A Season for the Ages

Barry Bonds terrorized major league pitchers and managers in 2004. The proof: He walked 232 times — 120 of which were intentional. Both numbers are single-season records, which, to this point, no one has come close to touching. Needless to say, Bonds’ 2004 was a pretty unique year.

Certainly, Bonds was no stranger to walks during his career. His 120 IBBs in 2004 nearly doubled the old record (68) — which Bonds also had. If you look at single-season leaders in IBBs, Bonds’ name appears six times in the top 10. While Bonds received a lot of intentional walks throughout his career, his 2004 took things to the extreme.

Bonds’ 2004 was so unique that we, as fans, were unlikely to ever see a season like that again. For various reasons, the use of the intentional walk has seen a large decline since Bonds was racking them up in the mid-2000s. While there was certainly research that cautioned against using the intentional walk that was readily available at the time, that research has been more circulated and trusted today. There’s also been a change in front office thinking over that time period.

General Managers are now almost required to have some grasp of sabermetric principles and hire their coaching staffs accordingly. Progressive managers, who are willing to embrace new ideas and not just accept the status-quo are being put in charge of teams now. The entire baseball landscape has changed, and it’s taken the intentional walk to the grave.

Since 2006, walks have steadily declined across the league. While a drop from 1,406 to 1,216 over the course over five seasons may not seem like all that much, a look at the average number of intentional walks reveals a drop from .29 to .25 — which is a significant decline. If this season is any indication, the intentional walk should remain steady once again.

Due to that decline, no current player receives nearly the amount of respect Bonds received in 2004. Even last season — when Jose Bautista was hitting at a “Bondsian” level — he only received two intentional walks the entire season. While managers have shown Bautista more respect this season, he’s still only on pace for 19 intentional walks. Albert Pujols has had more success with intentional walks over the past few seasons — that’s what being the best hitter during the 2000s will do for you — but even he fails to come anywhere near Bonds’ ridiculous 2004. The game has changed and managers have adjusted accordingly.

Barry Bonds posted one of the most unique seasons of all time in 2004. The fear and intimidation he instilled in managers around the league may never be replicated. In 162 regular season games, Barry Bonds was handed 120 intentional base on balls; a truly staggering number. No player has ever come close to reaching those heights, and it’s nearly impossible to predict another player who can come along and duplicate the feat. Today, even the best hitters in baseball don’t receive the respect managers gave Bonds in 2004. What we have here is truly one of the most bizarre seasons in baseball history; one that we — as fans — will likely never experience again.

Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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11 years ago

Let’s just label it a “drug induced haze” and forget about it.