In 1990, Rickey Henderson came to the plate in the leadoff spot 588 times (out of 594 total plate appearances). He hit 28 homers out of that slot, walking 95 times and striking out just 60, en route to a .326/.439/.579 line as Oakland’s No. 1 hitter. He also stole 65 bases and was caught on just 10 attempts. All told, he produced a 10.2-WAR season that has since been eclipsed by only three position players: Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, and Mike Trout.
Henderson’s 190 wRC+ mark in 1990 has been topped by a small handful of batters in the meantime, too: Bonds a bunch of times, Jeff Bagwell Mark McGwire. Bryce Harper did it last year, and Frank Thomas did, too, in the strike-shortened 1994 season. None of them provided such production out of the leadoff spot, however. By most criteria, it’s the greatest hitting season by a leadoff batter in history.
It will likely remain the greatest season by a leadoff batter after the 2016 campaign, as well. That said, Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter is making a strong case for second-best.
In terms of pure value at the plate, Matt Carpenter is off to a great start. Carpenter’s .300/.419/.585 line has led to a .419 wOBA and a 167 wRC+ that leads the National League and is behind only David Ortiz in all of major-league baseball*. Over the last 365 days, Carpenter’s 154 wRC+ mark sits behind only Ortiz, Trout, Josh Donaldson, Harper, and Joey Votto, and his .277 ISO is the seventh best in baseball. Continued production at that level would give him one of the greatest-hitting leadoff seasons of all time.
*Numbers current as of Monday afternoon.