5 best seasons by a hitter in Giants history

November 30th, 2020

Hall of Famer Willie Mays and his godson, Barry Bonds, are among the most decorated players in baseball history, so it’s not surprising to see the two outfielders linked in the Giants’ record books. Mays and Bonds combined to produce the top nine individual seasons by Giants position players, according to Baseball-Reference’s wins above replacement, a testament to the long, sustained peaks they enjoyed throughout their careers.

Here’s a look at the duo’s greatest seasons with the Giants, along with the top three campaigns by position players not named Mays or Bonds:

1. Barry Bonds, 2001
Arguably the most feared hitter of all time, delivered his most prolific campaign with the Giants in 2001, when he logged the highest bWAR (11.9) by a position player in franchise history. The left fielder batted .328 with a 1.379 OPS and set single-season Major League records for home runs (73) and slugging percentage (.863). His most memorable moment came on Oct. 5, when he took the Dodgers’ Chan Ho Park deep for his 71st home run of the year, breaking Mark McGwire’s 3-year-old record. Unsurprisingly, Bonds’ otherworldly production earned him the first of four consecutive National League MVP honors, along with an All-Star nod and an NL Silver Slugger Award. His ’01 season narrowly edges his performance in ’02, when he had an 11.7 bWAR while hitting a career-high .370 with a 1.381 OPS and 46 homers to lead the Giants to the World Series.
Other notable seasons: 2004 (10.6 bWAR), 1993 (9.9 bWAR), 1996 (9.7 bWAR)

2. Willie Mays, 1965
Center fielder won his first NL MVP Award and his lone World Series title with the New York Giants in 1954, but in terms of bWAR, his 1965 campaign was his best. The Say Hey Kid accumulated 11.2 bWAR that season, the third-highest mark among Giants position players. In his age-34 season, Mays hit .317 with a career-high 52 home runs. He led the Majors in on-base percentage (.398) and slugging percentage (.645). His all-around excellence was recognized in the form of his second NL MVP trophy, 11 years after his first.
Other notable seasons: 1964 (11.0 bWAR), 1963 (10.6 bWAR), 1962 (10.5 bWAR), 1954 (10.5 bWAR)

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3. Rogers Hornsby, 1927
is the only non-Mays/Bonds position player to crack the Giants’ list of top 10 individual seasons. Acquired from the Cardinals in exchange for second baseman Frankie Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring ahead of the 1927 season, Hornsby was worth 10.2 bWAR in his one-year stint with the New York Giants, the most by an infielder in club history. The Hall of Fame second baseman ranked first in the NL in on-base percentage (.448), second in batting average (.361) and third in home runs (26), earning a third-place finish in the NL MVP Award voting. Despite his production on the field, the famously difficult Hornsby alienated Giants teammates and management, prompting the club to ship him to the Braves in 1928.

4. Mel Ott, 1938
spent his entire 22-year career with the New York Giants and hit his peak in 1938, when he accrued 8.9 bWAR while batting .311 with a 1.024 OPS and recording his fifth consecutive All-Star nod. The Hall of Famer led the NL in home runs (36), on-base percentage (.442) and runs scored (116). Ott, a right fielder most of his career, became a valuable defender for manager Bill Terry in '38 by floating between third base and right field as needed.

5. Will Clark, 1989
First baseman finished second in NL MVP voting to teammate Kevin Mitchell in 1989, though in terms of bWAR, “The Thrill” was the more valuable player. Clark emerged as the Giants’ best all-around player and recorded a career-high 8.6 bWAR while batting .333 with 23 home runs and 111 RBIs, narrowly losing the batting crown to the Padres’ Tony Gwynn. Mitchell, by contrast, was valued at 6.9 bWAR, though he led the NL with 47 home runs and 125 RBIs. Clark captured MVP honors in the 1989 NL Championship Series after batting .650 with two home runs and eight RBIs to help San Francisco beat the Cubs in five games. Clark and Mitchell -- nicknamed the Pacific Sock Exchange -- carried the Giants to their first World Series appearance since 1962.