So Chris Davis … wow.
There are so many ways to convey the absurdity of his start to the 2013 season. If he somehow continued hitting at his current pace, he would finish with totals that could slide neatly into Babe Ruth’s prime.
And why ruin the fun by talking about how unlikely this is to continue? Instead, I thought I’d do a quick and dirty investigation of how Davis’ start stacks up to other hot openings from Orioles history. Is this as unprecedented as it feels?
We’re near the end of May, and Davis is hitting .359 with 19 home runs, 50 RBI, a .447 on-base percentage and a .766 slugging average. He’s on pace to set new club records (not counting the St. Louis Browns) in every one of those categories.
Using the wonderful season splits available on Retrosheet.org, I looked at the April/May numbers from a cross section of the best offensive seasons in Orioles history.
Jim Gentile put up the Orioles’ first really big offensive season when he hit 46 home runs, drove in 141 and posted a .423 on-base percentage in 1961. He jumped to a solid start that year, hitting .317 with 13 homers and 44 RBI in the first two months. But really, he did his biggest damage in July and August.
What about Brooks Robinson’s MVP campaign in 1964? Turns out he was merely decent, batting .299 with three homers through the end of May. His best months that year were July and September. Robinson started better when the club won its first World Series in 1966, batting .318 with 42 RBI. But he never approached Davis territory.
Frank Robinson posted arguably the greatest offensive season in club history in 1966, winning the Triple Crown. But he did it without benefit of a monster start, tailing off after a .463 April and finishing May with only 10 homers and 20 RBI. Robinson actually got off to a stronger start in 1967, when he put up a .435 on-base percentage and 14 home runs through May.
Boog Powell started slowly in many of his big power seasons. The 1970 season, when he won the MVP, was an exception. Powell hit .315 with 15 homers, a .434 on-base percentage and a .648 slugging average.
The Orioles managed fewer huge offensive seasons as the 1970s rolled on. Ken Singleton started hot in 1979 with a .435 on-base percentage and 12 homers.
Great as Eddie Murray was, he never managed a start that would blow your hair back, at least not in the power categories. His best was probably in 1984, when he posted a .469 on-base percentage and 47 RBI. Actually, that’s pretty great.
Cal Ripken never did anything like that when he was Murray’s running mate. But the Iron Man’s best offensive season, 1991, featured a hot start. Ripken hit .345 with 12 homers and 35 RBI in the first two months, though he would perform even better in June and September.
So we’re down to more recent years in our search for a challenger to Davis.
The club’s wild-card run in 1996 featured two of the best starts in Orioles history. Newly acquired second baseman Roberto Alomar hit .397 with seven homers, 40 RBI, 42 runs, a .478 on-base percentage and a .588 slugging average. Davis’ power might win him that comparison, but it’s at least interesting.
The same year, Brady Anderson stunned everyone by hitting 20 homers in the first two months, on his way to 50. Anderson also posted a .422 on-base percentage and scored 40 runs. I always remember Brady’s start because of the home runs, so I was surprised to find that Alomar was pretty clearly superior over those two months.
Miguel Tejada started well in 2004 with a .316 average and 38 RBI, but he actually got hotter as the season went along. In terms of starts, he was better in 2006, when he hit .422 in April and finished May with 14 home runs. But 2006 Miggy was no 2013 Chris Davis.
My last candidate was Brian Roberts. It’s easy to forget just how hot he was to start 2005, his breakout season. Roberts hit .368 over the first two months with a .444 on-base percentage, a .642 slugging average, 11 homers, 39 runs and 13 steals in 17 attempts. So you could argue that before Davis this year, two second basemen, Alomar and Roberts, put up the best two-month starts in Orioles history.
The upshot is that Davis’ start is every bit as impressive in a historical context as it seems now. My search was unscientific, failing to account for league norms at the time of each performance. But it’s not as if league offensive totals are off the charts right now. Davis leads the majors in OPS by more than 100 points, and that’s with a Hall of Fame hitter, Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, off to perhaps his best season.
Right now, it’s hard to argue that any Oriole has ever started a season hotter than Chris Davis.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun