Can Bonds Top Aaron In 2006?

Barry Bonds needs 48 home runs to become the record holder.  With the recent relevation that 2006 will be his last season, it’s almost become a foregone conclusion that he’ll never hit #756.  Said Ken Rosenthal:

"If this season is Bonds’ last, Aaron’s mark almost certainly will be out of reach, saving MLB the embarrassment of celebrating a tainted slugger passing one of the game’s most dignified greats."

Rosenthal pulls no punches in tonight’s column, calling for Bonds to retire now and put everyone out of their misery.

Rather than engage in the typical judgment of Bonds as a person, I’m far more interested in his chances of pulling an upset and topping Aaron in 2006.  Bonds needs 47 to tie and 48 to own the record.

The over/under on games played for Bonds in 2006 is 120, a number thrown out by Giants GM Brian Sabean last October.  I don’t want to get all crazy statistical on you here, so let’s keep it simple and see how many games played Bonds might need to get those 48 HR.  Below is a handy chart; feel free to skip it if you hate numbers.

2005 52 5 10.40 14 3.71
2004 617 45 13.71 147 4.20
2003 550 45 12.22 130 4.23
2002 612 46 13.30 143 4.28
2001 664 73 9.10 153 4.34
2495 214 11.66 587 4.25

The PA/HR indicates how many plate appearances Bonds needed per HR that year.  You can see that his 2005 pace was his best since he set the single season record, though it’s probably silly to draw conclusions from such a tiny sample.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say Bonds performs at the exact same pace as 2005 this season.  In that case, he’d need to play in 135 games to break the record.  Don’t you think he’d find a way to tolerate the pain and get into those extra 15 games?

In our example above, Bonds was getting less than four plate appearances per game.  Felipe Alou was careful with his superstar, as Bonds didn’t play until September 12th.  Though he’ll continue to be pulled early in 2006, let’s say that Bonds agrees to bat second and somehow manages to get exactly four plate appearances per game.  It’d still be less than any of the four seasons before 2005.  In this case, Bonds would only need 125 games to break Aaron’s record.

Bonds will need anywhere from 440 to 660 plate appearances to hit 48 home runs.  In the best case he’ll go deep every ten plate appearances and in at the worst it might take fourteen.  It’s all just a numbers game, but Bonds has an entirely legitimate chance to hit his 756th HR in 2006.

Bill James pegged Bonds’s chance at 756 at 28% in his latest book, while A-Rod has a 37% chance.  Albert Pujols has a 16% likelihood.  So all the Bonds haters can take solace in the distinct possibility that one of today’s untainted stars will glide right by his HR total in ten or fifteen years and even make it to 800.

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