Why does everybody think that Chris Davis is on steroids? Just because he's on pace to tie Roger Maris with 61 homeruns this season? Oh, right, because we're now a jaded, cynical culture... and maybe because nobody has hit more than 58 homeruns since Barry Bonds inspired a nation with large forehead jokes after 73 in 2001.
I must say that I'm not entirely jaded (only slightly) though, so I'm ready to dive headfirst into homerun mania once again. It's the up-and-comer Davis playing the role as foil to the big slugger Miguel Cabrera in a knockout, no-holds-barred fight to the top. I'd have to think that it's Davis who plays the role of Sosa in this sequel, right?
Unfortunately for those looking for intrigue, we're that guy at the movies who will stand up and say, "But the Death Star's construction makes it impossible for Luke's laser to have that type of impact!" We're spoil sports on the highest level. And, true to form, we have the odds that Davis and Cabrera will actually hit some important homerun milestones.
Spoiler alert: Chris Davis holds a much better shot at 60 homeruns than Miguel Cabrera does, and not just because he currently holds a six homerun lead. Don't say I didn't warn you when the media goes crazy later this season.
50 Homeruns: 46.13%
60 Homeruns: 14.23%
62 Homeruns: 10.30%
Could Davis's young age and the lack of a prior sample size actually work in his favor? It sure seems to with our projections; nobody knows exactly what to make of this guy.
Before this season, Chris Davis had received 500 plate appearances exactly once in his entire career: last season with the Orioles, when he hit 33 homeruns in 562 plate appearances. Before that, Davis had not had even 300 plate appearances since 2009, when he managed 21 homeruns in 419 appearances with the Rangers. In total, Davis has never had a full season when he's both starting and healthy, and he certainly has never kept pace with Cabrera's total plate appearances.
That means, in terms of projections, his recent power surge carries that much more weight. Because of his ludicrously insane 9.1 percent homerun rate this season, Davis's career homerun rate is all the way up at 5.4 percent of all his plate appearances. Hitting 24.0 percent of all fly balls out of the park may not last, but his career ratio of 15.2 percent doesn't look half bad either.
Out of the two, Davis's variability is much higher because of the smaller sample size, and that means a more likely chance to hit key milestones. According to our projections, we already expect Davis to lead the majors with 49 homeruns in total. Hitting 50 isn't that much more of a stretch (just under a 50 percent chance), and even hitting 62 holds higher than 10 percent odds.
It may look like Davis's power numbers of come out of nowhere. Statistically, however, these figures actually make sense. And given the probabilities, we wouldn't be too surprised if they continued.
50 Homeruns: 16.22%
60 Homeruns: 0.16%
62 Homeruns: 0.04%
Miggy, meanwhile, doesn't have the luxury of high statistical probability to help him out. From seasons and seasons data, we know exactly what he can do. And likely, it's not hit an additional 25 homeruns over the rest of this season.
Already six homeruns behind Davis, Cabrera is currently on pace to hit exactly 50 homeruns this season. Hitting homeruns on 6.8 percent of his total plate appearances place him third among qualified MLB batters (the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez is second at 7.1 percent), and 17.4 percent of his fly balls have traveled out of the ballpark. On its face, those numbers don't seem too outlandish.
However, Cabrera has also registered nine straight seasons of at least 670 plate appearances. And in those seasons, Cabrera has never held a homerun rate higher than 6.3 percent (last year), has never hit more than 15.3 percent of fly balls for homeruns (last year), and has never held a slugging percentage higher than .622 (2010). Sure, it's possible he's getting better as a baseball player, but that's not the way we do things around here.
Statistically, we expect a regression to the mean for Cabrera. While the stability of his numbers means he's less likely to drop off than Chris Davis, it also means he's less likely to reach great heights. Our projections have him hitting 20 homeruns the rest of the way, finishing second behind Davis with 45 overall. The idea of hitting 60 or 62 seems like a pipe dream.
With his .461 OBP and .680 slugging, there's no denying that Miguel Cabrera is an exceptional hitter. We just don't see him as a Triple Crown hitter, not again. In a different season, in a different world, perhaps. This world, though, belongs to Chris Davis, and we're all just living in it.