|Friday, October 5
Updated: October 6, 4:35 PM ET
Bonds vs. McGwire: Who had it easier?
By Rob Neyer and David Schoenfield
Yes, there have been suggestions that Barry Bonds has somehow had an easier path to 70 home runs than Mark McGwire did in 1998. This might actually be the case, so let's run through some of the theories that have been floated by those someones....
"Bonds is merely taking advantage of a ballpark that was built for him."
Well, let's look at that. First of all, if Bonds were really being helped by Pac Bell Park, wouldn't we expect him to have hit more homers at home than on the road?
He hasn't. Bonds has 36 homers on the road ... and 36 at home. On the other hand, Bonds has more plate appearances on the road. So he's averaged a home run every 7.00 at-bats on the road, but every 6.08 at-bats at home. Remember, though, that most hitters enjoy a natural home-field advantage.
Is Pac Bell generally friendly to power hitters?
Hardly. This season there have been 234 home runs hit (by both teams) in Giants road games ... but only 139 in Giants home games (entering Friday). In fact, here's the data:
Giants home games: 5329 at-bats, 139 HRs (one every 38.3 at-bats)
Pac Bell, in 2001, has not been a good home run park, relative to the rest of the National League.
Ah, but isn't there an incredibly short porch down the right-field line at Pac Bell?
You bet; it's only 307 feet down the right-field line. But you know, it's not easy to pull the ball down the line with any sort of consistency. And Pac Bell Park is much like Yankee Stadium in the old days; after that short porch, it gets deep in a real hurry. Deepest right-center field at Pac Bell is 420 feet from home plate. And just as left-handed hitters like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and Roger Maris hit virtually as many homers on the road as they did at Yankee Stadium, Barry Bonds hits just as many home runs at Pac Bell as he does on the road. As noted above, this season he's got 36 at home and 36 on the road, and last season it was 25 and 24.
Mark McGwire, on the other hand, seems to have taken full advantage of a homer-friendly ballpark in St. Louis. In 1998, McGwire did tie Babe Ruth's record with 32 homers on the road ... but he hit 38 at Busch Stadium. In fact, since joining the Cardinals McGwire has hit 119 homers at home, but "only" 101 on the road.
Also in 1998, the Cardinals and their opponents combined for 189 home runs at Busch ... but only 155 on the road.
Oh, and those 36 road homers that Barry Bonds hit this season? An all-time record with room to spare. Helped by his home park, indeed.
"Anybody can hit home runs nowadays. Just look at Sammy Sosa and Luis Gonzalez!"
In 1998, National League hitters combined to hit one home run every 34.6 at-bats.
In 2001, National League hitters have combined to hit one home run every 29.8 at-bats.
So yes, it's true that homers are up this season. Does this mean that it's "easier" to hit homers in 2001, or does it mean that more players are trying to hit home runs in 2001?
"Bonds faced easier pitchers than McGwire! Wilfredo Rodriguez? Who's that?"
We entered the home runs for each player and the pitchers they hit them off and their statistics. Bonds hit three home runs off Curt Schilling, so Schilling was entered three times into the database. We then added up the numbers to see the "quality" of pitchers both playes homered against:
Bonds: 9162.3 innings pitched, 563 wins, 511 losses, 4.42 ERA
The National League ERA is 4.36 in 2001 and was 4.23 in 1998, so both sluggers essentially faced an "average" NL pitcher as their typical home run foe. Neither slugger benefited from an unusual amount of home runs off the Joe Borowskis or Rafael Roques of the world.
Bonds has hit 12 home runs off pitchers who won at least 15 games (Schilling 3; Mark Mulder 2; Chan Ho Park 3; Woody Williams; Darryl Kile; Paul Abbott; Wade Miller).
McGwire hit eight home runs off pitchers who won at least 15 games (Rick Reed 2; Kevin Millwood; Andy Ashby; Jose Lima; Shane Reynolds; Dave Burba; Steve Trachsel).
"Bonds has been helped by the unbalanced schedule."
True, Bonds has had a couple extra games in Coors Field since the Rockies play in the NL West, but Arizona ranks second in the NL in ERA, Los Angeles eighth and San Diego 11th.
Plus, Los Angeles and San Diego are not good hitter's parks.
HR rate/home HR rate/road Dodgers/Opponents 29.7 ABs 26.7 ABs Padres/Opponents 32.4 ABs 27.9 ABs D-Backs/Opponents 24.2 ABs 31.1 ABs
So, it doesn't appear Bonds gained any advantage from more divisional games.
On balance, it's hard to see how things have been easier for Bonds than they were for McGwire. And in fact, it's not hard to argue exactly the opposite, that it's Barry Bonds who has had it tougher.
We already know, for example, that Bonds didn't take as long to hit 70 home runs as McGwire did. McGwire hit his 70th home run in his team's 163rd game, and his 155th. Bonds hit his 70th home run in his team's 159th game, and his 150th.
In addition to playing fewer games than McGwire, Bonds also has drawn more walks than McGwire did. Thus, his ratio of at-bats to home runs is significantly lower. McGwire homered every 7.3 at-bats. Bonds has homered every 6.5 at-bats.
And finally, McGwire and Bonds were obviously pitched differently in their record-setting seasons. In 1998, it almost seemed as if pitchers were required to challenge McGwire, who was seen in some circles as baseball's savior. After drawing 31 walks in July and 33 in August, McGwire drew only 19 free passes from September 1 through the end of the season.
But that certainly hasn't been the case with Bonds. With two games still to play, Bonds has already drawn 38 walks since September 1. Whether it's because they don't want him to break the record or because they simply don't want to get beat by yet another home run, pitchers simply aren't throwing strikes to Barry Bonds.