You’re Not As Hot As Barry Bonds

A lot of position players have had torrid starts to the season. Justin Upton and Michael Morse have each hit six homers. Chris Davis is slugging 1.100. Adam Jones already has 18 hits. Coco Crisp has an eight-game hitting streak. But none of the hot starts this month are even in the range of Barry Bonds’ April of 2004.

In April, 2004, Bonds put up just some ridiculous numbers. You already knew that, of course. But let’s take a look back, shall we? That April, he drew 39 walks. That puts him in some rare company, as only eight other players in history have done that — Max Bishop, Jack Clark, Roy Cullenbine, Lou Gehrig, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. In fact, April ’04 was the third time Bonds had done it, and he would do it another two times in ’04, putting him at five times overall — two more than Ted Williams.

To put it in further context, since 1947, there have been 2,159 players who have qualified for the batting title who have walked fewer than 39 times for the entire season. Just last season, there were 37 such players. Even if you took Bonds’ intentional walks out of the debate, Bonds walked 21 times of his own accord during the month, and there have been 413 players who have qualified for the batting title since 1947 who have walked 20 or less times in a season. Last season, there were two such players — Delmon Young and Alexei Ramirez.

What made Bonds’ 39 walks an even more-telling feat is the fact that he only played in 23 games in April of 2004, and started just 22, which left him only able to accumulate 92 plate appearances for the month. That doesn’t even place him among the top 1,500 April’s, in terms of PA, since ’47. So, it’s not like Bonds was simply piling up walks because he came up to bat more often than anyone else.

Bonds’ month was not limited to drawing walks. He used the 53 PA where he did not receive a free pass to do some damage, as he rapped 10 homers, five doubles and 10 singles. None of these qualify as a record. Again, because of all the walks, Bonds didn’t have as great an opportunity to set records for other counting stats. However, among players who accumulated 60 or fewer at-bats in any given month, Bonds is one of just four to hit 10 homers in the same month — Manny Ramirez (July, 2000), Cody Ross (May, 2008) and Mike Schmidt (April, 1976) being the others.

Looking at his game log, we can see that Bonds hit safely in 15 games that month, and reached base safely in all 23 games in which he played that month. He drew a walk in 21 of the games. In one of the games, he did not draw a walk because he went 4-for-4 with two homers. In the other, he went 1-for-2 and exited in the fifth inning in a game at which point the Giants already trailed 7-0. He made up for this by drawing three or more walks in five contests.

All of this production left with Bonds with a monthly line of .474/.696/1.132, for a 1.828 OPS, .673 wOBA and 322 wRC+. Going back to 2002, which is the first season in which FanGraphs has monthly splits, we find that his wOBA was .107 higher than the next-highest mark, and his wRC+ was 52.8 percent better than the next-best season. In both cases, that second-best season was Matt Kemp’s 2012 season. Let’s take a peak at the top 10, shall we?

Season Player G PA AB AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
2004 Barry Bonds 23 92 53 0.472 0.696 1.132 0.673 322
2012 Matt Kemp 23 98 84 0.417 0.490 0.893 0.566 269
2002 Barry Bonds 24 100 64 0.375 0.600 0.828 0.560 254
2011 Jose Bautista 24 111 82 0.366 0.532 0.780 0.541 248
2006 Jason Giambi 22 92 61 0.344 0.554 0.852 0.556 246
2006 Albert Pujols 25 110 81 0.346 0.509 0.914 0.548 240
2011 Lance Berkman 24 99 89 0.393 0.455 0.753 0.508 231
2012 Bryan LaHair 20 70 59 0.390 0.471 0.780 0.513 226
2007 Alex Rodriguez 23 106 93 0.355 0.415 0.882 0.521 225
2007 Barry Bonds 22 84 59 0.356 0.536 0.814 0.526 220
2011 Ryan Braun 26 116 98 0.367 0.457 0.724 0.496 220

OK, so that’s 11 names — Braun was too close to omit. Three of the 11 names, you’ll notice, are Bonds. You’ll also notice just how far and above Bonds’ April 2004 was. If you incorporated players from this season on to this leaderboard, you would see Davis slotted in second with a 288 wRC+, and Carlos Santana third with a 284 wRC+. This seems impressive, but keep in mind two things: 1) That’s still 34 and 38 percent worse than Bonds’ ’04 mark, and 2) Both numbers are likely to decline as the month proceeds. For we are, after all, not even half-way through this April. Even if Davis, Santana, Upton and Alex Rios, among others, do maintain their torrid pace, we still probably won’t be seeing history in the making — none of these players have been as hot as Bonds was in April ’04.




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Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN MLB Insider and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


59 Responses to “You’re Not As Hot As Barry Bonds”

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  1. Well-Beered Englishman says:

    As an aside, Roy Cullenbine’s 39 walks in one month factored into my recent community research article.

    Behold: the strangest monthlong stat line ever compiled?

    July 1947, Roy Cullenbine
    .260/.462/.481
    39 BB, 27 H, 6 HR, 12 RBI
    .241 BABIP, 27.1% BB%, 7.64% K%

    In August, Cullenbine’s BABIP dropped to .162 and his BA to .185, but his OBP stayed at .353 because of a BB% of 20.5%.

    A guy who finished the year with a .224 average has a plate-discipline record that compares to Bonds, Ruth, Williams, Mantle, and Gehrig.

    +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. TKDC says:

    Wow, Barry Bonds was such a good hitter that no one ever came close, even Barry Bonds.

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  3. Jon says:

    My first thought upon looking at the list was that most of those months were put up by suspected or confirmed users of banned substances. Aside from that, it’s a very impressive set of hitters, with only one surprise oddball. I mean really, Bryan LaHair?!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Ziggy says:

    I think the best part of this article may have been seeing Cody Ross’s name in an exclusive list next to Bonds, Manny, and Michael Jack Schmidt.

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  5. LK says:

    Just think how well he would’ve done if he didn’t have to face all those dirty cheating pitchers who were on steroids.

    +26 Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Jaack says:

    The scary thing: May was the worst month for Bonds in 2004, in which he hit.250/.532/.542 for a wRC+ of 142. Also in 2004, Adam Dunn for the season had a 142 wRC+, which placed him 15th in the majors.

    Every other month, Bonds had a wRC+ over 200 and finished the season at 233. His WAR for 2004 was equal to Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez combined that year.

    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DCN says:

      Just insane. And sure, performance enhancing drugs played a part, but nobody did anything close to what he was doing even in that era.

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Mike says:

    My Josh Hamilton for his David Wright and Niese?

    -27 Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. GreenField says:

    Very impressive. Being a Rockies’ fan… Tulowitzki had quite a nice month in Sept. of 2010.

    .322 BA, .376 OBP, .800 SLG with 15 HRs, 6 Doubles, and 2 Triples in 115 ABs.

    Not quite as nice as Bonds, but had to bring this up.

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  9. 23553 says:

    I was expecting a comparison of Barry Bonds’ appearance to that of the reader. I should have realized this isn’t notGraphs.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • eye-roll says:

      Yeah, I came here wondering how the writer knew about my month… but I figured he got the information the same way the video companies know how to modify their videos to fit my screen.

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  10. DCN says:

    Bonds was so locked in that year. The plate discipline numbers are absurd. An O-Swing of 8.3%. You just could not get him to move the bat off his shoulder if it wasn’t his pitch to hit.

    He also had 29% HR/FB, coupled with an 86.5% contact rate. That’s an insane combination. He was hitting flies out like Adam Dunn and Jack Cust at their career bests while making contact like Jose Reyes at his career average.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DCN says:

      Not that Bonds had his bat on his shoulder. But he didn’t even think about swinging. That’s what I remember from watching his at bats. The ball would be heading two inches out of the zone, and the whole time he would just stand there with a disapproving look on his face like “you really think I’m that stupid?”

      +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. PraiseTrout says:

    Mike Trout last year in July: .516 wOBA and 239 wRC+

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  12. Brian says:

    Barry Bonds: the counter-argument for any debate about how amazing a stretch a hitter is going through.

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. MikeS says:

    In my defense, I’m not using nearly as many PED’s.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Lance Armstrong says:

    Mr. Swydan, if you think Barry Bonds was a great hitter in 2004, you shoulda seen me ride a bicycle. Man, I was unbeatable!

    Better not say it was ’cause of my illegal drug consumption, though. If you do, you’re a racist against me. And you’re attacking my children, you coward!

    -18 Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. Kogoruhn says:

    Bonds 2007 = top 10 of this list
    Bonds 2008 = couldn’t get a job

    +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Baltar says:

    OK, this blows me away. Thanks for writing about this, Paul. I can’t memorize all the details, but I’ll remember 92-39-25-10.

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  17. ElToroStrikesAgain says:

    Please, spare us the Bonds crap. The ball was juiced and so were the players. All of a sudden nobody now is as good as anybody was then? Plus he’s a huge douche.

    -27 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • BlackOps says:

      Go away.

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    • NBarnes says:

      WRc+ is scaled according to the league and era. Bonds was that much better than his peers, not that much better historically.

      +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bagman says:

        But not everyone in that era was on steroids. We don’t know the percentage or even how to normalize it. The numbers still don’t tell the story.

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        • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

          So it was coincidence that HR’s were hit much more frequently at a time where steroids were being used all over the league? Are we seriously all that freaking naive? How can the smartest online baseball fan community sit here and gush over guys like Bonds. It honestly baffles the shit out of me.

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      • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

        @ NBarnes seeing Sammy Sosa pass 60 HZR’s 3 consecutive seasons after 2 guys did it in the 1st 100 years of baseball was disgraceful. Forget the complete mockery of the game that was Mac and Bonds’ 70 HR seasons were.

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        • Jason B says:

          Good point. We all know those old-timers were angels one and all, who would never dishonor the game or disrespect their bodies in any way.

          Also, GET OFF MY LAWN!!

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        • Not the same Jason B (seriously) says:

          If you take a few moments to look at the numbers you’ll see something shocking. From 2002 through 2013 (the time period that this data is available on Fangraphs) the FB% hovers between 34 and 38%. The HR/FB% ranges from 9.4 to 11.3%. The peaks are not aligned, nor are they where you expect them to be.

          JUICED! Err…something. Right?

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    • Dreamin says:

      Yes, this all relates to plate discipline.

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  18. ProfarMVP says:

    I thought this site was about real stuff…not frauds and fakes. Bonds was unparalleled at juicing himself out of his mind. That much we can say. Not much else.

    I lost a little respect for Fangraphs today.

    -28 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

      It does little more than make me shake my head with embarrassment when I read articles about Bonds, ESPECIALLY on this website. Also, the pieces written last season defending Braun were painful reads. He got off on a technicality

      -13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DCN says:

        But he also did things that nobody else did even in his era of the game, and it’s informative and interesting when you’re talking about results, no matter how they were achieved.

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        • ElToroStrikesAgain says:

          I understand that argument @DCN , which is why in my mind Ruth is the greatest ever because of how great he was compared to the other players of his era. I am jaded by the fact that that era also made mockeries of all the most heralded hitting numbers in the sport. All of a sudden guys like Sosa and McGwire were up there in the same breath with Mays, Mantle, Ruth, Foxx, Williams, etc… and honestly in a way it disgusts me. Just my opinion.

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        • Curtis says:

          @ElToro

          You’re saying Bonds had an advantage over the greats like Ruth/Foxx, etc cause he juiced… Well, think of this: Ruth faced pitchers who were mostly full time plumbers/construction workers/day laborers for six months of the year. Ruth only had to face white players that lived primarily on the East Coast. Bonds faced the best of the best hand picked world wide. Imagine if Bonds only faced part time white pitchers from the US.

          So who had more of an advantage, Ruth or Bonds? And don’t say Bonds was a cheater. If you call Bonds a cheater for taking something that wasn’t against the rules of baseball at that time, then Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle were cheaters cause they admitted to taking uppers every day during the season, which are now banned. Ty Cobb would sharpen his cleats which are now banned.

          There will always be things players do to get an edge. In the 60s, corked bats were the rage. In the 50s, uppers. In the 70s, spit balls. In the 90s, HGH. It was part of the era, that’s why you have to put the era in context and compare players against their peers. Should we throw 1967, Bob Gibson’s amazing year, out of the books? That’s the year baseball raised the pitchers mound 6 inches, quickly lowering it back to normal the next year. Check out what the pitchers did that year? The steroid era is no different than any other era in which players did things to get an edge, deal with it.

          +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Angry mob w/ pitchforks says:

          Oh Curtis, you and your facts. There’s no place for balanced perspective here, we’ve got some hatin’ to do!!

          Vote -1 Vote +1

        • Phrozen says:

          Curtis, one nitpick: steroids were against the rules since Fay Vincent banned anything and everything that was otherwise illegal in 1990. Otherwise pretty good summary.

          +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. glib says:

    I don’t like the way the Giants have treated Barry. He put fannies in seats for 15 years, and he was the best player in the history of the game. With all the success in recent years, they should have featured him prominently. In the parade last Fall, everyone (McCovey, Mays, Cepeda) but him was featured. But I don’t have to tell anyone here that those plutocrats are just profit-driven, soulless creatures, with no real appreciation for the game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  20. nj says:

    Hate to be that guy, but it is peek, not peak.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • B N says:

      Actually, we’re annexing Himalayas at this very moment. Let’s take a peek at camera 1, showing the the US Marines scaling K2 to take a peak.

      +9 Vote -1 Vote +1

  21. MrKnowNothing says:

    That YEAR Barry had a .609 obp. No one on that list has an obp that high for even a single month.

    My children will never believe me when I talk about Bonds.

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  22. Dodger300 says:

    This article is a mess. It was so boring and convoluted I had to read it three times just to get to the end. This certainly finishes in my top ten for articles with out any coherent narrative, or story line, or arc, or build up, or, well, anything that encouraged me to read on. After a whilst, my only incentive to finish the article was my stubborn determination to be able to say that I actually did it.

    After a brief intro, an article which purports to be about great hitting months, the next three (out of seven) paragraphs are devoted executive key to WALKS? Then a paragraph counting totals informs us than not of Bonds totals are a record, but are good for someone with few at bats because he WALKS so much?

    Paragraph six is about how many games Bonds drew a WALK in. Including special mention of two games when he did not WALK and three games were he WALKED three times.

    Finally, not until paragraph seven in an eight paragraph article, do we even get to the point – Bonds had great RATE stats in April of 2004. Maybe the greatest of all time! While I don’t want to discount the importance of walks, this informayion regarding RATE stats is critical to the thesis and should not have been buried so deeply. Because, honestly, without these great RATE stats, all the WALKS dissected every which way in the prior six paragraphs would not qualify Bond’s month as the “hottest start of all time.”

    The final paragraph introdeuces a puzzle. In discussing the all time leaderboard, the writer suddenly drops in the name “Davis,” with no first name, back into the readers lap. The author obvioulsly has no awareness that the reader would have forgotten all about the opening paragragh long ago while slogging his way through the article. Am I the only person who had to ask myself, “Davis, which Davis?” It is a pretty common name, and it had been a few hundred words since Chris Davis had been mentioned. (Honestly, since past players with hot starts were being discussed, my mind jumped to Eric Davis. But I guess that just shows my age).

    It is one thing to present revealing statistics and accurate factual information, but on a web site where reading is the fans way to access those facts, writing becomes a critical component. It has long been painfully apparent to me that Fangraphs really should invest in some basic English composition classes and require that its baseball “writers” to pass them.

    -16 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jaack says:

      I’m bored and Swydan is sort of cool so I’ll bite.

      This comment is a mess, in more ways then one. The author in question, Dodger300, obviously has way to much time on their hands to painstakingly read an article they don’t like thrice, as well as write an essay on its supposed mediocrity.

      The comment then goes on to describe incoherently the next thre paragraphs of the essay, mainly discussing walks. Aside from the unnecessary capitalization of the word ‘walk,’ an issue that is repeated throughout the comment, Dodger300 fails to establish a coherent critique of these paragraphs. In my reading of the article in question, I saw no such issue. These three paragraphs establish the rarity of Bonds’ feat of 39 walks in April, as well as the various circumstances of it, which make said feat more impressive in comparison. Thus far the original article has no telling structural issues that Dodger300 refers to.

      The comment from Dodger300 skips over any critique of the article’s discussion of Bonds’ value aside from walks in April of 2004, and instead proceeds to discuss the sixth paragraph which the articles author uses to establish the consistency in which Bonds drew walks over the course of the season. Still, Dodger300 has not enlightened his reader what his issue with this article is.

      Finally, after two brief, nearly incoherent paragraphs of summary do we get any critique of Syrdan’s article. Dodger300 has an issue with the article for taking too long to discuss rate stats. Ignoring the obvious irony as well as the unnecessary capitalization of the word ‘rate,’ the author of this comment remains ignorant to myriad reasons for this structuring. First of all, a discussion of Bonds’ dominance in this month could have been done without rate stats at all–Swydan had already established this, and by further embellishing on the non-walk stats, he could have written a solid, if different, article. Secondly, Dodger300 ignores the wide array of options in open form writing, which allows the writer to build his/her article in any order he/she sees fit. But even from a strictly closed for perspective, this ordering of this article is not in anyway detrimental to its purpose, as the author could have made the decision that raw counting stats are more telling of dominance than rate stats. As such, Dodger300′s criticism rings untrue.

      Dodger300 continues his airing of grievances (eight months to early) by angrily attacking the author for not rrepating the first name of Chris Davis, which apparently can lead to confusion. This critique apparently comes from Dodger300′s own misreading of the name Davis. Here, I argue, this is more of an issue of bad comprehension than bad writing. While it has been a while in the article since Davis had had his first name mentioned, he was the only Davis mentioned thus far in the article. Even further, the author includes his name in a list of other players from this season with dominant starts, namely Justin Upton, Carlos Santana, and Alex Rios. Even if a prospective reader did not recollect the previous mention of Chris Davis, there is enough information here from context that any reader paying attention to current baseball events should have enough information to assume that the author is talking about Chris Davis.

      But even if all this fails, the point is not lost. if the reader thinks of a different Davis, as Dodger300 did, the author is merely listing people with dominant starts to compare in passing to Bonds in April 2004. Even without discussing Davis, the purpose of the final paragraph is still obvious. Dodger300 is merely nitpicking here.

      Excusing the ad hominem of Dodger 300′s final paragraph, unlike Barry Bonds in the majority of 2004, he is clearly off base. His critique comes down to two issues, one of which ignores the loose conventions of open form prose, the other incredibly pedantic, as well as unreasonable.

      In conclusion, I found this article quite enjoyable, hence why I not only came back for a second look, but decided to spend a half hour defending it and its author. Obviously, Dodger300 does not share my perspective here, but he/she has yet to illuminate us as to why.

      +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jim says:

      I bet you’re a lot of fun in real life, too

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  23. Mark says:

    Once again people ignore the Rockies, because forgetting to mention Dexter Fowler’s hot start is a crime.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. B N says:

    “You’re Not As Hot As Barry Bonds”

    I’d be careful with all those compliments, Bonds will get a big head!

    +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  25. Nick says:

    “.474/.696/1.132″

    First I thought this was BA/OBP/SLG and I was confused cause I’m like that’s amazing but it’s not like insane…

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  26. Nick says:

    sorry I meant OBP/SLG/OPS

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  27. Hitler But Sadder says:

    I am too lazy to read all the comments so if this is a repeat I apologize– Bonds also had a .266 BaBip for the entirety of his 2001 ( I know this is article is about a month of his 2004 season) but still put up this sexually enticing triple slash: .328/.515/.863. As a matter of fact, Bonds is a video game character with the setting all jacked up.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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