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Wrapping Up 2001
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Barry Bonds dominated baseball in 2001
by Matthew Leach
MLB.com

Matthew Leach archive

Hey, where's my ballot?

The home office of MLB.com here in Manhattan has exactly zero Baseball Writers Association of America credentials. We also don't have any AP folks employed here. And for the record, no one claims to be a member of the Downtown Athletic Club. ... But we're still checking on that one.

All of which is a long way of saying that Diamond Digits was not represented in any of the year-end award-giving in baseball. Gold Gloves, All-Rookie teams, MVP... none of it.

Of course, with a bully pulpit, who needs a ballot?

In previous editions of this column, I've discussed bases and outs -- and the ratio between them -- as a valuable way to assess a player's performance. A guy who gains a lot of bases is contributing quite a bit. A guy who makes a ton of outs hurts his club.

After all, those are the things that a player can control, more than anything else. Barry Bonds has very little influence over whether Rich Aurilia is on base when he comes to bat. He also can't do all that much about whether Jeff Kent drives him in, once he gets on base. What he can do is get on base, and advance further on extra base hits and/or stolen bases.

So one way to look at a player is to count every single base -- whether it comes via a walk, a single, an extra-base hit, a stolen base or even a hit-by-pitch. Then you can count up every out -- the ones that count in batting average, plus caught stealing, sacrifices (which help the team some, but are still outs), and the second out in a double play.

When you take the ratio, you get a way -- not necessarily the best way, but a way -- to look at what a player did for his team offensively. Not surprisingly, it correlates fairly closely with OPS (on-base plus slugging), but not exactly.

Before rating the players, a few notes --


  • Bonds tallied far more bases than any other player -- 610. He amassed 411 total bases (a number which doesn't include walks, HBP or steals), 177 walks, 13 steals and nine HBP. Sammy Sosa finished a distant second with 547, despite leading the Majors with 425 total bases. Luis Gonzalez (534), Todd Helton (512) and Alex Rodriguez (502) made up the rest of the top five.

    Dividing by plate appearances gives you only a slightly different list. Bonds (.919 bases per PA) and Sosa (.769) still stand one-two. Helton jumps to third (.735), with Gonzalez fourth (.735) and Larry Walker taking the fifth spot at .730.

  • Among players who qualified for the batting title (3.1 plate appearances per team game played), Rey Ordonez managed the fewest bases with 193 -- or just 16 more than Bonds racked up on walks alone. Cal Ripken (200), Michael Barrett (202), Benito Santiago (206) and Brady Anderson (209) rounded out the rest of the bottom five.

    The top four here remain the same when you divide by plate appearances -- Ordonez (.382), Ripken (.388), Barrett (.399) and Santiago (.400). The only change is that Omar Vizquel sneaks into the fifth-worst position, with a rate of .404.

  • At the end of the year, Johnny Damon was finally knocked from the top spot in total outs. Toronto's Alex Gonzalez piled up 519 outs -- 173 whole innings' worth, with Damon finishing second at 507. Jimmy Rollins (503), Garret Anderson (501) and Doug Glanville (498) were the other top out producers.

    The worst rate of outs to plate appearances? Ripken earns that dubious honor at .758 -- that is, more than three outs for every four trips to the plate. Santiago (.753) came in second, followed by Kevin Young (.746), Barrett (.743) and Ordonez (.743).

  • Frank Catalanotto made the fewest outs among qualifiers with 322. Bonds came in second at 330, Paul Lo Duca and Ellis Burks tied for third with 342 and Jay Bell's 344 were fifth-fewest.

    It should be no surprise that after adjusting for plate appearances, Bonds tops this list. He was the only player in the Majors who averaged under .500 outs per PA, coming in at .497. Giambi was second (.548), Sosa third (.5738), Walker fourth (.5740) and Gonzo fifth (.592).

    To create the Diamond Digits All-Star team, I started to take the strict ratio of bases per out. I was surprised to see Walker take one of the outfield spots. It's not that Walker didn't have a great season -- he did, yet again -- but he missed 20 games. It seemed that an adjustment for plate appearances was in order.

    The simplest way to do that is to take the base/out ratio and multiply it by plate appearances, thus rewarding players who played more often. There's only one problem with that -- some players hurt their team more and more with every trip to the batter's box. So one more adjustment was called for.

    The Major League average for bases per out in 2001 was .703 -- that includes everyone, even pitchers. So I subtracted .703 from the base/out ratio -- a positive number means you were better than average, a negative number means you were worse than average. And every extra plate appearance with a worse-than-average ratio lowers your rating.

    (one note: this method is based partially on "HACKING MASS," an entertaining little game presented by the good folks at Baseball Prospectus)

    So in the end you get a scale with Bonds at 761 at the top, and Ripken at -99 at the bottom. For the record, Ripken had the worst on-base percentage of anyone who qualified for the batting title this year, so superstar status aside, he's a fitting No. 148.

    Here are the All-Stars:

    Pos  Player          Score   Rank
    C    Mike Piazza      143     32
    1B   Jason Giambi     416      3
    2B   Roberto Alomar   217     19
    3B   Chipper Jones    274     10
    SS   Alex Rodriguez   284      9
    OF   Barry Bonds      761      1
    OF   Sammy Sosa       453      2
    OF   Luis Gonzalez    390      4
    DH   Manny Ramirez    236     12
    
    It's not especially revolutionary, and it doesn't tell you the very best players -- after all, even I admit that defense matters. You really should adjust for the removal of a baserunner with a caught stealing. Then you've got ballpark effects. And so on... So just have fun with it, OK?

    Tough trivia

    The last round of questions stumped you all... Yeah!

    Question 1: Five thousand nine hundred twenty-nine is the number of times Pete Rose reached base by hit, walk or hit by pitch -- more than anyone else.

    Question 2: One hundred thirty-eight was the career home run record for more than 20 years -- Roger Connor retired with that many after the 1897 season, and the mark stood until Babe Ruth broke it in 1921. By 1924, Ruth had doubled the previous record. Of course, he retired having increased it by more than 400 percent!

    Question 3: Those are the career stats of Mike Hargrove, now a manager but once a no-power on-base machine at first base.

    Here are this week's questions. Have fun. E-mail the answers to me if you think you know 'em.

    Question 1: Mark Whiten, Scott Sheldon and Kevin Seitzer are three of just eight players in history who have this amazing career stat.

    Question 2: What pitcher holds the record for most career starts without pitching a shutout?

    Question 3: What player's career stats read as follows?

       G    AB     R     H   2B  3B   HR   RBI   BB   SO   SB   CS   OBP   SLG   AVG
    2293  8288  1231  2365  412  55  185  1003  850  874  236  109  .352  .415  .285
    
    Matthew Leach is editor-at-large for MLB.com. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not subject to approval by Major League Baseball or its clubs.


     


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    Vote on the best plays of 2001 in the following categories:
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    State of the Game: Where baseball stands as we begin 2002
    What a Season!: MLB.com reporter Ian Browne recaps 2001
    2002 Predictions: Mark your calendars for these baseball events this season.
    Resolutions: New Year's resolutions from around the league
    Diamond Digits: Crunching the 2001 stats
    Team gifts: Holiday presents from Santa
    Boys to Men: Players who showed extraordinary growth in 2001
    Men to Boys: Players who had big 2000 seasons, but flopped in 2001
    Gone but Not Forgotten: Tributes to the players we've lost this year
    2001 Player Debuts
    2001 Season Trivia: Think you know baseball? Test your knowledge
    By the Numbers: Figures that stood out in 2001
    2001 Retirees: Players who ended their careers
    2001 A to Z: A handy reference for the season

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