OAKLAND — When Khris Davis was growing up in the late 1990s and early 2000s — the peak of the Steroid Era in Major League Baseball — 50-home run seasons were relatively common.
Twenty-two of the 45 50-home run seasons in major league history happened between 1995 — when Albert Belle posted the third 50-homer campaign since Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle’s 1961 home run chase — and 2007. Since the end of the 2007 season, only four players have passed that mark, and none more than once.
Davis — who hit his 38th home run in his 505th plate appearance Tuesday night — admitted after Oakland’s 6-0 win over the Texas Rangers that he’s thought about the mark. As Davis rounded the bases, fans chanted “M-V-P,” and given Davis’s torrid second-half pace, neither 50 homers nor a top-five finish in the MVP race seem out of the question.
“It’s been on my mind for a little while,” Davis said of the 50-homer mark. ” … It’s just another number, another benchmark, but most importantly, I’m thinking about getting to the playoffs, really.”
The Athletics’ DH has averaged 631 plate appearances over his first two seasons with Oakland, during which he’s hit 43 and 42 home runs. He’s on pace for 631 plate appearances this year. At his current season-long rate of one home run ever 13.3 plate appearances, he’d hit 9.47 more home runs. That has him on pace for 47.47 home runs — just short.
Given how hot Davis has been, the calculus has changed. Since the break, he’s averaging one home run every 7.8 at-bats, with 17 longballs in 132 plate appearances since play resumed on July 20. Extrapolating from that over an estimated 126 more plate appearances, he’d end up with 54, tied for the second-most home runs in a single season since 2007.
“He’s doing what he does,” said shortstop Marcus Semien. “He’s doing it at a more rapid pace this year. It’s impressive in this ballpark, considering this ballpark’s been one of the least offensive parks in the league. It doesn’t matter with him. He can hit the ball out to all fields, even on cold nights like this.”
Davis’s homer to left center on Monday night traveled an estimated 438 feet, but to watch it clank off the luxury box windows, it certainly seemed quite a bit further. As Semien alluded to, what’s been most impressive about Davis is that he’s not just a dead-pull hitter. Eleven of his home runs have come to left, 15 to center and 12 to right.
“That’s what you get when he gets a ball, that’s what you see,” Semien said of the Monday round tripper. “We’ve seen balls get hit up there, but definitely not at night. I think [Chad] Pinder hit one up there in a day game, but that’s what KD can do when he connects.”
Davis ranks first in the majors in both home runs and RBIs since the All-Star break. Since the break, he’s hitting .297, upping his batting average to a career full-season best .261. With his RBI single in the fifth, he knocked in his 100th run, crossing the century mark for the third time in the last three years.
“Pretty big, I guess,” Davis said. “I’m just trying to do my job, do what I do. I’m just glad I show up. I’ve just got to continue working hard and helping this team win ballgames. That’s probably my main focus, is getting to the playoffs.”
Right now, the A’s are tied for first place in the American League West — a spot almost unthinkable just two months ago, when Oakland was 12 games behind the Houston Astros. The A’s 76 wins are tied for third in the AL.
When he added to his home run total with his seventh-inning two-run shot, the crowd of 11,579 broke out the MVP chants.
“Pretty special,” Davis said of the chants. “Just appreciative, and I try not to make it a big deal, really.”
Getting to the playoffs would almost certainly bolster his candidacy, and right now, he’s doing everything with the bat, not just hitting home runs. His single in the fifth came after he fouled off four pitches, and followed a two-out double by Matt Chapman and a walk by Jed Lowrie.
While his batting average lags behind the other contenders, he is currently tied with Boston MVP candidate J.D. Martinez for the most homers in the American League, and is second in RBIs behind Martinez. He has more home runs and RBIs than Cleveland’s candidate, Jose Ramirez, and ranks fifth in the Junior Circuit in slugging.
“Why wouldn’t you?” manager Bob Melvin said, when asked about Davis bashing his way into the MVP conversation. “I’ve been hearing some talk on some national broadcasts about MVPs, and his name’s not even brought up. How can you not? What is he? Second in the league in RBIs, second in homers? It’s ridiculous that he’s not part of that conversation.”