % are Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds. He now owns 3 of the 5 greatest Slugging % numbers of all time. Prior to the 2001 season Bonds' best single season slugging % ranks 56th all time and he achieved that when he was 28.

The only real comparison for someone making that kind of leap after the age of 35 is Hank Aaron. His improvement in HR output is easily explainable by his move from Milwaukee to Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta which was nicknamed "The Launching Pad". In fact it's really a shame that he played in such a tough home run park for the majority of his career. He might have hit about 850 hrs if he played in a park that was more favorable for a right handed power hitter. He improved his average HR output by about 4 a year from the ages of 35-39 which is pretty remarkable and unprecedented at that time. Barry Bonds has somehow managed to increase his home run output by an average of 15 HR's a year over the same time period! While he did move into a new ballpark (He left Candlestick for Pac-Bell, or whatever it's called now), it is by no means considered a hitter friendly park. However he regularly deposits home runs in the bay and in fact has hit about 90% of the balls that have reached the water. Not only does he hit more home runs, but he hits them almost as far as Mark McGwire used to.

In my mind there are three viable theories to explain this sudden surge in ability, 1) Either he wasted his unlimited talent during his athletic peak (20-34) and is only now realizing his full potential or 2) He is the greatest athlete in the history of sports and the one person in history of spots who has been able to make a quantam leap in ability at the age of 35 or 3) He is the finest example of the amazing difference that performance enhancing drugs can produce.

Now everyone will have to make their own decision on this one. I'm simply stating the facts. I would hope that there would be a real explaination for this one beside the Flaxseed oil (which he later "found out" was actually a steroid called the Cream) that he claims his trainer gave him. In my mind, if weight lifting and Flaxseed oil could make such a differene in performance, wouldn't every athlete in the world be flocking to Bonds to find out exactly what his off season routine was? Does Bonds really think that his workout method alone has resulted in him absolutely destroying the effects of time? Is he trying to convince us of that or himself?

Barry Bonds is about to break the most hallowed record in all of sport and I think it deserves a little closer look before we all jump on the Barry bandwagon. I think we owe it to Baseball and we certainly owe it to Hank Aaron. All Mr. Aaron did was stare down a million death threats, constant racism and a color barrier to break what was thought to be an unbreakable record. And I'm sure that there was no Flaxseed oil to be found.



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