Game Theory Final Project Barry Bonds: To Walk or Not to Walk December 17, 2005

The Strategerists Yang Xiao, Irwin Chiu, Naoise O'Loughlin-Irwin, John Osvald

Mighty Barry at the Plate
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the ‘Frisco nine that day, The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play. And then when Snow died at first, and Durham did the same, A pall-like silence fell upon the patrons of the game. A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast. They thought, "if only Barry could but get a whack at that. We'd put up even money now, with Barry at the bat." But Tucker preceded Barry, as did also Ledee; and the former was a hoodoo, while the latter was a cake. So upon that stricken multitude, grim melancholy sat; for there seemed but little chance of Barry getting to the bat. But Tucker let drive a single, to the wonderment of all. And Ledee, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball. And when the dust had lifted, and men saw what had occurred, there was Ricky safe at second and Tucker a-hugging third. Then from forty thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell; it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; it pounded through on the mountain and recoiled upon the flat; for Barry, mighty Barry, was advancing to the bat. There was ease in Barry’s manner as he stepped into his place, there was pride in Barry’s bearing and a smile lit Barry’s face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, no stranger in the crowd could doubt t'was Barry at the bat. Eighty thousand eyes were on him as he rubbed his hands with dirt. Forty thousand tongues applauded when he wiped them on his shirt. Then, while the writhing pitcher ground the ball into his hip, defiance flashed in Barry's eye, a sneer curled Barry's lip. And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, and Barry stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there. Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped -"That ain't my style," said Barry. "Ball one!" the umpire said. From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar, like the beating of the storm waves on a stern and distant shore. "Kill him! Kill the picther!" shouted someone on the stand, and it's likely they'd have killed him had not Barry raised his hand. With a smile of Christian charity, great Barry's visage shone, he stilled the rising tumult, he bade the game go on. He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the dun sphere flew, but Barry still ignored it, and the umpire said, "Ball two!"


"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and echo answered "Fraud!" But one scornful look from Barry and the audience was awed. They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain, and they knew that Barry wouldn't let that ball go by again. The sneer has fled from Barry's lip, the teeth are clenched in hate. He pounds, with cruel violence, his bat upon the plate. And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, and now the air is shattered by the force of Barry's blow. Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright. The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout, but there is no joy in McCovey Cove mighty Barry has been intentionally walked with two on and two outs. -By Ernest Lawrence Thayer & the Strategerists

Even Barry Bonds’ most ardent detractors must admit one simple fact: the man can hit home runs. In fact, Bonds set the record for most home runs in a season at 73 in 2001, claiming one of the most sought after records in baseball. At the same time he posted impressive batting stats, batting .328, .370 and .340 in 2001, 2002 and 2003 respectively. In 2002 he broke another long-standing single season record: intentional walks. According to this statistic, no batter had been as feared at the plate since Willie McCovey in 1965, whose opponents favored walking over pitching 45 times. During 2002, Bonds’ opponents took this option 68 times.

In 2004 Bonds posted yet another impressive record – one that absolutely obliterated his previous mark. Although his batting statistics had held steady over the past three years, (and most, in fact, would hold steady in 2004), Bonds was intentionally walked a staggering 120 times, almost twice his previous mark. Bonds’ performance over the years leading up to 2004 does not justify this increase – his batting average, at bats, RBIs and home runs moved very little. If Bonds himself wasn’t the cause of this reaction by opposing managers, what were they reacting to? 3

We will examine several possible solutions as we apply a game theory approach to the problem. We must first consider Bonds’ supporting cast. If Bonds is walked, the player up to bat after him will bat with a man on base, and depending on the number of outs in the inning, so will subsequent players. If the average competency of the players batting after Bonds decreased dramatically from 2003-2004, the intentional walk option could become more attractive to managers. It is likely that there is no one single explanation for this phenomenon, rather, it will be a combination of factors. We must also consider the possibility that Bonds performance was in fact improving, which caused opponents to react, or adversely, opponent’s pitching may have decreased in proficiency from the previous year. It should also be noted that Bonds is one of the most unpopular players in history, and most in baseball do not want to see him break the career home run record he is currently chasing… could this lead opposing managers to act irrationally? If they are playing a dominated strategy, what was the likely effect on the team?

We will explore these possibilities by applying game theory to the problem. First, we will look forward and reason back by examining the results from 2001-2003, when Bonds was intentionally walked less, to the results from 2004, when Bonds was walked more. Was this strategy successful for opposing managers? What was the statistical expected value decision they faced, and were they acting rationally? Following a statistical analysis, we will then explore outside factors that might have affected managers’ decisions, and compare them to our statistical analysis to decipher why this strategy was so widely deployed in 2004.


When does it make sense to intentionally walk Bonds?
“You walk Barry. Just walk him.” – Greg Maddux “I became a good pitcher when I stopped trying to make them miss the ball and started making them try to hit it.” -- Sandy Koufax

For a manager attempting to make the decision of whether or not to walk Barry Bonds, several variables are analyzed within his mental model of the game: how much of a lead does the team have, how many outs are there, how many men are on base, how good is my pitcher on the mound, etc. We will attempt to simplify the model within a manager’s head down to one key statistic – minimizing runs scored.

As we analyze this model, there are certainly situations where it is wise to intentionally walk Bonds. For example, it is wise to walk Bonds whenever there are runners in scoring position and first base is open with two outs. Because of Bonds’ higher batting average and the high likelihood of a runner on second or third base scoring on any hit, a manager protecting a slim lead would be wise to walk Bonds to force a teammate with a lower batting average to drive in the runs. In addition, walking him actually creates force outs at bases as well as sets up the potential double play that would net the team two outs.

In some baseball situations, an intentional walk is a dominated strategy. For example, walking Bonds when the bases are loaded is clearly not preferred if it walks in the tying run. A walk issued when runners are on first and second with one out or less is also not preferable. This places a runner on third who can score on a sacrifice fly or a particular ground out and increases the chances of someone scoring.


We will eliminate these dominant and dominated strategies as obvious choices for the manager. We will examine some non-intuitive situations such as having a person on first with one or less outs in which it is unclear if the strategy of intentionally walking Bonds is the best course of action.

To determine this, we will look at the expected runs scored using the history of Giants’ outcomes from 2001 – 2003. We will examine whether a) Bonds was walked or not and b) how many runs the Giants scored as a result. From these findings, we should be able to come up with an expected number of runs scored dependent on whether the opponent walks Bonds. If the opposing manager is rational and has a good understanding of baseball statistics, they will choose the course of action in which the expected runs are minimized.

In the next page, we provide an analysis of the Giants’ past history of runs scored as a result of a walk issued to Bonds. This is, in effect, the “payout” for a particular strategy employed. As a result of pitching to Bonds with none on and zero outs in 2001, 65% of the innings resulted in the Giants not scoring, 25% of the innings resulted in one run scored, 9% resulted in two runs scoring that inning, and 1% resulted in 3 or more runs scoring. The dominant strategy has been highlighted by a red box for that situation and is the lowest expected number of runs as a result of the opposing manager’s strategy.


Situation None on, Zero outs

Year N 2001 2002 2003 Comb. 91 84 123 298 71 64 48 183 110 81 61 252 27 18 19 64 65 32 30 127 20 32 35 87 0 .65 .57 .68 .64 .72 .69 .71 .71 .83 .84 .85 .84 .67 .50 .42 .55 .68 .50 .57 .61 .75 .91 .91 .87 1

No Walk 2 3+ Avg. (SD) .09 .11 .07 .09 .06 .03 .02 .04 .00 .04 .02 .02 .15 .06 .21 .14 .15 .12 .13 .13 .20 .03 03 .07 .01 .07 .05 .04 .01 .05 .02 .02 .00 .00 .02 .01 .11 .11 .11 .11 .03 .13 .13 .08 .05 .00 .00 .01 .49 (.9) .71 (1.1) .50 (.9) .56(1.0) .39 .48 .35 .41 .17 .20 .20 .19 (.9) (.9) (.6) (.8) (.5) (.5) (.5) (.5)

N 20 32 27 79 17 22 12 51 41 36 15 92 3 7 4 14 19 13 11 43 14 16 17 47

0 .70 .47 .48 .53 .70 .91 .83 .82 .85 .89 .87 .87 .67 .14 .00 .21 .63 .54 .46 .56 .71 .75 .70 .72

1 .20 .22 .15 .19 .12 .05 .00 .06 .05 .05 .00 .04 .00 .43 .50 .36 .16 .23 .18 .19 .07 .13 .12 .11

Walk 2 3+ Avg. (SD) .10 .22 .26 .20 .12 .00 .17 .08 .08 .03 .07 .06 .00 .14 .25 .14 .05 .08 .18 .09 .07 .06 .06 .06 .00 .09 .11 .08 .06 .04 .00 .04 .02 .03 .06 .03 .33 .29 .25 .29 .16 .15 .18 .16 .15 .06 .12 .11 .40 (.7) 1.03 (1.3) 1.04 (1.2) .87 (1.1) .53 .18 .33 .33 .26 .25 .27 .26 2.00 1.86 1.75 1.86 .79 .85 1.09 .88 .78 .56 .64 .65 (.7) (.7) (.8) (.8) (.9) (.9) (.8) (.8) (3.5) (1.7) (1.0) (1.8) (1.3) (1.1) (1.2) (1.2) (1.5) (1.2) (1.2) (1.2)

.25 .25 .20 .23 .21 .23 .25 .23 .17 .12 .11 .14 .07 .33 .26 .20 .14 .25 .17 .18 .00 .06 .06 .05

None on, One outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. None on, Two outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. First only, Zero outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. First only, One outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. First only, Two outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. .55 (1.0) .13 (.4) .11 (.4) .22 (.6) .72 (.9) 1.00 (1.4) 1.00 (1.5) .86(1.2) .74 (1.2) .83 (1.1) 1.68 (1.7) 1.04(1.4)

Source: CBS Sportsline website What is stunning in this analysis is that with convincing regularity, the strategy of actually pitching to Bonds is dominant in all cases except the none on, one out situation. This analysis suggests that the vast majority of manager’s actions in 2004 to intentionally walk Bonds were clearly irrational. In the majority of unclear situations, pitching to


Bonds resulted in fewer runs scored than walking him.

In fact, the majority of

justifications for walking Bonds are debunked by this analysis. As an opposing manager, you are clearly NOT avoiding the big inning by walking Bonds in the majority of situations. You are in fact escalating the risk by walking him. The team statistics from the San Francisco Giants back this up. In 2003, the Giants minus Bonds’ contributions knocked in 623 RBIs and scored 644 runs. In 2004, these same figures inflated to 704 RBIs and 721 runs, an increase of 13% and 12%!

So, what could have caused managers to issue a record 120 intentional walks in 2004 when it is clearly a dominated strategy from an expected runs perspective? Is there an additional payoff component that we are missing that would justify an opposing manager intentionally walking Bonds.

One possible component is that giving up runs at the hands of Barry Bonds is more of a negative payout for teams than it is for one of the other Giants to beat your opposing team. Simply put, given Bonds’ track record (an astounding 12.2% of his plate

appearances result in a home run, a slugging percentage of nearly .750), a manager will face criticism from his team’s fan base and media if he chooses to pitch to Bonds and the strategy fails. A simple explanation of the expected runs strategy will not stand up in the scrutiny of today’s sports media and Bonds’ extremely high statistics. In fact, managers employing this strategy are more likely to be questioned on their managerial ability than if a lesser teammates with less impressive statistics manage to beat them. “It’s easier to sleep at night if someone else beats you in the eighth or ninth inning. Not Bonds,”


Phillies manager Larry Bowa said. “You expect Bonds to hit a home run. You don’t expect other people to come through as much. I don’t want to let him beat us, bottom line. Whether anyone likes it or not, it doesn’t matter.” So how can we model this possibility from an expected run perspective?

One of the biggest fears about Barry Bonds is his ability to hit the long ball. Let’s suppose that the manager takes a look at home runs as a possible determining factor of how many runs could be scored. Bonds’ averaged 55 home runs from 2001 to 2003. The next highest amount of home runs hit between 2001 and 2003 was 37 twice in 2001 and 2002, and 20 in 2003 for an average of 31 home runs. This translates to a 77.4% power differential between Bonds and the next player. Let’s suppose the manager factors this in when pitching to Bonds. Our modified payouts now look like this:
Situation None on, Zero outs 2001 2002 2003 Comb. 2001 2002 2003 Comb. 2001 2002 2003 Comb. 2001 91 84 123 298 71 64 48 183 110 81 61 252 .65 .57 .68 .64 .72 .69 .71 .71 .83 .84 .85 .84 .25 .25 .20 .23 .21 .23 .25 .23 .17 .12 .11 .14 .09 .11 .07 .09 .06 .03 .02 .04 .00 .04 .02 .02 .01 .07 .05 .04 .01 .05 .02 .02 .00 .00 .02 .01 .49 (.9) .71 (1.1) .50 (.9) .99 .39 (.9) .48 (.9) .35 (.6) .73 .17 (.5) .20 (.5) .20 (.5) .34 .74 (1.2) 20 32 27 79 17 22 12 51 41 36 15 92 .70 .47 .48 .53 .70 .91 .83 .82 .85 .89 .87 .87 .20 .22 .15 .19 .12 .05 .00 .06 .05 .05 .00 .04 .10 .22 .26 .20 .12 .00 .17 .08 .08 .03 .07 .06 .00 .09 .11 .08 .06 .04 .00 .04 .02 .03 .06 .03 .40 1.03 1.04 .87 .53 .18 .33 .33 .26 .25 .27 .26 (.7) (1.3) (1.2) (1.1) (.7) (.7) (.8) (.8) (.9) (.9) (.8) (.8) Year N 0 1 No Walk 2 3+ Avg. (SD) Walk 2 3+ Avg. (SD)




x 1.77 None on, One outs

x 1.77 None on, Two outs

x 1.77 First only, Zero outs

27 .67 .07 .15 .11

3 .67 .00 .00 .33

2.00 (3.5)


x 1.77 First only, One outs

2002 2003 Comb. 2001 2002 2003 Comb. 2001 2002 2003 Comb.

18 .50 .33 .06 .11 19 .42 .26 .21 .11 64 .55 .20 .14 .11 65 32 30 127 20 32 35 87 .68 .50 .57 .61 .75 .91 .91 .87 .14 .25 .17 .18 .00 .06 .06 .05 .15 .12 .13 .13 .20 .03 03 .07 .03 .13 .13 .08 .05 .00 .00 .01

.83 (1.1) 1.68 (1.7) 1.84 .72 (.9) 1.00 (1.4) 1.00 (1.5) 1.28 .55 (1.0) .13 (.4) .11 (.4) .39

7 .14 .43 .14 .29 4 .00 .50 .25 .25 14 .21 .36 .14 .29 19 13 11 43 14 16 17 47 .63 .54 .46 .56 .71 .75 .70 .72 .16 .23 .18 .19 .07 .13 .12 .11 .05 .08 .18 .09 .07 .06 .06 .06 .16 .15 .18 .16 .15 .06 .12 .11

1.86 (1.7) 1.75 (1.0) 1.86 (1.8) .79 .85 1.09 .88 .78 .56 .64 .65 (1.3) (1.1) (1.2) (1.2) (1.5) (1.2) (1.2) (1.2)

x 1.77 First only, Two outs

x 1.77

Now the modified payouts show almost a complete reversal from our previous payouts. By factoring in Bonds’ additional HR prowess into the manager’s mental model, almost all situations call for the manager to walk Bonds rather than pitch to him. As we can see, by adding this additional twist to the mental model, we can see how managers might rationalize their decision to walk Barry Bonds within the payout structure.

The intentional walk strategy might also have been used as a signaling tool by opposing teams to show their commitment to take the bat out of Bonds’ hands. This is a costly signal, however, since statistically speaking the Giants benefited from Bonds walking more frequently. The aim of their strategy would be to minimize the chance that Bonds actually comes to the plate. By using the strategy of excessive walks, both intentionally and semi-intentionally, the opposing teams presented the Giants with a dilemma in 2001. Having batted third in the lineup for most of his career, Bonds was coming to bat too often with two outs and no one on in the first inning, resulting in a walk and usually a scoreless inning. Realizing the opposing team’s commitment to walk Bonds and wanting to give him more opportunities to hit and drive in runs, the Giants responded by


increasingly using Bonds in the 4th order. As the chart below shows, Bonds went from batting mostly 3rd to exclusively hitting 4th over the course of four years. Batting later in the lineup reduces the number of plate appearances that Bonds gets over the course of a season, and this was likely one of the goals of the opposing teams when they walked Bonds in non-traditional situations. Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 % in 3rd order 93% 56% 16% 0% % in 4th order 7% 44% 84% 100% Walks 177 198 148 232 Intentional Walks 35 68 61 120

By showing commitment to walk Bonds, the opposing teams might have been trying to force the Giants’ manager into non-traditional strategies in close game situations. Usually late in a close game, teams play for single runs rather than take chances on big rallies. If a runner is on first with zero out, the conventional strategy is to sacrifice him over for the next two batters to drive him in. If the next batter is Bonds, however, the Giants manager might be tempted to have the current batter swing away to avoid having Bonds walked with an open base. As a result, more often than not the Giants do not score in such an inning, which have a significant impact on the outcome of a close game. So in addition to avoiding confrontations with Bonds, the opposing teams also induce the Giants into low percentage strategies at critical junctures of games.

So why did the number of intentional walks suddenly increase even more dramatically in 2004, even though statistically Bonds’ performance did not change significantly from 2003?


Some possible explanations at first glance, but unlikely:

One theory for this dramatic increase is that teams are suddenly using the intentional walk strategy more often in general than in the past, not just to Bonds. One look at the intentional walk statistics over the year in the charts below, however, and we can see it’s certainly not the case. The intentional walk per plate appearance ratio has fluctuated over the decades since its record-keeping began in 1955, but has been steadily declining the last 3 decades. In fact, the ratio for 2000s is the lowest among the documented periods. Looking closer at the data for specific years, the intentional walk per plate appearance ratio for 2004 was not much higher than that of 2003 (0.73% to 0.70%). This tells us that the strategy of intentional walk was not used much more often in 2004 than in 2003. In fact, Bonds makes up such a big share of the league’s IBB total that the ratio dropped significantly in 2005, from 0.73% to 0.64%, when he missed most of the season. Decade 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s Total Yr 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 IBB 3,631 10,399 13,443 13,024 12,198 7,798 60,493 IBB 1056 1381 1316 1452 1383 1210 PA 474,502 1,209,457 1,510,768 1,551,695 1,667,943 1,103,528 7,517,893 PA 163763 188519 187437 186606 186961 190242 Ratio 0.77% 0.86% 0.89% 0.84% 0.73% 0.71% 0.80% Ratio 0.64% 0.73% 0.70% 0.78% 0.74% 0.64%


A second possible explanation for the change is the increasing number of close game situations in 2004 than in the past, which are typically situations where Bonds would be walked more often, whether intentionally or semi-intentionally. “With the game on the line late, the Phillies won’t take any chances. No matter what the statisticians say, they’ll walk him. Just like everybody else,” wrote one sportswriter. The table below shows the walk to plate appearance ratio for Bonds in late and close situations, which is defined as leading by one run, tied, or at least have the tying run on deck in the 7th inning or later. While it is clear that Bonds get walked more often in such situations than usual, the year to year ratio changes are not large enough to be statistically significant. Furthermore, the increase in number of situations does not come close to explaining the sharp increase in intentional walks. Year 2004 2003 2002 Overall BB/PA 232/605 = 38% 148/538 = 28% 198/601 = 33% Late & Close BB/PA 45/97 = 46% 29/73 = 40% 36/98 = 37%

A third reason for the increase in walks is that the quality of pitching has suddenly degraded in 2004, which lowered the number of favorable match-ups against Bonds and therefore leaning more often on the intentional walks. However, looking at the league’s earned run average, a good measure of the pitching performance, it appears that the overall quality of the National League pitchers did not change significantly from 2003 to 2004. The walk rate for the league actually decreased slightly from 2003 to 2004. NL ERA 4.30 4.28 NL BB/9 innings 3.38 3.42

2004 2003


Finally, there’s the conspiracy theory that the league has come together to plot against Bonds out of resentment to prevent him from achieving more personal accolades. Despite his many outstanding feats on the field, Bonds is not well-liked off the field, whether it is by his teammates, other players, or the media. Perceived as arrogant, Bonds once refused to pose for team photos and often treated people with little respect. That is one of the main reasons why even with the single season HR record and the chase for the all-time mark, Bonds has received much less endorsement opportunities than modern day sluggers he has surpassed, such as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. There’s also the racism theory that people don’t want another African American player surpassing Babe Ruth in the record books. William Rhoden of the NY Times wrote “Bonds is being challenged by a strategy of avoidance that has as much to do with fear and resentment as with winning baseball games. Maybe it's the realization that the foundation of our national pastime is shifting: the top two career home run hitters will be a couple of black Americans, with Bonds joining Hank Aaron. Or maybe the baseball establishment doesn't like Barry Bonds”. These theories are unlikely, however, since the participants involved are professional athletes who are trained to set aside personal differences when on the field. It is unlikely they would taint the integrity of the game by conspiring in such a way.

Having discounted the explanations above, we believe the following events combined to cause the sudden increase in intentional walks to Bonds from 2003 to 2004:

As Bonds continued to perform at a high level, he became recognized as being perhaps the best baseball player in history, resulting in enormous respect for his abilities from the


opposing team and therefore an increasing number of intentional walks. Having won a third consecutive MVP award (6 overall) and leading the league in home runs and batting average in 2003, Bonds peaked at an age when most players have already retired. At the age of 40, Bonds continued to dominate the sport in 2004, winning a fourth consecutive MVP award. More importantly, he moved ever closer to the all-time home run leaders, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Such unprecedented consistency and longevity have propelled him to such heights in the minds of his peers that he simply demanded respect at the plate. And he was certainly given respect, getting walked a record 232 times in 2004, including 120 IBBs. Since the league began recording IBBs in 1955, the player with the next highest intentional walks total besides Bonds was Willie McCovey in 1965 with 45. The player with the next highest walk total is Babe Ruth in 1920 with 170. The reason for such record-breaking totals is not that Bonds was significantly better in 2004 than in 2003, but is instead the increasing level of respect that his aggregate accomplishments and continued dominance commanded.

Bonds was also labeled more often as the only offensive threat on the Giants team in 2004, thereby leading to more intentional walks. Without adequate “protection”, or significant threat batting behind Bonds, teams tend to bypass Bonds more often and take their chances on the next guy. Looking at the production at the 5th spot in the Giants lineup, it seems that the level of offensive production actually increased across the board from 2003 to 2004.


Year 2002 2003 2004

Batting Order 5th batter 5th batter 5th batter

BA 0.277 0.243 0.255

R 82 88 87

H 176 147 167

2B 42 26 27

HR 16 18 19

RBI 101 89 107

SLG 0.434 0.379 0.389

That is deceptive, however, given the increasing lack of stability that spot in the lineup has experienced over the years. From 2001 through 2004, the fifth spot has been occupied by the following players: • • • • 2001 - Mostly Jeff Kent 2002 - Kent 52%, Santiago/Sanders/others 48% 2003 - Split evenly among Alfonzo, Cruz, and Santiago 2004 - Split evenly among Alfonzo, Feliz, and Pierzynski/Snow

As you can see, Kent was the last viable threat batting Bonds, and since he left after the 2002 season there has been a platoon of lesser players filling the spot behind Bonds. The number of players used in that spot in 2004 illustrates the need to experiment and play match-ups instead of relying on a consistent offensive threat to protect Bonds. Furthermore, the gap in offensive threat between Bonds and the next best offensive teammate is greater than ever. As shown in the table below, the spread in slugging percentage between Bonds and the next best player increased significantly in 2004, which likely strengthened the opponents’ resolve to not let Bonds beat them. Year 2004 2003 2002 Bonds Slugging 0.812 0.749 0.799 Next High Slugging Snow – 0.529 Feliz – 0.515 Kent – 0.565 Spread 0.283 0.234 0.234

The increase in intentional walks in 2004 can also be attributed to the fact that opponents are simply avoiding Bonds in a more explicit way. We know that a large percentage of


non-intentional walks Bonds gets are actually pitch-arounds that serve the same purpose. Instead of intentionally walking Bonds, opposing pitchers would throw nothing but junk pitches out of the strike zone, hoping to get him to chase a bad pitch while being perfectly comfortable with walking him. This strategy backfired sometimes, however, as Bonds became so adept at hitting bad pitches that he can even hit home runs on them. Perhaps fearing such mistakes, managers simply decided to make some of those semi-intentional walks more explicit. This would explain the fact that while IBB doubled in 2004, the overall walks total increased a much smaller percentage (68 IBB and 198 Total BB in ’02 vs. 120 IBB and 230 Total BB in ’04).

Year 2001 2002 2003 2004

Plate Appearances 653 601 538 605

BB 177 198 148 232

BB/PA 0.271 0.329 0.275 0.383

% change in BB/PA 38% 22% -16% 39%

IBB 35 68 61 120

IBB/PA 0.054 0.113 0.113 0.198

% change in IBB/PA 45% 111% 0% 75%

Growth in Walk Percentage
120% 100%

Annual Change (%)

80% 60% 40% 20% 0% -20% -40% Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 % change in BB/PA % change in IBB/PA

Finally, the increase in intentional walks could be the effect of a backlash following allegations of steroid abuse by Bonds. Before the start of the 2004 season, a San Francisco Chronicle story broke alleging Bonds had used an undetectable steroid during


2003 season. Throughout the season, there were debates about the potential guilt of Barry Bonds and the quality of his accomplishments. Many people, including his peers, felt he had tainted the game and the home run records. Under these conditions, many players and managers may feel justified in using the intentional walk strategy in games that have been decided as a way of getting back at Bonds and slowing down his pursuit of what is commonly viewed as the ultimate record in baseball, the all-time home run record.

Conclusion The record number of intentional walks experienced by Bonds during 2004 appears irrational from a pure game winning strategy perspective. The Giants’ opponents would likely fare better if they walked Bonds less. However, by factoring in additional considerations, it becomes clearer why Bonds gets walked as frequently as he does. Managers seeking to protect their reputations by avoiding the relatively high risk of Bonds hitting a home run will elect to walk Bonds rather than face criticism from their fan base. Bonds’ disrespectful behavior and his alleged use of steroids motivates opponents to punish him by preventing him from reaching the all time home run record.