Chris Davis made history last week by becoming the fourth player in MLB history to homer in each of the first four games to start a season. He joins Willie Mays (1971), Mark McGwire (1998), and Nelson Cruz (2011) in that category. Baseball stats and records can sometimes border on the ridiculous, but no one can deny the importance of home runs, and no one can deny the talent it takes to hit them once every four or five times you step to the plate.
Davis is the youngest to accomplish the feat. Mays was 40 in 1971, which is probably why he ended up with just 18 home runs that year. McGwire was 34 in his 1998 season for the ages; as we all know, he finished with 70 that year. Cruz was 30 in 2011 and finished with 29 HR.
Davis is 27, and his season's just beginning. Given that he banged 33 HRs last year and is entering (or at) his peak, we certainly expect great things from him this year.
He's cooled off a bit at the plate since the home opener against the Twins, but I wanted to see how he was pitched in each of his home run plate appearances.
HR #1: off Jake McGee: 7th inning, 2 out, 2 on, to right field. McGee threw just one pitch to Davis, a 91 MPH four-seam fastball. It was near the top of the strike zone and closer to the middle of the plate than the inside. This location leads me to believe that McGee was trying to throw one up and in to Davis and missed by about 2-3 inches. Davis didn't miss it, pulling it into right for a three-run shot that gave McGee a 67.50 ERA to start the season. Yowza.
HR #2: off Jeremy Hellickson: 1st inning, 2 out, 2 on, to left-center. With two outs, Adam Jones was on first and Nick Markakis was on third. Hellickson started Davis off with three fastballs inside, probably hoping to jam him, but Davis calmly watched all three go by for balls. Hellickson then painted the black inside with a superlative fastball, bringing the count to 3-1. Still a hitter's count, but instead of giving in, Hellickson tossed a 76 MPH curve for strike two just above the knees.
With the count now full, Hellickson threw a fastball six inches outside, probably hoping that Davis would chase it. A reasonable expectation, because Davis did chase -- but instead of whiffing, he connected for a three-run home run. Whoops.
When something like that happens, you've got to tip your cap to the man at the plate. There was no mistake in location, just pure brute strength waiting for the ball when it arrived. Hellickson would struggle throughout, giving up two more runs before leaving in the eighth inning.
HR #3: off Roberto Hernandez, 2nd inning, 1 on, 0 outs, to right-center. Again, Adam Jones got on base ahead of Davis. Again, Davis saw an above-average number of pitches (five). The first pitch was a mistake -- a sinker up and away for ball one. Then, a change-up that Davis fouled off, followed by two fastballs - one about belt high but outside that Davis fouled off, and one up and inside that he took for a ball. (That was the pitch that McGee wanted to throw.)
With the count now 2-2, Hernandez may have thought he'd sped up Davis's bat enough, so he returned to the change-up. It was a good pitch on the outside edge in the lower half of the strike zone, but not outside enough. It's a credit to Davis that he was able to not only homer on this pitch, but pull it to right-center.
HR #4: off Tyler Robertson, 9th inning, 3 on, 1 outs, to left field. You thought maybe a change of scenery would cool Davis off. Maybe Ron Gardenhire or Robertson thought that. Nope.
The Twins were up 5-4 in the bottom of the 8th, but reliever Casey Fien gave up a single to Nolan Reimold and another to Nate McLouth. Manny Machado then bunted the runners over to second and 3rd, whereupon Fien (actually Gardenhire, I'm assuming) intentionally walked Nick Markakis to load the bases. Up next, Adam Jones singled, tying the game and bringing Davis to the plate with the bases still loaded. That brought Ron Gardenhire out, and he brought Robertson, a soft-tossing lefty, with him.
Like his counterpart McGee, Robertson threw just one pitch to Davis. It was a classic lefty-lefty pitch, a "get him to ground out to second base or at least get strike one" pitch, an 86 MPH slider away. It was so away, in fact, that it was about five inches off the plate (while dropping 10 inches during its flight). Most hitters would've let it go for ball one, but Davis didn't, and we're glad he chose to swing. The resulting opposite-field grand slam gave the O's an 8-5 lead they would not relinquish.
Davis is showing true power here by using all fields, pulling balls on the outside edge, hitting both fastballs and off-speed stuff, and connecting on pitches that are out of the zone. I especially like that only one home run came on a mistake pitch (McGee's). The rest were on pitches that no one would be expected to hit, much less hit hard, much less hit for a home run. Here's hoping he continues to be so difficult to pitch to for a long, long time.
(Thanks to the awesome PitchFX tool for the pitch tracking data used in this article.)