Chris Davis’ pursuit of Roger Maris enters the home stretch
Whether or not you are among those who consider Roger Maris’ 1961 total of 61 homers the “clean” home run record, it is still, 52 years later, the American League record. With a little more than five weeks left in the 2013 Major League Baseball season, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis needs 15 home runs to tie Maris’ mark. Davis enters this week with 46 home runs in the Orioles’ first 129 games, a pace of one home run every 2.8 games. To hit 15 in Baltimore’s remaining 33 games, he would have to increase his pace to one every 2.2 games.
The 27-year-old slugger has already proved himself capable of such an outburst this season. From June 12 through the final game of the first half on July 14, Davis hit 17 home runs in 31 games, a pace of 1.8 games per home run. Davis would only need to replicate that pace over 28 of the O’s final 33 games to pass Maris and claim the AL record outright. More recently, from July 30 through last Wednesday, Davis hit nine home runs in 20 games, which works out to a home run every 2.2 games, exactly the pace he would need to keep the rest of the way to tie Maris, though one he would need to sustain for an additional 13 games.
Clearly, Davis is capable of surpassing Maris this season, but it would still take an extraordinary effort for him to do so. Not only would he have to replicate his best home run rate of any 30-game stretch this season to catch Maris, but he’d have to do so while playing the majority of his games on the road, as 19 of the Orioles’ final 33 games will be played away from Camden Yards.
Davis doesn’t have a huge home/road split this season, but he has gone deep less often outside of his homer-friendly home park. Leaving out plate appearances in which he was intentionally walked, Davis has hit a home run every 10.9 PA at home and every 12.1 PA on the road. He’ll play three games in Yankee Stadium next weekend, normally a very friendly ballpark for left-handed home run hitters, but Davis has just one round-tripper in 23 plate appearances there this season. And while Fenway Park, where he has six remaining games, is indeed a hitter-friendly ballpark, it actually suppresses home runs by lefties with its spacious right field. Davis will also play his first and only three games of the season at Cleveland’s Progressive Field, where he has just one home run in 40 career plate appearances. That’s 12 of those 19 road games right there, none of them with good indicators for a Crush Davis outburst.
Still, Davis’s overall pace this season has him headed for a final tally of 58 home runs, and it’s not difficult to imagine him getting hot and getting the extra three he’d need to catch Maris. Even if he simply remains on pace and hits 58, Davis will put his name on an American League single-season home runs list that had a decidedly old-school flavor. Here’s the list as it stands right now:
61 – Roger Maris, Yankees, 1961
60 – Babe Ruth, Yankees, 1927
59 – Babe Ruth, Yankees, 1921
58 – Jimmie Foxx, A’s, 1932; Hank Greenberg, Tigers, 1938
57 – Alex Rodriguez, Rangers, 2002
56 – Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners, 1997, 1998
54 – (five players six times)
Rodriguez admitted in spring training 2009 that he took performance-enhancing drugs during the 2002 season, but every other player named above is generally regarded as “clean,” whatever that means. Certainly, there’s a sharp contrast between that list and the major league list, which is topped by six seasons from National Leaguers Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, all of them occurring between 1998 and 2001.
Davis made waves in early July when he said he still consider’s Maris’ mark the major league record, “the reason being, he was the last guy to do it clean.” That struck me as a more effective retort to the accusations of juicing lobbed at Davis this season than any straight forward denial, though Davis has issued those as well. Regardless of whether you agree with Davis that he is chasing the clean record this season, he is chasing history, and his pursuit of Maris should be one of the most compelling storylines in the season’s final month.