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Monday, May 22, 2006

Barry Bonds hits HR 616

--posted by Tony Garcia on 5/22/2006

What to do with Barry Bonds? Take the scientific approach to Barry's home runs. In fact, just ride the work already done by ESPN and Patrick Hruby.
You say Bonds actually has 714 career home runs?

Er, no. Good one. But no. Sure, if you want to get all technical, there's no arguing that Bonds has forcefully redirected 714 pitches into home run territory over his 21 major-league seasons. Yet according to the ziggurat of evidence complied in the book "Game of Shadows," Bonds also ingested a Mexican farmacia's worth of performance-enhancing drugs during his peak slugging period, making some of those dingers less authentic than country crooner Kenny Rogers' reconstructed face.

Question is, how many? How many of Bonds' home runs are honest? And how many came courtesy of his reported juicing?
This article takes a scientific look at the factors that steroids helps someone's performance: Strength, Stamina, Longevity and Confidence. Then they take away homers based on this anaylsis. Want the list? Here it is. How did they justify this? Read on.

WARNING: This is a long post with lots of technical backup. So to save some of you the hassle of reading the justifications here is the Syllabus.

The extra strength accounted for about an extra 9 feet of flyball distance. Based on charts of Bonds' home runs and ball park dimensions where they were hit a total of 66 home runs were taken away. The extra stamina prevented a performance drop off during the "Dog Days of Summer". For this another 9 feet was deducted from homers in August, September and October. Thus another 17 dingers were deducted. Then (unscientifically, though semi-justifiably) 15 more were deducted because of increased reaction times and a psychological increase in confidence. That brings the total of tainted homeruns to 98.

Strength

Steroids increased Bonds' strength. That side effect is not a doubted one. Weight (and consequently strength) increases bat speed. An increase in bat speed results in an increase in flyball distance. There is a very specific formula that helps with this information.
Robert Adair wrote the book on baseball physics. Literally. His "The Physics of Baseball" has enjoyed multiple editions and is considered the classic text in its field.

On page 139, Adair provides an equation relating bat speed (that is, the speed of the bat's sweet spot at the moment it makes contact with the ball) to player weight:

V = k sqrt(M/(m+M/81))

(Note: V is the velocity of the bat in miles per hour, m is the bat weight in pounds, M is the player's weight in pounds, sqrt means square root and k is a constant, 10, in mph. Phew!)

According to Adair's formula -- and don't worry, we asked him to double-check the calculations, since our last math class came in high school -- the 206-pound Bonds generates a bat speed of 67.34 mph, while the 228-pound Bonds swings the same 32-ounce bat at 68.81 mph, an increase of 1.48 mph.
And before we go any further...No, Barry did not change his batting mechanics.
Jack Mankin is an electrical engineer. He also is a youth baseball coach and something of a baseball swing junkie.

Way back in 1986, Mankin bought a VCR that featured frame-by-frame replay, a rare and exotic luxury at the time. He taped about 100 major league games, then set out to chart the swing mechanics that separated great hitters from average ones.

Mankin taped plastic strips to his television screen. He used a grease pencil to trace body movement. He plugged his findings into computer spreadsheets. He's still at it today.

Recently, Mankin looked over clips of Bonds, from 1988 and the present. Conclusion?

"There's absolutely no change," said Mankin, who runs a Web site devoted to bat speed. "The only difference is that back then, most of his home runs were just enough to clear a 360-foot fence. Now, he's up to 400-some with the same dang swing."

The same dang swing. Only faster. In an excellent 2005 San Diego Union-Tribune article detailing the effects of steroid use on power hitting, major league scouts claim Bonds' bat speed not only stopped declining but also increased during the time he worked with Anderson -- an observation consistent with Adair's weight-to-bat speed formula.
So, how does that bat speed help?
Mont Hubbard, a mechanical and aeronautical engineering professor at the University of California-Davis, co-authored a 2003 American Journal of Physics article examining home run ball flight. An accompanying graph plots bat speed against flyball distance -- and like a rising homer, the curve sloped upward, almost in a straight line.

The faster the swing, the longer the long ball.
So, Bonds increased his bat speed by about 1.5 MPH. Big deal, right?
Alan Nathan, a baseball physics buff and nuclear physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, estimates every one mph of extra bat speed translates into roughly six feet of added flyball flight distance. Back to Bonds. By bulking up and increasing his bat speed, he added about nine feet to his average flyball distance -- the difference between the warning track and the outfield seats.
Ah, so that means we should deduct about 9 feet from each homer. Fortunately the guys at ESPN did the work already (lucky guys, seriously, that would have been fun).
The entry for each home run lists the ballpark where it was hit, the estimated distance it traveled and the approximate area where the ball cleared the field of play. Comparing each homer to the ballpark dimension diagrams found at andrewclem.com, we sought to answer a single question:

If you take away the extra nine feet of flyball distance Bonds generated by putting on 20 pounds, how many of his home runs fall short?

Here's how the answer breaks down:

• 1999: four home runs out of 34.
• 2000: nine out of 49.
• 2001: 18 out of 73.
• 2002: 11 out of 46.
• 2003: 10 out of 45.
• 2004: 13 out of 45.
• 2005: one out of five.
• 2006: zero out of five.

In total, Page 2 estimates that 66 Bonds home runs would have landed inside the fence sans his alleged steroids use. Again, this is an approximation. But is our guess wholly unreasonable?
That drops Bonds to 648 career blasts.
Stamina

Oh, yes, stamina is very important.
Perhaps you've heard the term: The dog days of summer. Temperatures rise. Injuries nag. Fatigue sets in, mental and physical. The season seems endless. Older players feel the grind most acutely.

Some switch to lighter bats. Others skip batting practice. Anything to conserve precious energy.

Enter steroids. In "Juiced," Jose Canseco writes that performance-enhancing drugs kept him feeling fresh, as if the last day of the season was the first day of spring training. "Game of Shadows" reports that using human growth hormone helped Bonds retain his buffed-up body without rigorous training.
Certainly an athlete in his late 30's would suffer from this.
Without steroids, how much would Bonds have sagged in the stretch? We don't really know. But we can make another reasonable guess. Assume that instead of gaining 1.8 mph in bat speed, an aging Bonds would have lost that amount by the end of July.

Subtract nine more feet from Bonds' charted home runs from August through October, and here's how many die on the warning track:

• 1999: six home runs.
• 2000: three home runs.
• 2001: five home runs.
• 2002: zero home runs.
• 2003: one home run.
• 2004: one home run.
• 2005: one home run.
I think they are being kind in only taking away 1.8 mph on bat speed, but hey, it's their work. They set the rules.
Longevity

ESPN decides that they will double check their deductions by comparing the effects of aging in other power hitters with the performance of Bonds.
At age 39 in 2004, Bonds hit a home run every 8.3 at bats -- the second-best rate of his career, and far superior to Babe Ruth (16.6), Willie Mays (17.1) and Ted Williams (15.8) at the same age.

Is Bonds simply a marvelous athlete, benefiting from advances in training and nutrition unavailable to the sluggers of yore? Perhaps. Or perhaps Bonds has access to better chemicals.
...
Now consider: At ages 31-33, the top 10 home run hitters not named Barry Bonds (and not including contemporaries Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Ken Griffey Jr.) collectively averaged a dinger every 13.8 at-bats. From age 34 through 39, however, that average fell to one home run per 15.6 at bats, a drop-off of 1.8.

Similarly, Bonds at ages 31-33 averaged a home run every 13.5 at bats. But from age 34 onward -- when he allegedly started using performance-enhancing drugs -- Bonds has averaged one home run per 8.5 at bats, an unprecedented surge.
Everyone else loses productivity in their rates by 1.8 homers/at bats, Bonds at the same age increases production by 5.0. That is a swing of 6.8 homers/at bat. That difference equates to 130 homeruns that should be deducted. Maybe a bit harsh. ESPN gives Bonds the benefit of the doubt and instead compares him to Hank Aaron's production in the 34-39 age range.
At ages 34-39, Aaron enjoyed a rare rise in his home run rate, from 15.4 to 13.0 (explained, in part, by a move from Milwaukee's County Stadium to more homer-friendly Atlanta Fulton County Stadium). Assign the same moderate 2.4 boost to Bonds. Then divide his at-bats accordingly.

Bonds ends up with 223 homers, much closer to his real-life total of 292. And the difference between the two -- 69 fewer home runs...
At this point ESPN is resolved to take away 83 homeruns which falls in line with the decrease in production angle (between 69 and 130).
Confidence

Well, I admit this part is a little more subjective than the rest of the article. I am more comfortable taking away 130 homeruns (as described above) than taking these extra 15 under the category of confidence.
"Look, steroids make you better," says the major league scout, a former player himself. "But the other factor is confidence. You can't measure that. But there is a value there, and athletes all thrive on it. They need to know that they can perform."

Call God. Spoken like a man who knows he can perform. Bolstered by steroids, would a supremely self-assured Bonds swing for the fences more often? Seems likely. From 1987 to 1998, Bonds' average ground ball to flyball ratio was 0.81; between 1999 and last season, it was 0.62 -- an increase of about 19 extra flyballs for every 300 balls put into play. Maybe a pumped-up Bonds was trying harder to go deep. Maybe he belted additional home runs as a result.
And then there is confidence combined with quicker reflexes.
"Game of Shadows" reports that performance enhancers improved Bonds' eyesight, helping him track pitches. Coincidence? Not necessarily. Extra bat speed means extra time to differentiate between a fastball and a slider.

Moreover, a 2002 University of California San Francisco study found that older men with higher testosterone levels performed better on cognition tests than men with lower levels. Two years later, Harvard researchers discovered that men with higher testosterone levels are quicker to solve spatial-relationship problems.

Really, what is spotting and crushing a major league fastball if not a spatial-relationship problem ... played out at warp speed?

"People talk about bat speed, but nobody talks about [Bonds'] eyesight," said the major league scout. "He sees a pitch so quick, so early. He can see it and relay that information to his muscles faster than anyone else. That's what all good hitters do. They know what the ball is when it has been out of the pitcher's hand for just 10, 15 feet. Only special people do this."

How many home runs are quicker reactions and a juice-boosted feeling of invincibility worth? Could be five. Could be 25. Could be more, if fearful opposing pitchers lack confidence and fail to summon their best stuff.
That makes sense. Question is how to quantify that. Here is where ESPN has a small issue.
What seems clear is this: Confidence helps, same as muscle. Let's say increased self-assurance allowed Bonds to belt 15 more home runs -- about three per season. That brings our grand total of tainted dingers to 98, a number that corresponds nicely with 1998 -- Bonds' last clean year, if "Game of Shadows" has it right. And even if the book is wrong, the photographs don't lie: Bonds today is a swollen sponge, a hulking parody of his lithe former self. Of course he bashed like never before. The laws of physics demand nothing less.
Yeah, I know, it is folly to engage in this practice. Selig will not have the resolve to do anything about the records or Bonds and Bonds' totals will stand. So why engage in this exercise? It feels good to remove the taint from the game. It is too bad Barry took the juiced road. As ESPN puts it:
Six-hundred sixteen home runs. Our best guess. A long way from 715, but still an incredible number. Such is the shame in having to wonder: Without steroids, Bonds was a damn good player. With steroids, he's a good player damned.
I agree. For Bonds' juicing he deserves the second guessing to dog him for decades upon decades.

3 Comments:

Blogger MN Campaign Report said...

The one big issue I have with ESPN's analysis is this:

"ESPN decides that they will double check their deductions by comparing the effects of aging in other power hitters with the performance of Bonds.At age 39 in 2004, Bonds hit a home run every 8.3 at bats -- the second-best rate of his career, and far superior to Babe Ruth (16.6), Willie Mays (17.1) and Ted Williams (15.8) at the same age."

The difference between Bonds and Ruth, Mays, Williams, and all the others is that walks, intentional or otherwise, do not count as At-Bats. During that peak from 2001-2004, Bonds was walked at an absolutely ridiculous rate, taking the bat out of his hands far more than Ruth or the other historical greats had to deal with.

Believe me, I'm not defending him, it's just a problem with ESPN's analysis.

May 22, 2006  
Blogger Tony said...

I guess I do not understand how this helps or hurts the analysis?

Even without that...I think putting Bonds' homerun total somewhere around 600 is justifiable with the first 2 portions (strength & stamina)...agreed?

May 22, 2006  
Blogger Marty said...

He was intentionally walked at a ridiculous rate. Being intentionally walked means you see NO hittable pitches. ESPN should have used plate appearances minus IBB, but if you look at those numbers, it will exacerbate the score, not help Bonds' record at all.

May 22, 2006  

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