|Thursday, August 8
MVP debate begins and ends with Bonds
By Joe Sheehan
Special to ESPN.com
Are we really going to be subjected to another argument about who the National League Most Valuable Player is, when there's only one man doing things that no one else has ever done? Are we really going to have the same tired debate in which people hold up flawed, team- and usage-dependent statistics as the sine qua non of player evaluation, and devise tortured rationales to support candidates who aren't the best player in the league?
Barry Bonds is the National League MVP. He's so far ahead of everyone else that even considering other players is denying reality. There is simply no way to close the gap between a normal great season -- like Brian Giles or Larry Walker or Shawn Green is having -- and what Bonds is doing.
The two most important individual offensive statistics are on-base percentage and slugging average. Bonds leads the planet in OBP with a .564 mark, and is, in fact, challenging the single-season record of .551, set by Ted Williams in 1941. Bonds has the highest slugging average in baseball (.804), and is attempting to put up just the fourth .800 slugging season in baseball history, a year after setting the all-time record in the category. Bonds is also on pace to shatter his single-season record for walks, and may yet make another run at the all-time OPS mark that he tied last year.
Bonds isn't just the best player in the NL. He's the best by a ridiculous margin, showing the kind of superiority over a league that no one under the age of 90 remembers all that clearly. Clay Davenport's Equivalent Average (EqA) is a good measure of offensive performance, and it pretty well matches the scale of batting average. Most league leaders end up in the .330-.360 range, with an occasional run at .400.
Bonds has a .448 EqA. That's 105 points better than Brian Giles' second-place .343. Factoring in playing time, the difference between Bonds and Giles is about the same as the difference between Giles and Carlos Lee.
That's dominance. Sheer, jaw-dropping dominance.
We went through this last year, but it's worth repeating: RBIs are a lousy way of ranking players. They're entirely dependent upon opportunity, and Bonds isn't being given the opportunities that other players have. To pick just one example, Bonds has come to the plate 61 times with a runner in scoring position and first base open. Forty times -- 66 percent -- he has been walked. His lack of RBIs has nothing to do with his performance -- he's hitting .355/.608/.855 with runners on, and .339/.644/.964 with runners in scoring position -- and everything to do with the league being utterly terrified of him.
To the extent that Bonds has a flaw, it's that he's not been as durable this season as in the past. He's missed 16 games with nagging injuries, and his torn left hamstring has reduced him to a subpar defensive outfielder. (Under different circumstances, Bonds might be on the disabled list.) These things enable the players behind Bonds to close the gap, but it's not enough to make the difference. Keith Woolner's Value Over Replacement Player metric, which factors in playing time, still rates Bonds as worth about three wins more than Giles, and with an even bigger lead over Jeff Kent and Jim Edmonds.
Barry Bonds is having another all-time great season. The other guys aren't. He's the MVP.
You can check out more work from the team of writers of the Baseball Prospectus (tm) at their web site at baseballprospectus.com. Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.