Are 60 Home Runs Realistic or Just a Pipe Dream for Chris Davis in 2013?

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Are 60 Home Runs Realistic or Just a Pipe Dream for Chris Davis in 2013?

If Chris Davis has shown anything so far this season, it's that he's a threat to hit one out every time he steps to the dish.

Following a breakout 2012 campaign in which the Baltimore Orioles' slugger launched a career-high 33 homers, Davis is leading the majors with 28 homers after smacking yet another one Tuesday night.

If you're adding 'em up at home, that means the 27-year-old first baseman has hit more than 60 home runs since the start of last season.

But could Davis actually reach the sacred ground of 60 homers this season alone?

Even for a guy who stands 6'3" and checks in at 230 pounds, that's a gigantic order. So, we need to put some numbers in context to get a better idea of what Davis is up against if he's going to bash 32 more over the rest of 2013 to crack the 60-homer barrier.

First off, let's just put this out there to remind everyone just how hard it is to hit that many homers: In the history of baseball, it's happened only eight times with five different players.

In case you need a refresher, here's the list, in order of most four-baggers in a season:

That company? Elite.

The last time anyone hit 60 homers in a single season, it happened twice in 2001, as Barry Bonds bashed his record-breaking 73 and Sammy Sosa smashed 64.

It seems like only yesterday, and yet that was 12 years ago. And well, let's just say a lot has changed since then (if you know what I mean).

Sticking with that crew for a moment, let's work backward—since we know who already has hit 60—and see how Davis measures up based on his power display in the first half so far.

Here's a look at how many home runs each had through the first half of their 60-homer campaigns, sorted by highest total in that time:

There are a couple of things to note.

One, you'll notice the average row is included to give an indication of what it takes in each half to get to 60. To that end, you should realize that a 60-homer year means hitting a lot of homers in the first half of the season and—you guessed it—a lot of homers in the second half, too.

The 60-homer sluggers averaged 32.5 in the first half and—get this—32.8 in the second.

In other words, you can't afford to slow down at all if you're really going to make a run at 60. More on that in a bit.

Second thing: The fewest-ever homers hit prior to the All-Star break by a player who eventually went on to drive himself in at least 60 times was the 28 Mark McGwire managed in 1999. So with his 28, Davis already has matched McGwire and avoided the possibility of setting a new "low" in the first half, which would have required him to do extra damage in the second.

Good thing he has plenty of time left before he heads to New York's Citi Field for the Midsummer Classic in July, huh?

In fact, as of Wednesday, Davis has a day under three weeks—and 18 games left—until he's officially an All-Star for the first time.

Frankly, with the way Davis is rolling—he has seven more homers than any other hitter heading into Wednesday's games—there's a strong possibility he could get to 30 home runs by the time we hit the break.

So let's be silly for a second and assume Davis gets to 30. Then, while we're there, let's stick with that number. Why? Well, it's nice and round, which makes things easier when establishing a marker for historical comparisons. It's also, obviously, half of 60.

The last time a player had 30-plus homers at the end of the first half, you may remember, was in 2011, when Jose Bautista had 31. He, of course, is not on the list above—the 60-homer list—so what happened?

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
In 2011, Jose Bautista hit nearly three times as many homers in the first half as he did in the second.

Bautista went on to lead the majors that year, which is good. But he only hit 12 more bombs in the second half, which is, well, not.

That in mind, let's focus on the past 15 seasons, which fittingly takes us back to the dramatic, if controversial summer of 1998, when Mark and Sammy were at their homer-hitting peaks.

In reverse chronological order starting with Bautista's 2011, here are the players in that time who finished the first half of the year with a home run total that began with a "3":

 

Again, the averages are included to put these numbers in perspective, and the point is clear: Thirty home runs in the first half is far from a guarantee of 60 in the end.

In fact, of the 15 occasions in the past 15 years—hey, that's one a year!—that a hitter has tallied 30 four-baggers by the break, only four went on to get to the big six-oh. That's 27 percent. Heck, six of the 15 didn't even make it to 50, including our man Bautista.

So even if we bestow two more homers on Davis between now and the O's final game of the first half on July 14 to get him to 30, based on history, the odds of him totaling 60 are about one-in-four.

But what about Davis himself?

The man is on pace for 58 homers. As crazy-hot as he's been, then, Davis basically has to remain at this level of over-the-fence production—and actually do a little better the rest of the way.

Looking at Davis' FanGraphs page reveals that the two projection systems the site utilizes, ZiPS and Steamer, have him hitting only 17 and 15 more homers, respectively. That would put his total in mid-40s—a far, far cry from 60.

Given the way Davis is going, those seem a little pessimistic. Then again, maybe not, considering we're still talking about a guy who sports a 30.2-percent strikeout rate for his career (26.0 percent this year) and who, until 2011, had never hit more than 21 homers in a year and had all of 44 for his career.

But, hey, Baltimore's Camden Yards is a hitter-friendly spot, right? That could help Davis' cause.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Davis has been an equal opportunity masher, hitting 13 homers at Camden and 15 on the road.

The park factor there ranks in the top 10 in the home run department in 2013 and has every year since 2006, according to ESPN.

And breaking that down even further, we can say, thanks to StatCorner, that Camden increases homer production by lefty hitters like Davis by a whopping 28 percent over the last three years. 

If nothing else, that's certainly promising, as Davis is in the right park to make a run at 60.

Just a few more angles.

Looking at Davis' batted-ball data (per FanGraphs), we find that his current HR/FB rate is 31.1 percent. Now, that's second-highest in baseball, but 25.2 percent of Davis' fly balls left the yard last year, and his career number is a well-above-average 21.3 percent. He could regress here, but maybe not by much.

Part of the reason Davis could maintain a homer pace close to his current one is that he's lofting fly balls at a career-high rate. Of all the balls he's putting in play—again, that 26.0-percent K rate is high, but it's also a career-best for him, so he's putting more in play—44.4 percent of them are in the air.

Sort of like this:

Oh, and Davis is also hitting a career-low 32.3 percent of balls on the ground, so while it might be a stretch to say he is trying to hit home runs this season, it certainly seems he's attempting to hit the ball off the ground more.

And as everybody, including Davis, knows, grounders can never be homers.

OK, folks, it's time to put all we've learned to use.

Does Chris Davis have a realistic shot at 60 home runs this year?

That may well depend on three things.

One, whether Davis, who has never played more than 139 games in a season, can stay healthy and avoid missing more than a handful of contests between now and season's end. To that end, perhaps the much-deserved All-Star "break" will help him, even if he's going to be playing in the game for the first time in his career.

Two, how much he'll regress in certain areas over the rest of the season, especially as he tries to endure his first full season.

Three, how soon and how frequently pitchers start pitching around Davis and walking him more often to avoid surrendering so many home runs.

It's not going to be easy by any means for Davis to get to 50 home runs—let alone 60.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Davis has teamed with Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and others to ignite an O's offense that is top-three in runs, doubles, homers and OPS.

At the same time, if anyone has the right set of circumstances to make a run—from hitting in the middle of one of baseball's most productive lineups, to enjoying a cozy ballpark, to putting the ball in the air often, to taking advantage of the ridiculously hot start to this point—it's Davis.

Take the under on 60. But 50? Says here Davis tops that.

Final answer: Chris Davis hits 53 home runs this year.

 

What's your guess for Chris Davis' final home run tally in 2013?

 

All statistics come from Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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