Ranking the 2013 Hall of Fame candidates: No. 1, Barry Bonds

By Dayn Perry | Baseball Writer
Will Barry Bonds make it to Cooperstown? (Getty Images)

Our countdown of the 37 candidates eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013 draws to a close with the greatest, most disputed of them all: Barry Bonds.

Baseball Hall of Fame
Ranking the eligibles

As mentioned in Trent Rosecrans' Q&A with Jay Jaffe, the JAWS ranking system (available at Baseball-Reference.com) played a prominent role in our ordering of these candidates, but there's been more to it than that. Your three hopelessly devoted EOB bloggers -- Matt Snyder, Trent and I -- ranked each of these candidates according to a host of objective and subjective considerations, and then we averaged those rankings to come up with the final order.

Now -- with arguments polished and outrage tightly coiled -- let's move on to Mr. Bonds ...

1. Barry Bonds; LF; Pirates, Giants; 1986-2007
Year on ballot: 1st
Career stats: 12,606 PA; .298/.444/.607; 762 HR; 2,935 H; 1,996 RBI; 2,227 R; 601 2B; 514 SB
bWAR, rank among candidates: 158.1, 1st
JAWS, ranks among candidates: 114.6, 1st

If this were solely about Bonds' statistical merits, then we'd have a vanishingly brief discussion. Bonds is the all-time home run leader and the single-season home run leader. He ranks in the top five all-time in OPS+, times on base, total bases, RBI, runs scored, and career bWAR. That's to say nothing of his 601 doubles, 514 stolen bases, 14 All-Star appearances, 12 Silver Sluggers, eight Gold Gloves and seven MVPs. Based on the numbers, the debate is not whether Bonds is a Hall of Famer; the debate is whether Bonds is the greatest player in the history of the game.

But in the curious, divisive case of Barry Bonds, it's about more than the numbers. Bonds, of course, is widely believed to be central to the PED scandal that's enveloped baseball over the last decade or so.

RELATED: Some perspective on Barry Bonds' Hall of Fame candidacy

According to Lance Williams' and Mark Fainaru-Wada's book Game of Shadows, Bonds began taking the steroid stanozolol in 1999. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors alleged that Bonds failed a privately administered test for two anabolic steroids in November of 2000.

None of that constitutes unimpeachable evidence, but it's not a great leap to assume that Bonds used substances that are now banned under MLB's Joint Drug Treatment and Prevention Program. So let's say Bonds, assuming the above constitutes at least the boundaries of truth, was "clean" through the 1999 season. What then?

Among the many things we don't know is how long Bonds used, what specifically he used and what difference it made on the field of play. We'll probably never know these things. But let's proceed from a standpoint of assuming maximum efficacy on the part of whatever he put into his body. As such, let's throw the whole thing out.

As we recently did with Roger Clemens, let's dismiss the entirety of Bonds' playing career after his dirty deeds are purported to have begun (i.e., in terms of time frame let's split the difference between Williams' and Fainaru-Wada's allegations and the date of the failed test and dismiss his numbers after the 1999 season). So here's what Bonds' numbers would have looked like if his career had spanned "merely" from 1986-1999.

8,534 PA; .288/.409/.559; 445 HR; 1,299 RBI; 1,455 R; 423 2B; 1,430 BB; 460 SB; 163 OPS+

As you probably could have guessed, those numbers remain deeply impressive. Bonds would still be the lone member of the 400 homers/400 steals club, and that OPS+ of 163 would be tied for 11th on the all-time list. As for those Cooperstown measuring sticks we've been using in this series, pre-2000 Bonds has a bWAR of 100.5, a seven-year peak WAR of 61.2 and a JAWS of 80.9. As for the average Hall of Fame left fielder, he has a bWAR of 61.7, a seven-year peak WAR of 39.7 and a JAWS of 50.7. Pre-2000 Bonds easily surpasses the Hall of Fame standards for his position.

Now assume a normal, nonenhanced decline phase. What would that have looked like? This is pure guesswork, of course, but we do have some projection models to inform us. The ZiPS forecasting system, using just Bonds' 1986 through 1999 seasons, projects him for 597 home runs through 2007.

Meanwhile, here's what Bill James' Brock6 system projected for Bonds based upon his numbers through the 1996 season:

Attribute to him the final seasons of a mere mortal, and he still winds up as one of the 10 greatest players in baseball history. The upshot is that if you're inclined to strip Bonds of all he achieved post-1999 or merely discount his outputs, he remains an indisputable Hall of Famer based on the numbers.

As mentioned, though, it's about more than the numbers with Bonds. So how can you justify casting a ballot for Bonds if you're a voting BBWAA member or supporting his candidacy if you're among the unwashed laity? As I see it, you have but two rationales:

  • You don't see PED use, particularly before it was banned in MLB through collective bargaining, as a reason to keep an otherwise plainly deserving player out of the Hall.
  • You think Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he was alleged to have used PEDs.

And How can you justify not supporting Bonds' Hall of Fame candidacy? There's really only one way:

  • You believe a player who can credibly be accused of using late-generation PEDs (i.e., substances presumably to the north of the amphetamines that were widely used in the 1960s and 1970s), even if he was obviously qualified for the Hall before he began using, should not be voted in, at least just yet.

The matter of whether Bonds should be in the Hall, as complicated as it might seem on the surface, is actually reducible to these beliefs.

Would we vote for him? Snyder: Yes (1); Rosecrans: Yes (1); Perry: Yes (1)

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