Pitchers Who Bested Barry Bonds
I’ve been staring at my computer for hours, trying to figure out a poetic way to summarize Barry Bonds‘ career. In between bouts of writer’s block, I’ve gawked at his career stats so many times that I’ve memorized them: a batting line of .298/.444/.607, 762 home runs, 688 intentional walks, 514 stolen bases, a 158.1 bWAR.
Bonds is undoubtedly one of the game’s most powerful and feared hitters. Over 22 seasons, 1,224 pitchers helped pave his path to Cooperstown, and I can’t help but wonder how many of those received even a modicum of success against his 1.051 OPS and .435 wOBA.
Breaking it down by category, Baseball-Reference gives us a few answers. While hundreds of pitchers meet each criterion, the players mentioned below have the most plate appearances against Barry.
Fewest hits: LHP Chris Peters held Bonds hitless through 14 PA, allowing just two walks over five seasons. Eight other pitchers have notched at least 10 PA without giving up a hit: Giovanni Carrara (13), Derek Lowe (13), Joe Boever (12), Cris Carpenter (12), Mark Wohlers (12), Troy Brohawn (11), Bob Patterson (11), and Horacio Ramirez (10). Brohawn came closest to shutting Bonds down completely, issuing a single walk in his 11 PA against the slugger.
Fewest home runs: RHP Rick Sutcliffe managed 51 PA without surrendering a home run. Bonds nabbed just four extra-base hits in that time, a double for each season from 1986-1989.
Fewest intentional walks: Although Mercker refused to walk Bonds, lefty Sid Fernandez holds the most appearances without an intentional walk at 80 PA. He also recorded 14 strikeouts, the second-most of Bonds’ 1,224 opponents.
Most strikeouts: This one goes to right-handed starters Greg Maddux and John Smoltz, who each logged 16 strikeouts against Barry. They had the most opportunities, too, with 157 and 108 PA, respectively (excepting Tom Glavine, who struck Bonds out 11 times in 120 PA).
Of course, despite sample-sized successes, this question still begs an answer: Which pitcher put up the best numbers against Bonds?
Only six pitchers saw him at least 80 times: Greg Maddux (157), Tom Glavine (120), John Smoltz (108), Curt Schilling (100), Dennis Martinez (100), and Sid Fernandez (80). Each left their mark on the future Hall of Famer. Maddux faced Bonds over 21 of his 22-year career. Smoltz walked Bonds 28 times. Fernandez denied Bonds an extra-base hit for 6 years and 44 consecutive PA.
Overall, however, Dennis Martinez blows away the competition. Against ‘El Presidente,’ Barry batted .228/.290/.337, earning a .627 OPS, 7 extra bases, 8 walks, 2 intentional walks, and a solo home run. Martinez’s most dominant efforts were showcased in 1987, when Bonds went 14 PA without reaching base.
The most significant category Dennis did not lead this group in was strikeouts, placing last with 8 Ks to 34 groundouts and 26 flyouts—55 of which were handled by his Baltimore, Montreal, and Atlanta compadres.
The Martinez-Bonds match-ups spanned the first decade of Bonds’ career, taking a brief break from 1994-1997 while Dennis tested the waters in the American League. When he returned for a final plate appearance in ’98, it was to hand Bonds one last intentional walk.
Here’s how Bonds fared versus the rest of the 80+ PA pack, with a little help from B-R:
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