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?
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.