Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis is — as his nickname suggests — crushing everything in sight. In 95 games, Davis has hit .315/.392/.717 with a whopping 37 home runs, tied for the second-most all-time before the All-Star Break.
Only Barry Bonds has hit more homers in the first-half of a season. His 39 first-half jacks in 2001 set the pace for a record-breaking 73-home run campaign.
So while Davis’ historic first-half has made millions of fantasy owners who drafted him look really, really smart, others wonder: Who the heck is Chris Davis, and just how good is he?
Before the 2008 season and fresh off a 36-homer, 118-RBI campaign in his first full year of pro ball, Baseball America ranked Davis as the second-best prospect in the Texas Rangers’ organization, noting his big-time power:
“Not only does Davis posses well above-average power, but he knows how to use it, thanks to a balanced approach and willingness to use the whole field…Davis could be an impact middle-of-the-lineup bat in the big leagues.”
After hitting 10 homers in 31 games in his first taste of Triple-A in 2008, Davis was promoted to the big league club. He hit .285/.331/.549 with 17 long balls in his major league debut, earning him the full-time job at first base to start the 2009 season.
While the then-24-year-old hit 15 homers before the All-Star Break in ’09, his .202 batting clip in early July forced him back to the minors. After thriving in a 44-game stint in Triple-A, Davis returned to the Rangers’ lineup in late August to hit .284 (33-for-116) with seven bombs the rest of the way, suggesting he was finally ready for stardom.
But Davis floundered again in 2010, bouncing between Triple-A and the big league club. He mashed in the minors (.327/.383/.520 with 14 homers in 444 plate appearances), but was severely over-matched by major league pitching (.192/.279/.292 with 1 homer in 136 plate appearances).
Davis opened the 2011 season in Triple-A. Once again, he flourished against inferior competition. The Texas native hit 24 dingers and triple-slashed .368/.405/.824 in 210 plate appearances. But the Rangers weren’t impressed. On July 30 of that year, the team traded Davis (along with pitcher Tommy Hunter) to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara.
Although a shoulder injury forced Davis to miss 25 games with Baltimore late in 2011, the Orioles stuck with him.
Davis won a starting spot on Baltimore’s 2012 roster and split time between first base, designated hitter, left field and right field. He even pitched — tossing two scoreless innings in the Orioles’ 17-inning win over the Red Sox in early May.
2012 was Davis’ first full season in the majors. No demotions. No injuries. He received his share of off-days, but Davis rewarded the Orioles for the opportunity they provided him. Very handsomely.
Davis set then-career-highs across the board last season, hitting .270/.326/.501 with 33 homers and 85 RBI in 562 plate appearances. Finally living up to the hype, he entered the 2013 campaign with an ADP of 80.0, according to Mock Draft Central.
Fantasy owners and those who provide MLB Predections have been pleasantly surprised — perhaps shocked — by what Davis has done in 393 plate appearances this season. He’s a five-win player thus far, a feat accomplished by just 20 position players all of last season. Davis has already set new career-highs with 37 homers and 93 RBI. His 27 doubles and 38 walks are also career bests.
And there’s still two-and-a-half-months left to play.
Here’s what’s even scarier. Several of Davis’ advanced stats mirror those of his 2012 campaign, suggesting that much of his success is, in fact, legit.
His current line drive rate (23.6 percent) matches his 2012 mark of 23.2, which supports his BABIPs of .355 and .335 respectively.
Davis’ contact rates are about the same — which aren’t good to begin with. But he’s stroking bombs nonetheless. He made contact on 71 percent of his swings last season. He’s connecting at a rate of 70.6 in 2013.
He still strikes out way too much — only Mike Napoli, Chris Carter, Dan Uggla, Mark Reynolds and Jay Bruce have whiffed on strike three more times than Davis. But his swinging strike rate (14.5 percent) and outside-of-the-zone swing rate (34.8 percent) are down from last year’s atrocious marks.
And for the first time in his career, Davis is handling curveballs. His wCB/C is a career-best 3.16, top-15 among qualified hitters. He’s crushing fastballs too, of course, posting the fourth-best wFB/C in baseball at 2.68.
So while there are several reasons to believe Davis’ jaw-dropping first-half isn’t a complete fluke, it’s difficult to believe that at least a slight regression isn’t coming.
Davis’ ISO power is .402, a mark that dwarfs his career total (including this season) of .244. Only four batters in the history of the game have finished a season with a better-than-.400 ISO power: Barry Bonds (four times), Babe Ruth (three times), Mark McGwire (three times) and Sammy Sosa (once).
Likewise, Davis’ 35.6 HR/FB rate (22.6 career) is simply unsustainable. In fact, it’s almost unprecedented.
Only Ryan Howard has finished a season with a better HR/FB rate (39.5) than what Davis has at the 2013 All-Star Break, and only 11 batters have posted a single-season of 30.0 or better.
And while Davis does hit homers to all fields, the short fence in right field at Camden Yards has certainly aided his home run count. His average true distance on homers, according to ESPN’s Hit Tracker, is 403.9 feet, a mark that ranks 40th in the majors.
So although Davis’ monster campaign is likely to continue, his 9.27 at-bats per home run rate — which ranks 13th all-time among qualifying single-seasons — probably isn’t.
When projecting Davis’ totals for the second half using Derek Carty’s “Fun With Batting Average” calculator, I adjusted his second-half HR/FB rate to his 2012 mark of 25.0. Assuming his 2012 contact rate (71 percent) over 235 at-bats, Davis would likely hit 18 homers the rest of the way, which would give him 55 dongs — the most in a single-season since Ryan Howard went deep 58 times in 2006.
Davis needs just 13 long balls to reach the 50-homer threshold, an elite group that includes only 26 players. Riding a four-game homer streak into the break, Davis appears poised to join the club.
This is history before our eyes, folks. Sit back and enjoy.
And the best part: Chris Davis is only 27 years old.
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