Disputing ESPN's “Barry Bonds without the PED factor”
“Baseball stats guru” Dan Szymborski, the creator of the ZiPS projection system, claims that steroids drastically enhanced both Barry Bonds’ ability as an overall hitter as well as his lifetime statistics. However, there seem to be many flaws with this “ZiPS projection system” as even ESPN, the source of this article, states that the system “uses past performance and trends on how performance degrades with age to predict a player's future performance.” By looking at a player like Buster Posey, someone not nearly as gifted as Barry Bonds, we see that although he looked to be declining in the past several years, his final season in 2021 was comparable to his 2012 MVP season. Posey’s performance did not seem to “degrade with age” as Szymorski’s projection would suggest. So, is it really fair to “predict a player’s future performance” based on their age and past performances and trends? I would argue not.
Furthermore, with the unreliability of the ZiPS projection system out of the way, I would like to really dive into how “performance enhancing” PED’s actually are. Performance Enhancing Drugs or “PED’s” build muscle, reduce body fat, and therefore speed-up a player’s recovery time. So, while PED’s are clearly unfair and rightfully considered cheating, do they increase the eyesight of a hitter on 95+ mph pitches, or a player’s ability to swing a bat and adjust on off-speed pitches, or even his overall pitch selection? No, they do not. So, to say that instead of hitting 73 home runs in 2001, Bonds would have only hit 23 that year, something ZiPS projection system actually states, would be blatantly out of line and pretty farfetched. Moreover, the system also predicts that had Bonds not used PED’s, he would have finished his career with 551 career home runs rather than 762, which would place him at No. 15 on the all-time home runs list.
It is important to note that the system also predicts that Bonds would have played one fewer season had he not used PED’s, yet Szymorski nor ESPN provide any explanation as to why.
Ultimately, it is completely fair to say that Barry Bonds cheated and gave himself an unfair advantage by taking PED’s. However, anyone that follows baseball would know that baseball is rooted in cheating. Take the Houston Astros for example: while I and most of the world do not condone the cheating scandal, it has always been a part of the game and the MLB clearly does not care enough to strip Houston of their World Series title. So, while Bonds’ statistics may have looked slightly different had he not taken PED’s, I believe he still would have gone down as the greatest player to ever step foot on a baseball diamond with or without them.