What Would Have Been

I’ve been trying to figure out lately what sort of career Barry Bonds would have had if he never used steroids.

First, I’ve made certain assumptions that you may or may not agree with.  They are:

1. I believe that Bonds started using the Steroids out of jealousy of the attention McGwire and Sosa got, and wanted to push himself up there.  This is borne out somewhat by his stats and the testimony of the people around him, and somewhat jives with what he hear about his personality.  It’s also what’s been reported in Game of Shadows (read the excerpt here).  That means his performance through 1998 is genuine.  His first juiced season is 1999.  Anything from there and after is tainted.

2. I believe that Bonds would not still be performing at this level at age 42 without the juice.  That said, Bonds was a superstar and it’s likely his career progression may not have been as steeply sloped downwards as other, regular baseball players.  Perhaps not as level as Hank Aaron’s, but still not sharp.

That said, after the 1998 season, at age 33, Barry Bonds already had 411 home runs, at a HR/AB pace of 16.1 (Home Runs per At Bat are important because of season like 1994, when the strike shortened Barry’s season, and he was on pace for much more than the 37 he ended up with).  Taking the numbers from Barry’s “prime” (ages 25-33) he hit 327 homers at a clip of 13.9 hr/ab.  (As a quick reference, Hank Aaron‘s numbers through that period: 341; 15.8)  There’s no question Barry was a “better” homerun hitter than Aaron (as many people were) in terms of per atbat numbers.  Aaron’s astounding total is due to his consistency and longevity.

Now, I don’t think that Barry would have had the same longevity as Aaron, hitting 40 homers at age 39.  Even though, by the way, the career arc shows Bonds as better at that point (see this: bonds-chart.doc – Bonds is the blue line; Aaron is the pink; or this: bonds-chart-to-40.doc this one shows them until age 40, which discounts the effects Aaron’s last two seasons, of 12 & 10 homers, had on the curve.  Bonds almost matches the progression exactly.)

I do think, however, that his prime would have continued on a similar trendline, and he would have hit (assuming he got his average of 510 at bats per year) 37 homers per year for three or four more years, through age 37 (I think 37 is a reasonable end-point for his prime – similar to other power hitters like Frank Robinson and Harmon Killebrew).  Even if we assume a slight dropoff, that’s an average of 35 homers/season for four more season, or 140 more homers.  After age 37, I think we can safely peg Bonds for having 550 homers.

At this point, assuming he doesn’t get hurt and decides to continue to play, it’s reasonable to assume his production dips, and he maybe hits 15-20 homers/season for three more years, and retires at age 40, having pressed and pushed to 600 homers.

Sure, that’s not 756 and he doesn’t sniff the record.  But I think it’s reasonable to project that he’d become the fourth player in history with 600 homers and he’d be a first ballot hall-of-famer.

If you, like Adam and others I know, ascribe to the punitive theory of Hall-of-Fame voting, you can decide to keep him out, and that’s fine.  I kind of did this just to see what he could have done. 

I do think he could have hit 600, and been one of the all-time greats anyway.  Shame he figured he need to juice.

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3 responses to “What Would Have Been

  1. But I think it’s reasonable to project that he’d become the fourth player in history with 600 homers and he’d be a first ballot hall-of-famer.

    I think a fairer statement would have been: But I think it’s reasonable to project that he could have become the fourth player in history with 600 homers and he’d be a first ballot hall-of-famer.

    All projections are within a plus/minus range. Even with your numbers, if he averaged 15 home runs per year (assuming, of course, no injuries) at age 38-40, he would have hit 595 home runs. Of course, he might have hit more than 15, and he might have hit less. So It’s possible that he would have hit 600 home runs, and maybe even reasonable to think that he would have hit 600 home runs, but by no means a lock. He also might have finished with #600 out of reach.

    And that is why you can’t project (or make assumptions about) what his career would have been without the steroids. You should just lop-off those years from his career, since we really have no clue as to how precipitous his decline would have been, nor do we know how his body would have responded to minor injuries (see Alou, Moises, 40-year old power-hitting left fielder has a minor injury that keeps him out of the lineup for three months.). Sure, he would have produced something, so maybe it isn’t fair to just consider him to have “pre-retired” (ala “predeceased”) his steroids years, but since any projections involve such wide speculation with a hard-to-measure degree of accuracy, there is no way to project any statistics, no matter how high or low or average, that aren’t greatly debatable. Perhaps you could come up with a statistics “floor,” but even that would be subject imprecision.

    And then, of course, is the punitive aspect, which is that because the player put his numbers in such doubt, he should forfeit the right to have any of it counted toward his lifetime achievements.

  2. Adam, adding an extra layer of doubt to a projection model is unnecessary. I didn’t say it was a lock, I didn’t say for sure. I said “reasonable to project.” Jeez, this whole post is speculative. I just was thinking about it, so I spent all morning playing with the numbers, charts and trendlines. I wasn’t making any definitive assertions.

    Yes, you’re absolutely right. My projections could be wrong. I think that’s built into the post a priori. I was just putting out there what I thought were reasonable projections.

    I was originally going to just email this to the person I was conversing about it with, but I thought it might make for an interesting blog post.

    I’m not suggesting that his career records should be amended to reflect this new number. Just lamenting that he ruined his career by throwing it all into doubt and speculation when he could have been one of the best ever anyway.

  3. I think my point was, Bonds should go **** himself and I hope he’s kept out of the hall of fame.

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