It’s a ridiculous concept. Could Barry Bonds have remained a dominant offensive force even if he never swung the bat?
Not a chance, right? Well…
SB Nation’s Jon Bois tackled the subject in an entertaining YouTube video posted on Tuesday.
The question Bois poises is “What if Barry Bonds had played baseball without a bat?” and attempts to simulate his ridiculous 2004 season when he set a major league record for OPS at 1.422. The premise requires that pitchers don’t know that Bonds doesn’t have the ability to swing and thus are still making the same pitches to him they otherwise would. (Yes, it’s unrealistic, but we’re having fun here.)
The question starts by factoring his 191 plate appearances in which he actually didn’t take a swing. He struck out looking twice, so that gave him a .990 on-base percentage for those trips to the plate.
Bois then simulated each of Bonds’ walks that season. Since there’s no possible way for the batless Bonds to foul off a pitch, a solution needed to be found. PITCHf/x data didn’t become available until 2006, so that couldn’t be used. Instead, Bois used Bonds’ FanGraphs rate that showed 80.9 percent of the pitches he swung at were strikes and applied some random generation using that percentage to shave six walks off Bonds’ major league record 232 he drew that season.
Then it came time to examine his 41 strikeouts. When forced to randomly generate the outcome of foul balls during those strikeouts, Bois was left with some at-bats that needed more pitches. For those pitches he needed to add in, Bois used the friendlier rate that showed 58.7 percent of pitches to Bonds were outside the strike zone and was able to add seven walks back to Bonds’ ledger. At that point, he had a solid .392 on-base percentage.
Finally, there was the pesky task of 335 plate appearances on balls that Bonds put in play. After simulating all of those, Bois calculated Bonds would finish the season with 366 walks and nine hit by pitches over the 617 plate appearances he recorded. That gave him an otherwordly on-base percentage of .608, just a sliver shy of the .609 OBP he actually finished the year with.
Of course, it means he doesn’t also have the 45 homers, ends up with just a small fraction of his 101 RBIs and doesn’t come anywhere close to approaching his .812 slugging percentage that was the fourth-best of all time. An eye-popping year, but we’ll still take Bonds actually swinging the bat.