The San Francisco Giants recently announced that Barry Bonds would be returning to the team as a spring training instructor. He joins former Giants Will Clark, J.T. Snow, and Jeff Kent as a hitting coach that will aid both veterans and spring invitees alike. According to sfgiants.com, Bonds plans to join the team March 9-17.
Bonds has voiced his desire to contribute more hands-on with the Giants, but the organization has been reluctant to associate themselves with Bonds due to his uncertain legal status. Subsequent to his steroid accusations, Bonds faced an unfortunately public perjury and obstruction of justice trial. While the Giants were unwilling to hire the controversial Bonds, the organization seems confident that all of Bonds’s disruptions are behind him.
Considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, hitters of all time, Bonds undoubtedly could help out the Giants’ atrocious lineup from a year ago. The all-time leader in home runs and walks also finished top five all-time in runs, RBIs, OBP, and SLG percentage. Although his natural ability and skills were undeniable, what separated Bonds from his peers was his intelligence at the plate.
The Giants are hoping Bonds can help not only by tweaking players’ swing mechanics, but also by providing insight on how to approach each at-bat. Bonds was a mastermind when it came to scouting opposing pitchers and analyzing pitch counts and situations. Barry knew what pitch was coming next before the pitcher even knew. If Bonds can pass some of that knowledge along to hitters, especially free-swingers like Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, it will help to drastically cut down on strikeouts and improve batting statistics across the board.
An underrated aspect of adding Bonds to the spring staff is his ability to help with base running. Bonds remains the only player in the 400 home run-400 steals club, as well as the only member of the 500-500 club. While he could get away with relying on his elite speed and athleticism early in his career, Bonds turned to using his head to steal bags when his legs started to go later in his career. Much like how he analyzed the pitcher at the plate, Bonds was excellent at reading pitchers while on base. The combination of his ability to time pitchers and his knowledge of tendencies in certain pitch counts allowed him to grab an extra 90 feet for free.
The Giants only stole 67 bases in 2013, ranking 23rd in the MLB. The return of a healthy Angel Pagan should hopefully help increase that number. However, even adding 15-20 steals from Pagan still places the Giants in the bottom half of the league.
During the Giants championship runs, they were exceptional at manufacturing runs. Small-ball is a whole lot easier when coaches have the luxury of moving the runner from second to third with a bunt instead of first to second. The general lack of speed on the 2014 Giants means that steals are going to have to come from somewhat unlikely sources if they want to return to that small-ball excellence. If Bonds can teach the nuances of base running to guys like Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Brandon Crawford, it may result in just enough runs to squeeze out wins like the Giants did in 2010 and 2012.
Despite staying a fan favorite among the majority of Giants fans, the organization has avoided hiring Bonds primarily due to his affiliation with the performance-enhancing drug scandal. Mark McGwire, another former player involved in the P.E.D. scandal, faced similar condemnations before being hired as the hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2010. McGwire transformed the Cardinals below-average lineup into an offensive powerhouse. St. Louis finished the 2011 season ranked first in the National League in runs, batting average, and OPS.
While Bonds is simply participating as a part-time spring instructor, Giants players should definitely feel his presence and influence. If Bonds does a good job helping hitters and base runners, a full time coaching position, like McGwire, might not be far in his future. For the mean time, Bonds needs to show he can help elevate the performance of the lackluster Giants offense from a year ago. The return of a healthy lineup and the addition of Michael Morse should facilitate more runs, but the Giants are going to need all the help they can get if they want to compete with the stacked Dodgers lineup. At the very least maybe Bonds can teach lefties like Sandoval and Belt how to conquer McCovey Cove like he did for so many years.