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How Good is Chris Davis This Season?

By Andrew Goodman

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has become one of the biggest breakout stars in baseball. We are almost halfway through the season and he leads the majors in home runs, and is second in the American League in both batting average and RBIs behind reigning MVP Miguel Cabrera. He is currently in line to start for the American League in the All-Star Game and although there are still 90 games left, he is definitely an early MVP candidate. Davis is definitely having the best season of his career and is on pace to hit 59 home runs, more than any other player since Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa battled for the single season record back in 2001. The only difference – Chris Davis was never accused of using steroids.

Personally, I have no respect for players who used steroids. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire have the six highest home run totals for any batter in a single season. However, all three have had their careers tainted by steroid usage, so I don't think they deserve the credit. If you remove those three, the only other players to hit at least 59 home runs in a season are Roger Maris and Babe Ruth, who many consider to be the greatest player of all time. "The Great Bambino" hit 59 home runs in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a record that stood until Maris broke Ruth's record in 1961, hitting 61. If Davis stays on pace, some may argue that he will have one of the best seasons a hitter has ever had. Well, let's put that statement to the test.

In 1921, Babe Ruth had what I consider to be the best season any batter has ever had in the history of baseball. Take a look at his stats:

Babe Ruth

Home Runs: 59

Runs Batted In: 171

Batting Average: .378

Runs: 177

Slugging Percentage: .846

OPS: 1.359

Games Played: 152

At-Bats: 540

Before we try and compare Davis to Ruth, let me just share the pure impressiveness that this season represents. For the purpose of protecting the integrity of the game, all of the following stats exclude players who used steroids. Ruth's 1.359 OPS that year was the second highest of all-time. Who had the highest, you may ask? Ruth himself, the year before. His slugging percentage of .846 is also the second highest of all-time. Again, Ruth trailed only his statistic from the previous season. His 171 RBIs ranks seventh most for RBIs in a season, and his .378 batting average is far above that of any of today's players. In addition to his 59 home runs, Ruth also had 16 triples and stole 17 bases. His 177 runs are tied for the second most of all time, and especially impressive since Ruth was not a lead-off hitter.

Here are Davis's stats through 72 games this season. Next to his current total is his projected total if he maintains the same pace that he is at now. All projections are rounded to the nearest whole numbers.

Chris Davis

Home Runs: 26 (59)

Runs Batted In: 66 (149)

Batting Average:  .337

Runs:  51 (115)

Slugging Percentage: .720

OPS: 1.132

Games Played: 72 (160)

At-Bats: 264 (589)

It is hard to compare players from two different eras, such as these, but I am going to do my best. When Ruth played, his 59 home runs in a season are more than entire teams had. Today, that doesn't happen. If Davis maintains his pace, he and Ruth would both be tied with 59 home runs. However, Ruth has the edge when it comes to every other offensive category, and did so with 49 less at-bats and eight less games than Davis is projected to have. Davis's numbers won't break any records this year, but if he meets these projections, he will definitely be the AL MVP and perhaps even win a Triple Crown. However, I still believe that Ruth's 1921 season is the best season a player has ever had, even if Davis meets these expectations.

In 1927, when Ruth hit 60 home runs, all of his other stats were lower than his totals in 1921 besides home runs.  However, his numbers still far surpass Davis's projections, so I'm not going to bother comparing Davis to the Babe again, because in my opinion nobody can compare to Babe Ruth.

Roger Maris's 1961 season was an impressive one. It wasn't quite as good as either of Ruth's 59+ home runs seasons, but he did break Ruth's single season home run record. Here are Maris's numbers from his record setting season:

Home Runs: 61

Runs Batted In: 141

Batting Average: .269

Runs: 132

Slugging Percentage: .620

OPS: .993

Games: 162

At-Bats: 590

This comparison between Maris and Davis is a lot more competitive. While Maris would finish the season with a higher home run total, Davis would have more RBIs, and a better batting average. I would definitely trade two homers for a 68 point increase in batting average. Davis has a higher OPS, meaning he gets on base more and has more extra base hits than Maris, and a higher slugging percentage. Maris had only 16 doubles the year that he hit 61 homers, while Davis already has 23, less than halfway through the season. Maris struck out only 67 times while Davis has already been fanned by a pitcher 78 times. Despite this fact, if Davis meets my projections, I would have to say that his 2013 season would be better than Maris's legendary 1961 season.

Chris Davis has shown this year that he is a force to be reckoned with. Pitchers should get a little scared when Davis steps up to the plate, because he's always a threat to come up with a big hit. He may not be a Babe Ruth, but if he keeps up what he's doing, he will have the greatest season a player has had in the past 50 years.