On Barry Bonds Weekend, it’s important to remember why there’s a Barry Bonds Weekend in the first place: home runs. Sure, Barry Bonds was already on his way to the Hall of Fame for his overall hitting ability as well as a complimentary base stealing acumen, but he helped the Giants make AT&T Park the premiere destination in MLB and put the Giants on his back for 5 straight years to start the 21st century because he could hit the ball high, far, and deeeeeeeeep, sometimes into McCovey Cove, sometimes to the deepest part of the yard, and frequently over the fences.
Barry Bonds’ final home run came in 2007, ending a 7-year stretch where the franchise was right there in the middle of the pack (14th in MLB) in terms of hitting home runs. From 2000-2007, the Giants tallied 1,444 home runs (628 at home, 24th in MLB, and 816 on the road, 7th in MLB). Bonds accounted for 22% of them (317) while J.T. Snow (57), Rich Aurilia (85), and Jeff Kent (92) were responsible for 16% of that total.
Since that time, and as I covered somewhat in that article about the Giants’ 25 blown saves this season, the Giants’ offense overall has been a turd in the wind, but that hasn’t stopped them from being successful. Despite hitting the fewest home runs in baseball since 2008 (1,341, 88 home runs behind the Royals at #29) and scoring the third-fewest runs (7,091) over that same stretch, the Giants have won three titles and won 888 games, good for 8th-best in Major League Baseball and 3rd in the National League.
So, on the most basic level, home runs are wholly irrelevant. Scoring runs, likewise, isn’t important. The Giants had an historic run of pitching that’s given them their success, and the gamble going forward seems to be that the Giants can find another set of Cain, Lincecum, and Bumgarner than construct a league-average offense. This is plainly obvious by the amount of money the Giants have spent in free agency over the past decade: largely on pitching.
The Giants have also allowed the fewest home runs at home over the past decade than any other team in baseball. 653 in 7,980 innings. The top 10 is, in fact, a rather interesting list:
- Giants - 653
- Cardinals - 697
- Marlins - 700
- Pirates - 712
- Braves - 729
- Dodgers - 747
- Athletics - 780
- Padres - 790
- Royals - 823
- Nationals - 829
This is an interesting list for a few reasons:
- At least half those teams have been bad over the past decade. Sorted by 10-year overall winning percentages (as in home + away), it looks like this:
- Dodgers - .556
- Cardinals - .552
- Giants - .512
- Nationals - .508
- Braves - .506
- Athletics - .498
- Pirates - .479
- Royals - .471
- Marlins - .464
- Padres - .453
The Nationals, Braves, A’s, Pirates, Royals, Marlins, and Padres have all undergone a rebuild or experienced multiple rebuilds over the past 10 years, but —
- They’ve all had periods of success motivated by pitching. You might say that the Marlins are the sole exception here, and you’d be right — the 2008 and 2009 Florida Marlins were their last two winning seasons, and the Miami Marlins have never had a winning season — but we know that’s all about constant tinkering and cheapskater-y by their tumultuous ownership.
Yet, despite these fallow periods, they still managed to hit more home runs, on average, than the Giants.
- The park factor probably tells the whole story, but with one interesting caveat: The Giants’ 88.92 Park Factor — that is, a number that attempts to describe the affect of a stadium on hitting and pitching — ranks as the lowest, meaning that offense is, on average, 11.08% below the rest of the league’s when a game is played inside AT&T Park. FanGraphs notes,
San Francisco is now the home of the single most pitcher-friendly park in the game. 2017 will mark the third time in the last four years that AT&T Park will have a factor over a full standard deviation lower than MLB average. Oakland is going for three years in a row with that distinction.
The A’s surely get the benefit of the designated hitter in terms of their home run totals, and the other National League teams obviously had more home run hitters and slightly more hitter-friendly parks to help them gain higher totals, so, yes, a lot of the Giants’ power drought of the past decade comes from the park and the lack of Barry Bonds, but for some players, there are no stadiums that can contain them.
AT&T Park was built because of a slugger, the team boosted its popularity because of its home runs — some of the biggest hits of the 21st century have been home runs — the Giants bank on their ballpark to make decent pitchers better and bad pitchers decent so they can find “hidden gems” within the free agent coal mines. They also dump huge trucks of money in front of free agent pitchers, too.
Next year, a humidor will probably be installed in every stadium, and that might make the park a little bit more hitter friendly. With luck, the Giants will be able to take advantage of that, because at some point, their inability to draft an Aaron Judge or Giancarlo Stanton or find a J.D. Martinez or David Ortiz will be their doom, both from a performance and ticket sales standpoint, because at some point, the stadium excuse won’t be the winning run.