Josh Hamilton just had himself quite a week. The Rangers’ slugger clubbed nine homers in one week, including four in one game. He hit .467/.529/1.433, for a ridiculous 1.963 OPS, and piled up 1.5 WAR, which was 0.6 more than any player in the game. As Mark Simon at ESPN showed with this heat map, Hamilton destroyed just about everything thrown his way. But just how hot was he, in a historical sense?
In order to get closer to answering that question, I searched the fabulous Baseball-Reference Play Index for players with the most consecutive games with an extra-base hit, dating back 30 years to 1982. Now, there’s an obvious caveat to this search, and Hamilton is perhaps the perfect example — it leaves out players who were uber hot, but maybe had one game in the middle of their streak where they weren’t as hot. For Hamilton, this was the first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Orioles in Baltimore. He was 1-for-4 for the game, but didn’t have any extra-base hits, and therefore he wouldn’t show up in this search. Still though, it’s about the closest I can come with publicly available tools, so it’s what we’ll use for now.
In looking at the top 200 extra-base hitting streaks by decade (2002-2012, 1992-2001 and 1982-1991) — which isn’t necessarily the 600 best extra-base hitting streaks of the past 30 years, but is certainly close enough for government work (before you ask — I had to break up the search into 10-year blocks because the search kept overloading), I find that there were 46 players extra-base hit streaks of at least five games and an OPS of 1.900 or better. Of the 46, only three players hit eight or more homers during their streak.
Now, that’s not to say that all streaks are created equal, and it’s not to say that Hamilton’s week was superior to others because his was heavier on the home runs. Players put up a higher OPS in a full 32 of the streaks, and some of them were light on homers. For instance, in July of 1987, Vance Law had a seven-game extra-base streak in which he only hit three home runs, but still piled up a 1.999 OPS, as he also roped six doubles and a triple. Perhaps that doesn’t seem as hard or noteworthy because there’s no four-homer game mixed in, but Law had the better OPS.
The player that tops this list from an OPS perspective, as well as being one of the three to hit nine or more homers during his streak was Barry Bonds. His big week came in 2001, a year you might remember, as he had a couple of memorable moments that season. From May 17-22, 2001, Bonds hit .550/.654/1.950, for a chart-topping 2.604 OPS. Bonds homered on all six days, which were all spent on the road — one in Florida, three in Atlanta and three in Arizona. In the final two games in Atlanta, he had a three-homer game and a two-homer game. While he was as on fire as a human could possibly be without being exposed to cosmic radiation, it did little to help his Giants’ squad. San Francisco, which would finish two games behind the D-backs for the National League West crown and three games the Cardinals for the NL Wild Card that season, lost five of the six games. That’s only six days of course, but going back to his game logs from that year, he went 2-for-4 with two singles on the 23rd, giving him a .542/.633/1.708/2.342 week that still bests Hamilton.
Next on our list is Shawn Green. His extra-base hit streak actually went from May 19-27, 2002, giving him an eight-game streak. Green hit 10 homers during that timeframe, along with three doubles and a triple. A Dodger in 2002, Green tallied 42 homers and 5.7 WAR, neither of which was a personal best, but the campaign was the second and final one in which he was named an All-Star, and his fifth-place finish in the NL Most Valuable Player Award vote was also a personal best. This streak may have had something to do with both of those distinctions. While he was white hot during this stretch, he didn’t have an extra-base hit in any of the nine games prior to the stretch, and he only had one double in the nine games following it. But during it — hoo boy! This was the week of Green’s own four-homer game in Milwaukee — a game that also doubles as the single-best game for total bases, with 19 — and during the streak he hit .500/.525/1.472/1.997. But again, this is an eight-day stretch, so let’s try to match it up with Hamilton. If you lop off May 19 on the front end, you’re left with a line of .531/.543/1.594/2.137. If you go the other way and take May 27 off, you come up with a line of .548/.571/1.581/2.152 — either way, his week was better than Hamilton’s.
The final streak belongs to Bobby Abreu, but there are caveats here once again. Abreu piled up nine homers in his extra-base hit streak in May of 2005, but it was over an 11-game, 12-day span — May 7th through 18th — which is a week and a half rather than just one week. This brings us to an important point. First, while it’s easy to talk about the best day ever, or best week ever, it’s a lot harder to actually quantify that. For instance, most people would say that Hamilton’s four-homer game was his best game ever — after all, it’s only been accomplished 15 other times in Major League history. But while his WPA for his four-home game was a mighty fine .369, it’s also just the 10th best single-game mark of his career. So which was his best game ever, the four-homer game, or the game in which he was most responsible for his team winning? Hard to say, and that’s the trouble, among other things, with trying to decide who was “best” when you’re playing arbitrary endpoint games.
We can’t make any definitive conclusions as to how great Josh Hamilton’s week was in a historical sense. Certainly he was the best player in the game last week, and through our extra-base hit streak search we find that Hamilton’s week stacks up with any that has been compiled over the past 30 years, though it probably wasn’t as good as the mega-awesome weeks compiled by Bonds in ’01 or Green in ’02. But we’re also not seeing every great week in that search since a player could have had a truly great week without an extra-base hit streak, and furthermore what exactly is the best day or week is subject to the criteria you use in evaluating it. But you can rest assured that Hamilton was historically hot last week, and that if he can somehow continue this blistering pace, that he’ll be on a very short list for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award come season end.