On the Dominance of Barry Bonds

Yesterday, Joe Posnanski wrote a piece looking at the best players in baseball over each 5 year stretch since 1970 using Win Shares. Tom Tango noted on his blog that Win Shares gave a skewed perspective because their baseline (which is zero) is biased, and that Win Shares Above Bench would be better. Curious, I decided to see what rWAR had to say on the subject (which, coincidentally, happens to be just what Larry Granillo had done, albeit with a different process, at wezen-ball a day before Joe published his article).

I found something very interesting:

Most WAR over 5-year span:

From To Leader WAR
1988 1992 Barry Bonds 41.9
1989 1993 Barry Bonds 46.3
1990 1994 Barry Bonds 45
1991 1995 Barry Bonds 42.6
1992 1996 Barry Bonds 45.1
1993 1997 Barry Bonds 43.9
1994 1998 Barry Bonds 42.6
1995 1999 Barry Bonds 40.2
1996 2000 Barry Bonds 41.6
1997 2001 Barry Bonds 43.3
1998 2002 Barry Bonds 46.7
1999 2003 Barry Bonds 47.7
2000 2004 Barry Bonds 56.1
2001 2005 Barry Bonds 47.8

Bonds was the leader in WAR over the previous 5 seasons for 14 straight years. On top of that, he was second in baseball in WAR from 1987-1991 (to Roger Clemens) and from 2002-2006 (to Albert Pujols). It's easy to remember just how good he was in the early part of the 2000s (exemplified here; he managed to keep his 5-year WAR lead in 2005 despite going to the plate only 52 times that season), but it seems like he never gets the credit he deserves for absolutely dominating the '90s. At the time, everyone held Griffey as the decade's dominant player. Frank Thomas was probably his biggest challenger in most people's minds. Mark McGwire was the the favourite of some for a time later in the decade, and Alex Rodriguez had his fair share of proponents. No one seemed to notice that Bonds was better than them all even back then, and it wasn't even close.

As someone who likes to look over the history of the game as a hobby, I'm constantly amazed to find new things that demonstrate just how ridiculously good Bonds was long before anyone started noticing. This was one of those things. If it surprises you, I highly recommend looking at the things Barry did in the earlier part of his career. Look at his batting, his defense, his baserunning, everything. Compare him to the best of his generation and to the best of all time. If you were around back then, you just might find yourself asking, much like I have, what you could have been thinking back then not to notice?

I guess it's better late than never.


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