Josh Hamilton's first 199 plate appearances couldn't have gone much better. Last week I discussed what Hamilton's Hall of Fame prospects might be if he kept it up and won the Triple Crown and got a ring, but I'm also going to use this opportunity to look back at perhaps the greatest career (or at least the greatest stretch of a career) of all time by one of the game's all-time greats, Barry Bonds.
It's been five years since Bonds played in the major leagues and eight years since he was the dominating figure that will forever go down as perhaps the greatest hitter ever (we aren't here to talk about anything other than numbers) and with Hamilton putting up one of the greatest starts to a season we've seen in the modern era, it's a good chance to look and compare.
What we know is that Hamilton has been an absolute beast this season:
.368/.422/.753, 20 HR, 53 RBI, 37 R, 9.5% BB, 19.6% K, .385 ISO, .367 BABIP, 3.7 fWAR, 39.2% HR/FB ratio, 21.4% line drives. Hamilton is only 12 HR shy of matching his career-high and it's only 45 games into the season for him (the Rangers have played 49 games) so barring injury, he should fly right past his career-high of 32 HR. If he plays 150 games, Hamilton is on pace for 66 HR and 176 RBI. That's in 150 games and I had to double-check my numbers and I still can't believe it, but 20 HR and 53 RBI in 45 games will do that.
The ISO is very similar to what Bonds posted in 2000, so let's compare those two seasons...
Bonds 2000 season:
143 games, .306/.440/.688, 49 HR, 106 RBI, 129 R, 19.3% BB, 12.7% K, .381 ISO, .271 BABIP, 7.8fWAR.
Over his first 45 games of 2000, Bonds (in the exact same 199 PAs) hit .329/.437/.799, 22 HR, 42 RBI, 50 R, 32 BB, 21 K.
So Bonds actually had more HR in his first 45 games than Hamilton has now but ended up slowing down and hitting 27 HR over the next 98 games. Bonds put up legendary walk numbers late in his career when he was perhaps the most-feared hitter since Babe Ruth, but he had always been a master of the base on balls, having led the league in that category five times before 2000. It's the clear advantage that Bonds has over Hamilton and basically any other player that's ever played the game.
However, it's what happened after 2000 that made Bonds go from "One of the best of all-time" to maybe the GOAT. The Greatest Of All Time.
Of course, the next season Bonds hit his 73 HR in 153 games but his sheer dominance was much more than home runs. From 2001-2004 in 573 games, Bonds hit .349/.559/.809 with 209 home runs. He accumulated 47.8 fWAR in four seasons, which would be a stellar career all on its own.
What's more amazing? The fact that in 2001, Bonds posted an ISO of .536(!) or that in 2002, he walked 32.4% of the time and struck out 7.7% of the time and in 2004, he walked 37.6% of the time and struck out only 6.6% of the time?!
I don't care if you're juicing or if you've been bitten by a radioactive spider, the numbers are otherworldly, which puts Josh Hamilton's numbers in perspective and he's the best hitter in fantasy as of today. Hamilton probably won't continue to hit at a pace of 66 HR (but don't count it out) and he might only play 140-150 games, but his .385 ISO is among the best we've seen in a very long time. When Jose Bautista hit 54 HR in 2010, he posted a .357 ISO, but also walked 14.6% of the time.
As Hamilton continues to crush it, how much will he be able to increase walks even if it decreases power output and how will it help him in fantasy, or will it be a detriment? Can Josh Hamilton take a step in 2013 closer to what Bonds did after his monstrous 2000 season or will his power decrease as Bautista's has?
We will probably never see another Barry Bonds, or at least we won't see more than one in a generation (Bryce Harper, anyone?) but what Josh Hamilton is doing now over his first 45 games might be the closest that we've seen since. It's just a matter of how he transforms his game from this point forward based on his incredible start to the year.
It's going to be interesting to monitor all season.