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Heroes and Goats Special Edition: Testing the limits

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How high can it go?

San Francisco Giants vs. Chicago Cubs

While first following and then later writing Heroes and Goats, I’ve wondered what would be the theoretical limits for the high score for a single player season. Obviously, if you understand the basic math, an unrealistic, simplistic answer can be derived. We award three points for a Superhero award, two for a Hero, and one for a Sidekick. We deduct three for a Billy Goat, two for a Goat, and one for a Kid. Most teams play 162 games, so without a lot of strain, 486 is the absolute maximum (barring exceeding 162 games which does happen from time to time).

But, it’s obviously highly unlikely that one player could come anywhere near that number. Numbers above 162 seem well beyond even the theoretical extremes. But where is the line? To find out, I decided to test a season that registered among the singular highest WPA player scores. In fact, I picked the highest WPA for an offensive player per Baseball Reference. That was Barry Bonds in 2004 at 12.96. Bonds actually has three of the top four seasons in MLB history for an offensive player, with the other season belonging to Babe Ruth (1923).

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Bonds’ 2004 season was the highest ever score using the Heroes and Goats formula. It’s not hard to imagine that it is at least close to the record. So how highly did he score? Those Giants did play 162 games under the direction of Felipe Alou. They won 91 games and finished second in the National League West.

Before I get back to the H&G angle on the 2004 Giants season, I want to point out some other things about that team. First, that was an odd team. They won 91 games and only had one player drive in over 100 runs (Bonds at 101 including 45 homers). They also only had one score 100 runs (Bonds at 129).

This was one of those old-school type teams. They basically ran with nine everyday players and two primary substitutes. 11 players each had over 300 plate appearances. They also ran with largely six starting pitchers. Four starters made 20+ starts and the fifth and sixth starters combined for 32 starts. They used two different closers who combined for 40 saves.

The most fascinating player I found on the 2004 Giants was one I’d never heard of before and I suspect most of you haven’t either. Brian Dallimore was first drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 37th round in 1995. He didn’t sign that year but was selected again the following year in the ninth round by the Astros. He was traded in 2000 to the Arizona Diamondbacks as a minor leaguer. He was granted free agency following the 2002 season and signed with the Giants. He was granted free agency again but re-signed with the Giants.

By 2004, Brian had played in the minor leagues for eight-plus seasons. He had appeared in approximately 800 minor league games and had over 3,500 plate appearances. He was 30 years old that year. The career minor leaguer was called to the majors on April 29, made his debut off the bench and was retired in his only at bat. On April 30 he would be pressed into the starting lineup. In his first MLB start, he had a three-hit game. In fact, he hit a home run, drove in four runs and scored three. He walked and was hit by a pitch, reaching safely in all five plate appearances. You have to love rocking a 2.333 OPS after your first major league start.

That alone would have been an amazing story, but for a little over a week he started for the Giants, splitting time between third and second. In his second start he had an RBI-single. In his third start, he had two hits, drove in a run and scored a run. Over his first six starts, he had a line of .333/.393/.458. Some Giants fans were surely anointing him as the next big thing and wondered how the Giants had waited so long to give the kid a chance.

Of course, MLB is hard. He went hitless in five at bats the next day and struck out twice. In his next two games, he came off the bench and played the final few innings. In those two games, he had five plate appearances and just one walk to show for it. He got a little bit more playing time before being sent down. Then bounced back up a couple of times through the year. He was back up in September and had a couple of more flashes but settled out at a .279/.347/.395 line in 49 plate appearances. He played in seven games the following season at the MLB level with the Giants, all of them off of the bench. He had just one double.

After spending most of that 2005 season in the minors, that was it for the career of Dallimore. But I can just imagine him telling his kids about that one series in 2004 in Florida when he felt like he was swinging at beach balls and not base balls.

60+ homer seasons are fun. 200+ walk seasons are quite rare. But stories like Dallimore’s are absolutely one of the fun parts of baseball. Somewhere in some dark recess of the internet should be the virtual Hall of Obscure baseball players. Certainly a guy who had a three-hit, five times on base in five tries, four-RBI, three-run game in his first MLB start would have to qualify.

2004 Giants Heroes and Goats: The Bottom 5

5. A.J. Pierzynski ( -36). Our old pal got over 500 plate appearances that season. He generally batted fifth, sixth or seventh. Bonds almost exclusively batted fourth, so AJ had an awful lot of time with men on base. His .729 OPS was not terrible (OPS+ 86) but he got the short end of the stick a lot

4. Kirk Rueter (-24). Kirk made 33 starts (a team high) and threw 19013 innings with a 4.73 ERA and was 9-12.

3. Neifi Perez (- 22). One of the more infamous Cubs I can remember, Neifi was a utility infielder that season. He appeared in 103 games and got 353 plate appearances with a .571 OPS.

2. Marquis Grissom (-18.5). A 37-year-old Grissom was the most frequent No. 3 hitter on the team and played center field. He had 145 games and got 606 plate appearances with a .773 line. This wasn’t a great offensive lineup, but what he was doing batting in front of Bonds is totally beyond me.

1. Pedro Feliz (-17). Feliz backed up both corner positions and got a ton of playing time for a guy who wasn’t the primary starter at any position. He got into 144 games and had 531 plate appearances. The 2004 Giants are a great study in how a team can have nine regulars pretty seamlessly. Feliz had a .790 OPS.

On the Goats side of the ledger, the Giants had 10 players with -12 points or more. They had 14 other players who posted negative cumulative negative scores for a total of 24 out of the 38 players who registered any score or more.

2004 Giants Heroes and Goats: Top 5

5. Michael Tucker (+10.5). Another ex-Cub on this team. Tucker at 33 years old had a decent season in right field for the Giants with a .765 OPS in 140 games and 547 plate appearances.

4. Ray Durham (+16). Durham had a fantastic season despite missing some time due to injuries. He had an .848 OPS in 120 games and 542 plate appearances. He scored 95 runs in the time he played.

3. Jason Schmidt (+34). Schmidt was dominant well into the season, running second for most of the year before having a couple of tougher starts in August. Even so, he went 18-7 with a 3.20 ERA in 32 starts and 225 innings. Jason Schmidt is probably a tad under rated for just how good he was at his peak.

2. J.T. Snow (+46.5). Snow actually piled this number up despite only playing in 107 games (417 plate appearances). He had a .958 OPS largely out of the No. 2 spot in the order. Quite a season in his age 36 year.

1. Barry Bonds (+104.5). In game number 154 Barry Bonds was the Superhero and with that, he crossed the 100 point barrier. I don’t know that he was the first to do so, but he’s certainly the first recorded. Barry had a 1.422 OPS that season on the strength of 232 walks and only 41 strike outs. He drew 120 intentional walks that year.

So there we have it. A season over 100. That’s something we aren’t likely to see with any kind of frequency. A truly remarkable season. Like so many others, I’ll always struggle with Barry Bonds, singularly one of the finest all around players I ever saw play the game. He was one of the best I ever saw even before his late career surge. Obviously, there is no question that he was one of those in the center of the PED era, certainly not the first one to go down that path and absolutely not the last. That puts a bit of tarnish on that was still probably a Hall of Fame worthy career even if we discount all of his numbers after a certain point.

Poll

Do you believe that Barry Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame?

This poll is closed

  • 42%
    No!
    (16 votes)
  • 26%
    Yes, he was worthy even before PED
    (10 votes)
  • 31%
    Yes. Like it or not, PEDs have been a part of MLB
    (12 votes)
38 votes total Vote Now