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Will we see another 70 home run hitter?

Jamie Squire

[07/25/13 Editor's note: Thanks to a sweet Tweet from Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri), we're reminded of this article by former BtBS author and current Rays analyst Peter Bendix. Five years later, Chris Davis has 37 home runs through this date in the baseball season. Enjoy Peter's powers of forecasting!]

RJ’s post about the next .400 hitter got me thinking – are we ever going to see another 70 home run hitter?

Certainly, hitting 70 homers is quite difficult - only two players have ever done this, and only two players even managed 40 homers in 2008. But one player comes to mind as having perhaps the most reasonable chance to smack 70 homers: Rangers slugger Chris Davis.

Let’s take a look at Chris Davis, and see what would have to happen for this young star-in-the-making to reach the 70 homer milestone. It would take quite the confluence of events (this formula can generally be applied to other hitters, too).

Here are some necessary steps:

Get a lot of plate appearances. The best way to do this is to hit the near the top (ideally first or second, but more realistically third) of one of the best lineups in the game. This would get you a lot of PAs.

Michael Young got 700 plate appearances for the Rangers last year. Let’s use this as a starting point, and assume that, as the #3 hitter in a very good offense, Davis could get 700 plate appearances as well.

Minimize the strikeouts…and the walks. Davis struck out in 30% of his at bats in 2008. However, he was only 22 years old and has demonstrated relatively low strikeout rates (for a power hitter) in the minors. In his prime, Alex Rodriguez struck out in approximately 21% of his at bats. Let’s say that Davis can reach the same level, and will strike out in 21% of his at bats.

But in order to hit so many homers, you have to minimize the amount of walks as well. While Davis has shown good plate discipline, he is somewhat of a hacker. He walked in 6.3% of his plate appearances in 2008; let’s say, for the sake of argument, that he walks in 7% of his 700 plate appearances.

Hit lots of fly balls. In 2008, Davis hit 40% of his balls in play as fly balls. However, he also hit a lot of line drives – 25.5%, to be exact. Let’s say that Davis raises his fly ball total to 50%, and loses 10% of his line drives – hardly an unreasonable proposition, especially given Davis’s fly ball tendencies in the minors.

If Davis had 700 plate appearances and walked 7% of the time, he would have 49 walks. If he struck out in 21% of his at bats (651 at bats – 700 plate appearances minus 49 walks), that would result in 137 strikeouts. That leaves 514 balls in play.

If Davis hits 50% of his balls in play in the air, he would hit 257 fly balls.

Hit those fly balls a long way. In order for Davis to hit 70 homers, he would have to hit 27.2% of his fly balls out of the park. This is actually a very reasonable proposition as well: in 2008, Jack Cust hit 31% of his fly balls out of the park; Ryan Howard hit 29.2% out of the park; Carlos Delgado hit 24.3% out. Heck, even Davis himself hit homers on 20.5% of his fly balls. Given how forgiving the Ballpark in Arlington is for fly balls, 27% is a very reasonable number.

If Davis manages to hit 70 homers, that would leave 444 plate appearances that do not end with a walk, strikeout, or homer. We can project Davis’s BABIP in these situations to be .270 (15% LD% + .120), giving him 120 hits. Let’s assume that these non-HR hits are broken down at the same rate that Davis hit them in 2008: 63% singles, 34% doubles, and 3% triples. That would give Davis 76 singles, 41 doubles, and three triples.

Thus, Davis’s overall line would be:

120 non-HR hits + 70 homers = 190 hits in 651 at bats (700 PAs minus 51 walks) for a batting average of .292.

190 hits + 51 walks = 241 times on men in 700 plate appearances, for an on-base percentage of .344.

70 homers, three triples, 41 doubles, 76 singles for 447 total bases, good for a slugging percentage of .687.

Obviously, this would be a perfect storm of events – lots of plate appearances, relatively few walks or strikeouts, lots of fly balls, and a high rate of fly balls becoming homers. However, none of these assumptions are terribly far-fetched.

Hitting 70 homers is an extremely difficult feat that may never happen again. But Chris Davis may have as good of a chance as any current player in baseball.