Jeff Sullivan: Barry Bonds’ Nemesis

These days, I think we’re getting pretty good about understanding batter vs. pitcher splits. That is, we’re getting pretty good about understanding that batter vs. pitcher splits are worthless, as far as projections are concerned. It hasn’t quite extended to the media – you will, for example, get assaulted by microsplits during any broadcast – but fans are getting better. A lot of us know that, if a guy is 5-for-10 or 0-for-10 against a pitcher, that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to the next at bat.

But while these microsplits don’t say anything about the future, they most certainly say something about the past. Because they are records of past events. And that can make them interesting. Barry Bonds went 6-for-9 with three homers and eight walks against Carl Pavano. He went 4-for-8 with 11 walks against Jeff Weaver. And he went 3-for-33 with one walk against Chuck McElroy.

That’s Chuck McElroy, of “some guy named Chuck McElroy” fame. He was drafted in the eighth round in 1986. He was a lefty. He probably still is a lefty. He pitched for nine teams between 1989-2001. He posted a 112 ERA+. He somehow allowed a higher OPS to lefties than righties. And he had absolutely tremendous success against Barry Bonds.

There’s a chance that McElroy’s success against Bonds is the most remarkable thing about his career. Aside from the fact that just making the Major Leagues and staying in them is remarkable. I guess it’s interesting that McElroy was once traded for Lee Smith. Mitch Williams, too, and Tony Phillips, and Jesse Orosco, and others. But McElroy’s Baseball-Reference Bullpen page is one line long. His Wikipedia page isn’t much longer. This was the guy who got Barry Bonds out.

The funny thing is…well it’s not really funny in any way that you can mean “funny”, but people knew about the McElroy/Bonds thing while it was going on. A headline from September 14th, 1998:

Bonds Gets Best Of His Nemesis / HR off Rockies’ McElroy lifts S.F.

Incidentally, from later in that same article:

"As Colorado manager Don Baylor emerged to bring McElroy into the game, Bonds went back to the dugout. Those who knew that he was 1-for-29 against the journeyman left-hander might have wondered whether Baker would, of all the horrors, pinch-hit for his superstar.

Barry Bonds was a competitive guy. I don’t know if Chuck McElroy was a competitive guy. I literally know next to nothing about Chuck McElroy. But you might think that this kind of matchup could warm up the blood a little bit. Not so. Bonds and McElroy? Friends, at least as much as Barry Bonds could be friends with anybody.

LA Times:

"One of the few who feel close to Bonds, McElroy says the slugger is destined to break McGwire’s record."

From that article linked earlier:

"He’s gotten me a lot more than I’ve ever gotten him," Bonds said of McElroy. "He’s still winning it. It was just the right timing situation today.

"He’s never shied away from me in my career. He’s dominated me more than I’ve dominated him. (Paul) Assenmacher did. (Mike) Bielecki did. There have been a couple of other pitchers. We’ve been really good friends our whole careers as well. I always told him he wound up on the wrong team. We need him on our team."

Chuck McElroy became the guy who was supposed to get Barry Bonds out. That was during his career. For the most part, he continued to do it, until his career was over. He allowed a homer to Bonds in 1998 and then another in 2001, but then, who didn’t allow a homer to Bonds in 2001? As a Pirate, Bonds was 1-for-14 against McElroy with a walk. As a Giant, Bonds was 2-for-19 against McElroy with zero walks.

Given what we know, the odds are that, had McElroy faced Bonds way more often, the matchup numbers would’ve regressed to something more like what we’d expect. But he didn’t, and they didn’t. Chuck McElroy had a long yet fairly unremarkable Major League career. But he’ll always be the guy who got Barry Bonds. That’s a story you never stop telling.

Jeff Sullivan is a baseball writer who writes about baseball. You can find him at Lookout Landing, Baseball Nation, and right here.

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