In my childhood, those crazy 1970s, we would have lost our minds if a player hit 40-plus homers three years in a row. Heck, in those days, we lost our minds if a player hit 40 homers in a season even once. That was a big enough deal. Nobody hit 40 home runs in a season from 1974-76, which was right in my childhood peak.
To do it three seasons in a row? Impossible. Beyond impossible. To this day, no Kansas City Royal has ever hit 40 home runs in a season. And think about this: Hank Aaron did not hit 40 home runs three years in a row. Willie Mays never did it. Mickey Mantle … Lou Gehrig … Mike Schmidt … Ted Williams … Willie McCovey … Joe DiMaggio … Frank Robinson … Chipper Jones … none of them did it, and those last five did not have three 40-home run seasons in their entire careers.
It's a big deal, hitting 40 home runs three straight seasons.
A baseball player is about to do it.
And there's a chance that you have absolutely no idea who he is.
It's hard to hit the ball as hard as Khris Davis hits it and remain utterly anonymous. It takes a whole series of factors. He plays in Oakland, after much of the East Coast has gone to bed. He was never a top prospect. He does not want attention. He shares the same name as ANOTHER slugger, Chris Davis, who hit 53 homers the year Khris was a rookie.
And there's also this: Davis is eerily, almost frighteningly consistent. FiveThirtyEight took on this topic last month. In 2015, Davis hit .247. In 2016, Davis hit .247. Last year, Davis hit .247. This year, he's hitting .254, so if I'm doing my math right, he will need to finish the season 29-for-129 to get to the magical .247 again. Do not bet against him.
But the point is that he's so consistent, that he turns invisible. It is no exaggeration to say that Davis hits the ball just about as hard as anybody in baseball. This season, only the scorching hot J.D. Martinez (61) has more barrels -- that Statcast™ concoction of ideal exit velocity and ideal launch angle -- than Davis (55).
Last year, only Aaron Judge, Martinez and Giancarlo Stanton had more barrels.
The year before that, only Jose Cabrera and David Ortiz had more barrels.
You get what I'm saying here? Davis mashes baseballs year after year. Nobody really saw it coming. The Brewers took him in the seventh round out of Cal State Fullerton back in 2009, and at no point did anyone really view him as a big-time prospect. At best, the scouts said, he might be a fourth outfielder for somebody. Davis flashed some power in the Minors, but his below average speed, defensive shortcomings and tendency to strike out a lot seemed to limit his future.
Thing is, when you hit baseballs as hard as Davis does, the other deficiencies become a lot less important. Oakland traded a couple of well-regarded prospects to get him before the 2016 season; there were plenty of people who thought the A's gave up too much. Oakland then put Davis in the lineup every day and decided to just live with all the small problems that might come from his defense and strikeouts. This is simply what the A's do.
In 2007, they put 28-year old Jack Cust into the everyday lineup. He led the league in strikeouts three straight years and was a bit of an eyesore in the outfield. But he crushed 84 home runs over those three seasons, including 33 in 2008.
In 2012, they put Brandon Moss into the everyday lineup after years of part-time play. He hit 76 home runs over three seasons, including 30 in 2013 and made the All-Star team in 2014.
Yonder Alonso. Matt Joyce. Josh Reddick. Matt Stairs. This is a team that will give home run hitters a chance to hit home runs. And none of them hit bombs like Davis. In 2016, he hit 42 home runs, and it was barely noticed, at least in part because the more famous Davis (Chris) signed a seven-year, $161 million deal and then hit 38 for Baltimore.
Last year, everything got a little bit sharper for Davis. The batting average, as you know, stayed the same. But he walked more, added a few points to his slugging percentage, crushed 43 home runs and even got an MVP vote.
You can expect Davis to get more than just one MVP vote this year. He's third in the American League in homers, second in RBIs, sixth in extra-base hits and seventh in slugging percentage. With 34 home runs, he's very likely to reach 40 for the third straight season, becoming only the second player this decade (after Nelson Cruz) to do that. And on top of that, his A's -- against all expectations -- are contending for the American League West title. Davis has clearly emerged as the power behind the surprise.
How does he do it? He's not that big (listed at 5-foot-10, 195 pounds), but he has great natural power. He torches fastballs. That's his game. Throw him breaking stuff, slow stuff, he might chase. Davis strikes out a lot. And if you can spot the fastball in just the right place, Davis' swing is long and you can get him up and in, low and away (just like most hitters).
But if you leave the ball over the plate, high, middle, low, doesn't matter, he will send the ball screaming. Davis reminds me of an old Reggie Jackson line; someone made the point that Jackson was a great mistake hitter. Reggie smiled.
"The good news," he said, "is that pitchers won't ever stop making mistakes."