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May 1, 2004

Prospectus Today

Best. Start. Ever.

by Joe Sheehan

I've been getting a fair share of e-mail asking whether Barry Bonds' first few weeks of 2004 have been the hottest start to a season any player has ever had. I've been hesitant to answer, in part because the sample size was pretty small, and in part because that's not the easiest thing to research.

With April all but in the books, however, I think it's safe to say that Bonds' .472/.696/1.132 line is historic. It's not only the best start anyone has had in the past 30 years, it's the best month any player has had in that time.

Now, when I make a statement like that, you can be pretty sure it's been researched by someone smarter than myself. In this case, Keith Woolner put together a list of the best months, by OPS, as far back as 1972.


Player              Month     PA    AVG    OBP    SLG     OPS
-------------------------------------------------------------
Todd Helton          5/00    102   .512   .588  1.000    1588
Barry Bonds          5/01    117   .369   .547  1.036    1583
Frank Thomas         5/94    118   .452   .593   .988    1581
Barry Bonds          8/02    116   .447   .621   .961    1581
Barry Bonds          7/03     93   .415   .581  1.000    1581
Barry Bonds          9/01     92   .365   .565  1.000    1565
Richard Hidalgo      9/00    120   .476   .533   .971    1504
Chipper Jones        7/99    113   .413   .558   .913    1470
Larry Walker         4/97    106   .456   .538   .911    1449
Barry Bonds          4/93     94   .431   .553   .889    1442
Ron Cey              4/77     94   .425   .543   .890    1433
Barry Bonds          4/02    100   .375   .600   .828    1428
Mark McGwire         6/96    113   .329   .513   .915    1428
Barry Bonds          8/01    112   .350   .536   .888    1423
Mark McGwire         5/98    119   .326   .513   .907    1420
Sammy Sosa           8/01    130   .385   .469   .936    1405

Bonds' 1828 OPS dwarfs Todd Helton's May of 2000, heretofore the best month by a player in the past 32 seasons. Helton had the good fortune to play 15 of his 23 games that month in Coors Field, and still yields 300 points of OPS to Bonds' April. Larry Walker's April '97 performance needs no such disclaimer: he played 12 games away from Denver, just 11 at altitude. (All this stuff courtesy Retrosheet.)

The rest of the names on this list should be reasonably familiar to you, the peak months of the great hitters of the past decade: Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Frank Thomas. Ron Cey has the only pre-offensive explosion performance up there, setting what was then the NL record with 29 RBI in April of 1977. Chipper Jones' month led to an MVP, and Richard Hidalgo's led to a huge contract.

Lower the bar to 40 PAs, and the club becomes a lot less exclusive, a lot more fun:


Player              Month     PA    AVG    OBP    SLG     OPS
-------------------------------------------------------------
Barry Bonds          8/03     62   .452   .629  1.024    1653
Jim Dwyer            7/83     48   .474   .574  1.053    1627
John Milner          4/79     42   .469   .571  1.031    1603
Shane Spencer        9/98     42   .421   .476  1.105    1581
Reggie Smith         5/75     41   .412   .512  1.029    1542
Larry Walker         9/99     49   .513   .592   .949    1541
Sean Berry           8/98     49   .524   .551   .976    1527
Fred McGriff         8/94     42   .421   .476  1.026    1503
Ken Singleton        4/81     58   .472   .517   .981    1498
Jim Rice             9/85     66   .525   .545   .951    1496
George Brett         4/83     72   .460   .528   .921    1448
J.D. Drew            9/98     41   .417   .463   .972    1436
Mark McGwire         5/93     54   .395   .519   .907    1425
Ryan Klesko          6/94     61   .421   .459   .965    1424
Glenallen Hill       4/99     47   .463   .511   .902    1413
Alex Rodriguez       5/99     75   .413   .507   .905    1411
Larry Walker         9/98     68   .528   .632   .774    1406

It's no real surpise to see another Bonds performance atop this list, but Jim Dwyer and John Milner? Dwyer, a left-handed hitter who was one of the most extreme platoon players of the 1980s, started just 11 games in July '83, and played a complete game just four times that month. Milner made just nine starts in April '79, and like Dwyer, was a left-handed hitter platooned or used as a pinch-hitter for most of his career.

Other notables...Shane Spencer's September '98 was basically his entire season, a Hurricane Bob Hazle for Generation Y. Larry Walker played a few extra games at home than on the road in each of his two big months, but nothing big. Injuries limited his playing time in both months. Fred McGriff's August '94 was ended by the strike.

Bonds' start is the best that we have record of. It might be the best ever, although it's possible Ted Williams or Babe Ruth had a run like this. A .700 OBP over a full month is breaking the mental curve. It's clear that Bonds will walk 200 times, shattering his own single-season record. He could very well hit .400. I'll predict that he will break his OBP record even if he doesn't hit .400, and become the first player to ever post a .600 OBP. His record of 68 intentional walks is also going down.

Unless there's a sea change in Bonds' performance, he's going to put up a season that, while it might not be the greatest ever, is certainly going to be the freakiest.

--

This column is going up a day late because of some computer problems unrelated to BP's server switch this week. I don't know who decided that a good way to sell products and services would be to shove unwanted software onto people's computers surreptitiously, but on the off chance those people are reading this, hey, best of luck with that eternal damnation thing...

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

Related Content:  Barry Bonds,  Larry Walker

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