Proof why Barry isn’t the best of all time

By Dave Fultz

I’ve been blessed with a gem for this week’s column – Barry Bonds still doesn’t have a team and nobody seems to miss him.

Teams have been scared of signing the slugger thanks to the constant steroid allegations and ongoing federal perjury case against him. This has fueled a new argument that I’d be glad to get involved in.

If Bonds is done – and his career over – where does he stand among the all-time greats?

Even though Bonds’ career numbers were probably inflated by his off-the-field exploits, I’m going to present an argument used by many to prove that Bonds still isn’t the greatest player of all time.

The funny part is, he’s not even number two.

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    Now, in order to make this argument, I’m going to have to introduce yet another statistic that is popular in the realm of sabermetrics.

    Adjusted on-base percentage plus slugging (OPS+) is a statistic commonly used to compare players over different eras.

    I’ve already discussed OPS (on-base plus slugging) in past Baseball 101 columns and the reasons why it is considered to be one of the best indicators for true offensive production.

    OPS+ is just like OPS, except for one important difference: OPS+ is adjusted for the league and park that a player played in.

    This is a necessity because different eras, the “Dead Ball Era” or the “Steroid Era,” for example, and different ballparks create very unique offensive atmospheres in terms of run scoring.

    An OPS+ of 100 is always defined as the league average, an OPS+ of 150 or more is outstanding, while an OPS+ of 50 or less is very poor.

    Put simply, this is how the statistic works: If a player has an OPS that is higher than the average, his OPS+ will be higher than 100. The higher his numbers are in comparison to the rest of the league, the higher his OPS+ number will be.

    To help put this in perspective, I’ll give you an example from last season.

    Alex Rodriguez had a 177 OPS+ in ’07 and led the majors. The adjusted OPS for the American League was .762, while A-Rod had an OPS of 1.067. His numbers were well higher than the league average, hence his outstanding OPS+.

    It’s a piece of cake, right? And now that we’ve handled that, we can get back to Bonds and the all-time list.

    Bonds ranks third on the list of all-time career OPS+ leaders. Despite Bonds’ inflated numbers, The Babe and Teddy Ballgame still best him.

    Babe Ruth (207 career OPS+) is first, Ted Williams (191) is second, and Bonds (182) is third.

    The fact that Ruth was so much better than his competition – he often hit more homers in a season than entire teams totaled — makes his OPS+ significantly higher than Bonds’.

    Now, I know you might say this is only a look at one statistic, but really it isn’t. OPS+ is designed to encompass all of the most important hitting statistics and put them in a larger context in relation to players in different eras.

    All of this analysis includes Bonds’ “late-career power surge,” not to mention that his numbers would drop significantly when these years (specifically 2001-2004) are put in the context of possible steroid use.

    If you can look past these allegations, Bonds was a great player. This may be true, but he is still not the best.

    Further reading

    If you’re interested in learning more about OPS+ or nearly anything else about baseball statistics, I highly recommend you check out www.baseball-reference.com. This Web site has every statistic for every player who has ever played the game.

    The best part is that it even lists special statistics like OPS+. It also has a section in every player’s profile which includes statistical achievements and close player comparisons.

    If you have any questions about what you read here or what you find online, feel free to write in to Baseball 101 and your e-mail might make the column.

    Dave Fultz is a junior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected].