Barry Bonds was a ridiculously good baseball player. In this installment of the highly entertaining Chart Party series, Jon Bois answers a very hypothetical question: What if, during his monster 2004 season, Bonds had gone to the plate without a bat? This is super entertaining if you’re any kind of a baseball fan and the end result is really shocking. (via @caseyjohnston)
While bumping around on the internet last night, I stumbled upon Alex Reisner’s site. Worth checking out are his US roadtrip photos and NYC adventures, which include an account and photographs of a man jumping from the Williamsburg Bridge.
But the real gold here is Reisner’s research on baseball…a must-see for baseball and infographics nerds alike. Regarding the home run discussion on the post about Ken Griffey Jr. a few weeks ago, Reisner offers this graph of career home runs by age for a number of big-time sluggers. You can see the trajectory that Griffey was on before he turned 32/33 and how A-Rod, if he stays healthy, is poised to break any record set by Bonds. His article on Baseball Geography and Transportation details how low-cost cross-country travel made it possible for the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to move to California. The same article also riffs on how stadiums have changed from those that fit into urban environments (like Fenway Park) to more symmetric ballfields built in suburbs and other open areas accessible by car.
And then there’s the pennant race graphs for each year since 1900…you can compare the dominance of the 1927 Yankees with the 1998 Yankees. And if you’ve gotten through all that, prepare to spend several hours sifting through all sorts of MLB statistics, represented in a way you may not have seen before:
The goal here is not to duplicate excellent resources like Total Baseball or The Baseball Encyclopedia, but to take the same data and present it in a way that shows different relationships, yields new insights, and raises new questions. The focus is on putting single season stats in a historical context and identifying the truly outstanding player seasons, not just those with big raw numbers.
Reisner’s primary method of comparing players over different eras is the z-score, a measure of how a player compares to their contemporaries, (e.g. the fantastic seasons of Babe Ruth in 1920 and Barry Bonds in 2001):
In short, z-score is a measure of a player’s dominance in a given league and season. It allows us to compare players in different eras by quantifying how good they were compared to their competition. It it a useful measure but a relative one, and does not allow us to draw any absolute conclusions like “Babe Ruth was a better home run hitter than Barry Bonds.” All we can say is that Ruth was more dominant in his time.
I’m more of a basketball fan than of baseball, so I immediately thought of applying the same technique to NBA players, to shed some light on the perennial Jordan vs. Chamberlain vs. Oscar Robertson vs. whoever arguments. Until recently, the NBA hasn’t collected statistics as tenaciously as MLB has so the z-score technique is not as useful, but some work has been done in that area.
Anyway, great stuff all the way around.
Update: Reisner’s site seems to have gone offline since I wrote this. I hope the two aren’t related and that it appears again soon.
Update: It’s back up!
Last night, Ken Griffey Jr. hit the 564th home run of his career to move into 10th place on the all-time list. Reading about his accomplishment, I was surprised he was so far up on the list, given the number of injuries he’s had since coming into the league in 1989. That got me wondering about what might have been had Griffey stayed healthy throughout his career…if he would have lived up to the promise of his youth when he was predicted to become one of the game’s all-time greats.
Looking at his stats, I assumed a full season to be 155 games and extrapolated what his home run total would have been for each season after his rookie year in which he played under 155 games. Given that methodology, Griffey would have hit about 687 home runs up to this point. In two of those seasons, 1995 and 2002, his adjusted home run numbers were far below the usual because of injuries limiting his at-bats and effectiveness at the plate. Further adjusting those numbers brings the total up to 717 home runs, good for 3rd place on the all-time list and a race to the top with Barry Bonds.
Of course, if you’re going to play what-if, Babe Ruth had a couple of seasons in which he missed a lot of games and also played in the era of the 154-game season. Willie Mays played a big chunk of his career in the 154-game season era as well. Ted Williams, while known more for hitting for average, missed a lot of games for WWII & the Korean War (almost 5 full seasons) and played in the 154-game season era…and still hit 521 home runs.
Barry Bonds finally ties Babe Ruth with 714 home runs. And with relatively little fanfare, largely because the homers will be eventually invalidated by his drug use and because Bonds is a dink.
Update: The kid who caught the home run ball doesn’t care for Bonds much: “When asked if he would consider giving [the ball] to Bonds, Snyder declined with a mild expletive.” Bonds was also booed at stadiums around the league when the homer was announced.
MC Hammer has posted a love letter to Barry Bonds on his weblog. “As you close in on the record, and the day of reckoning is at hand, there will be many attemps by the bloodhounds to shake you and force you to quit.” David Jacobs thinks the fans and the media are being hypocritical about Bonds’ situation.
Not a big surprise, but it looks like Barry Bonds took all sorts of performance-enhancing drugs in the last few years of his career, including the season he hit 73 home runs.
One of the pre-conference events was a talk at Fenway Park followed by a tour of the ballpark. Janet Marie Smith, VP of planning and development for the Sox, kicked things off with how the team (especially the new management) works really hard to preserve the essential character of Fenway while at the same time trying to upgrade the park (and keep it from getting torn down). She talked about the advertisements added to the Green Monster, which was actually not a purely commercial move but a throwback to a time when the Monster was actually covered with ads.
Lots of talk and awareness of experience design…the Red Sox folks in particular kept referring to the “experience” of the park. One of the speakers (can’t recall who, might have been Jim Dow) talked about how other ballparks are becoming places where only people who can afford $100 tickets can go to the games and what that does to the team’s fan base. With Fenway, they’re trying to maintain a variety of ticket prices to keep the diversity level high…greater diversity makes for a better crowd and a better fan base and is quite appropriate for Boston (and New England in general), which has always been an area with vibrant blue collar and blue blood classes.
Janet also referred to the “accidental” design of the park. Like many other urban ballparks built in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, the placement of the streets constrained the design of Fenway and made it rather an odd shape….these days larger plots are selected where those types of restraints are removed. And over time, the game has changed, the needs of the fans have changed, and the fire codes have changed and the park has changed with the times. In the dead ball era, the walls of the stadium weren’t for hitting home runs over; their sole function was to keep people on the street for catching the game for free, so the Fenway outfield ran over 500 feet in right field — practically all the way to the street — where there’s now 30 rows of seats. Jim Holt observed that American butts have gotten bigger so bigger seats are called for. Fire codes helped that change along as well…wooden seats, bleachers, and overcrowding are no longer a large part of the Fenway experience (save for the wooden seats under the canopy).
The design talk continued on the tour of the park. Our guide detailed how ballparks are built around specific ballplayers. Yankee Stadium was the house that Ruth built but it was also seemingly (but not literally) built for him with a short trip for his home run balls to the right field wall. Boston added a bullpen to make the right field shorter for Ted Williams. Barry Bonds does very well at PacBell/SBC/WhateverItsCalledTheseDays Park. And more than that, the design of Fenway also dictated for a long time the type of team that they could field, which had some bearing on how they did generally. Players who played well in Fenway (i.e. could hit fly balls off of the Monster in left) often didn’t do so well in other parks and the team’s away record suffered accordingly.