On 50 home runs and the MVP

Chris Davis hit 53 home runs for the Orioles this year, which makes him a finalist for the MVP to be awarded Thursday.

He’s not likely to win it — Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera is, over Mike Trout, which will spur another round of debate over new age stats. In this case, both sides are right.

Trout could win, and there’d be nothing wrong with a center fielder who hit .323 with 27 homers, 33 steals, 110 walks, a .557 slugging percentage and, yes, a 9.2 WAR. The vote here is for Cabrera, who hobbled through the last month but still hit .348 and led the league in average, on-base percentage (.442), slugging percentage (.636), OPS (1.078) and OPS+ (187). For the record, his WAR was 7.2.

Davis won’t win, even with an AL-leading 53 homers and 138 RBIs, a 1.004 OPS and a 6.3 WAR. It could be worse, though. Hack Wilson, the first player other than Babe Ruth to hit 50 home runs, didn’t get any votes in 1930 because there was no MVP: the award was transitioning from its previous incarnation in the ’20s to the modern version first awarded in 1931 (Babe Ruth won just once, in 1923; he hit 60 home runs in 1927 and the MVP was Lou Gehrig; he hit 54 in 1928 and the MVP was Mickey Cochrane. And you thought Andre Dawson winning was bad.)

Wilson hit 56 home runs and drove in 191 runs (SABR must have found one in the boxscores) in a year in which there was no MVP. Given his hard-luck rep, that figures.

(Trivia: Davis became the 27th player this year to hit 50 home runs or more. Name them, or as many as you can. Answer below)

But if you think 50 homers is the new 30 when it comes to the MVP, think again. Since 1931, if my math is right, there have been 37 seasons of 50 home runs or more (Davis makes 38). Of those, only 11 have resulted in MVP awards: Jimmie Foxx in 1932 and 1938, Mickey Mantle in 1956, Roger Maris in 1961, Willie Mays in 1965, George Foster in 1977, Ken Griffey in 1997, Sammy Sosa in 1998, Barry Bonds in 2001, Ryan Howard in 2006 and Alex Rodriguez in 2007.

(Six players hit 50 homers or more in a year another 50-homer was MVP: Sosa and Luis Gonzalez in 2001, Mark McGwire and Greg Vaughn in 1998, Mickey Mantle in 1961 and Hank Greenberg in 1938.)

But that means 20 50 home run seasons have not resulted in MVP awards. Davis will make 21. None has finished lower in the voting than McGwire — 16th when he was traded in 1997 while hitting 58 — although Sammy Sosa was ninth in 1999 after hitting 63 (he was MVP in ’98 despite McGwire’s 70). Greenberg’s 58 tied for second-highest total ever in 1938 when he hit them, yet he was fourth in the voting.

In the National League, two of the candidates — Andrew McCutchen and Yadier Molina — combined for less than not only Davis, but also the third finalist, Paul Goldschmidt. McCutchen hit 21, and led the NL in no individual category, yet excelled in almost all: a .317 average, .404 on-base, .508 slugging, 78 walks, 21 steals, a 1.0 defensive WAR and an 8.2 total. He’ll be the MVP, and he should be.

The 50 home run club: Babe Ruth, Hack Wilson, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, George Foster, Cecil Fielder, Albert Belle, Brady Anderson, Ken Griffey Jr., Mark McGwire, Greg Vaughn, Sammy Sosa, Luis Gonzalez, Barry Bonds, Jim Thome, Andruw Jones, David Ortiz, Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Bautista and Chris Davis.

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