On the eve of the All-Star Game at Citi Field, this is what we know for sure about Orioles slugger Chris Davis: in 95 games and 343 at-bats, the 27-year-old has hit 37 home runs, driven in 93 runs while batting .315 and slugging .717. Those are his numbers. They’re amazing. They’re eye-popping. Above all, they’re on pace to be historic.
How you want to look at these numbers and apply them is a matter of your own personal perspective. Either you can sit back and enjoy Davis’ historical season as-is, or you can be more cynical and wonder if it’s the result of some type of PED boost.
Davis himself admitted he knows why some people might be leery of his 2013 campaign, telling this to the Baltimore Sun last week:
“People are going to believe what they want to believe. Whether they like me, whether they hate me. Whether they want to see me do well or they want me to fall flat on my face. I mean, I’ve taken tests. I’ve passed all my tests. I have never taken PEDs or steroids or whatever you want to call it. That’s the way it is. And I think it is unfair to accuse a guy that there’s nothing that leads to me doing it but speculation. But, at the same time, you are entitled to your own opinion.”
As a baseball fan, it’s sad that a player is putting together an historic season and yet we still have to talk like this, or curb our excitement level. In 2013 it’s nearly impossible for many folks to look at a guy with 37 homers at the break and not wonder if he’s juicing in some way, even as a joke on Twitter. (Remember when Davis took to Twitter to defend himself of these accusations earlier this month?) However, this is the bed MLB and its Players’ Association made for themselves turning a blind eye to PED users and dragging their feet for testing until well into the 21st Century.
If he can keep up his torrid pace — remember he plays his home games at hitter friendly Camden Yards — Davis could meet Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs in 1961. The Maris total is considered by many baseball people as the “clean” single-season home run record. The top six single-season home run seasons are held by Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa — three players with the taint of possible PED use clouding their totals. (Looking back how poorly the 1998 home run chase has held up is maybe the best argument for raising an eyebrow for whatever Davis accomplishes between now and October.)
But back to Davis. His previous career-high in homers was in 2012 when he hit 33 in 139 games for Baltimore — his first full season in the majors. In his first four seasons, mostly with Texas, Davis struck out 341 times in 297 games. He’s whiffed 110 times this year, but upped his average and contact rate and is hitting a home run once every 9.2 at bats.
The last player we saw make a prodigious leap in the power department was Toronto’s Jose Bautista, who hit 54 homers in 2010 after totalling 59 round trippers in his first four season. Bautista was — and is still — looked at cautiously despite never failing a drug test.
Historically, Davis’s meteoric rise in the power department isn’t unprecedented. Consider these examples:
- Roger Maris jumped from a previous high of 33 homers to 61 in 1961 at age 26.
- Willie Stargell his 48 in 1971 at age 32, his previous high had been 32.
- George Foster led the NL with 52 homers for the Reds in 1977. His previous high had been 29.
- Andre Dawson won the NL MVP in 1987 with 49 homers at age 32. He’d never hit more than 32 before that.
- Ryan Howard blasted 58 homers in 2006, his first full season.
By the same token there are just as many suspicious single-season home run totals that leap out at you as red flags. Look no further than 2001 when Luis Gonzalez hit 57 homers and Shawn Green had 48.
Going back in time a little further, at age 27 Babe Ruth has his best home run total when he hit 59 for the 1921 Yankees. He topped the 40-home plateau 11 times in his Hall of Fame career. What would today’s media and fans have said and written about Ruth during his time when he was out-homering entire teams by himself?
Davis has never failed a drug test, nor has his name been linked to the Biogenesis scandal or anything else with PEDs other than baseless accusations on the Internet. He’s still been grilled about steroids throughout the season. Davis remains adamant he is clean. Others, like former Oriole Rafael Palmeiro, also denied their use of PEDS only to have it blow up in their face. If one of Davis’ tests ever comes back positive it’ll be hard to live down quotes like these in the Sun:
“I have never taken them. I have no reason to. I’ve always been a power hitter. With me, I think the biggest thing was the consistency of the contact. When I was making contact, I was always hitting for power. I’m a guy that likes to work out a lot. I’m a guy that used to eat whatever I wanted to, but I started getting into my mid-20s, I’ve been seeing that change. So I’ve been taking better care of my body. I have a pretty strict diet. But I’ve never taken [performance-enhancing drugs]. I haven’t felt the need to.”
Notice Davis hasn’t run away from steroid talk. Instead he’s answered the question directly, unlike some other stars. He admits, like it or not, the reason people question his numbers is because what happened in baseball in the 1990s and earlier this century.
However you want to contextualize Davis’ 2013 season, we can mostly all agree it’s a shame a player like Davis is considered guilty until proven innocent.