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Chris Davis Needs to Get the Bat Off His Shoulder

Chris Davis watches a pitch go by.
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Chris Davis had a nice little week for himself last week. In the span of just five games, he raised his 2017 slash line from .239/.348/.389 to .269/.382/.531. That also brought his season wRC+ from 102 to 146 (for you non-nerds: he went from being 2% better than the average MLB hitter to 46% better).

(h/t Ryan Romano)

Davis didn’t do much over the weekend against Toronto though, and as of the start of tonight’s game against Minnesota, he’s at .248/.358/.483, good for a 126 wRC+.

He’s been the usual frustrating Davis all year, looking completely lost for long stretches followed by stretches where everything he hits seems to fly out of the ballpark. Of course, the latter case has really only popped up once so far. Knowing Davis though, the next such streak is right around the corner.

I’m not calling him “Crush” anymore, because I think it’s pretty obvious to anybody who watches this team on a regular basis that the guy who earned that nickname, the 2013 version of Davis, isn’t coming back. At least not for more than a handful of games at a time.

And that’s OK. Davis plays a stellar first base, and we all know that when he heats up, he’ll be a blast to watch until he goes cold again.

But what’s not really OK, at least with large portions of Birdland, is the WAY in which Davis gets himself into these awful funks at the dish. He goes down with little-to-no resistance, watching strike three after strike three call before turning and heading back to the dugout.

Back in March, Camden Depot’s Joe Wantz dug into the numbers and concluded that Davis, unlike some other O’s hitters who we won’t bring up right now, would actually be better served by swinging the bat MORE often.

Here’s Wantz:

In years when Davis takes fewer called third strikes, he is at worst an above average hitter and at best one of the game’s elites. In years where he takes a higher number of called third strikes, however, he is below average to slightly above.

Now, this may be sample size noise and there are likely other factors that contribute to Davis’ offensive inconsistency, but it seems fairly clear that the less aggressive Davis is the less successful he is offensively. A strikeout is an out regardless, but a called third strike is probably the least productive out simply because there is no possibility of anything good happening. In Davis’ case, it’s doubly unproductive because he hits the ball extremely hard. He consistently ranks in the upper echelon of hard hit balls and obviously produces massive power when he connects.

It seems odd to say that a player should be less selective, and even more so when that player is on the Baltimore Orioles. In Davis’ case, however, taking fewer pitches and being more aggressive at the plate certainly seems to correlate with better offensive production. So, I’d suggest something I never thought I’d have to to suggest to an Oriole: swing the bat!

So, is Davis swinging more in 2017? I don’t think I need to tell you that the answer is a resounding NOPE.

Going into Monday night’s game, Davis is swinging at just 42.1% of pitches, which would be a new career low. His career number right now sits at 49.1. Here are his year-by-year numbers:

2012: 54.2%
2013: 50.2%
2014: 46.9%
2015: 47.5%
2016: 42.8%

As noted above, he’s at 42.1% this year.

In addition to the above, Wantz also noted that Davis staring at a ridiculous amount of strike threes isn’t just something we perceive – it’s backed up by the numbers:

What is interesting, however, is how he strikes out. Davis has, by far, the most called third strikes in baseball since 2012 with 279, and had 79 called third strikes in 2016, which is also the most by far for any player in any season since 2009.

So, how’s that going so far in 2017?

Well…

called strike three table

source

Not great! Not only is Davis well on his way to leading the league in this dubious category again, but he’s also on pace to shatter his own awful record of 79 from a season ago. At this pace, Davis will strike out looking an incredible 115 times this year.

As Josh Sadlock put it on Twitter, by the end of his contract, he’ll be swinging once a game.

When he does swing, he is making slightly less contact (65.9%) than his career average (67.7%) and quite a bit less than in 2013 (69%), but just a tick better than last year (65.7%). The point remains, I think – he should let it fly more often.

In the past, I’ve driven myself crazy wishing that Davis would change…something…when he goes into his extended slumps. His batting stance, perhaps the size of the bat that he uses, something about his approach…

But no changes ever seem to come, at least not any that are visible to the naked eye. He’s certainly not Cal Ripken up there changing his stance every month.

Anyway, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that Davis just isn’t a guy who is going to do a whole lot of tinkering. He knows what’s worked for him in the past, and that’s what he’s riding (or whiffing) with.

I don’t think I’m asking for too much, though, with the simple request to get the damn bat off his shoulder a bit more often. If he looked into the numbers, he’d see that it’s an approach that has certainly served him well in the past.

Swing away, Big Fella. Swing away.

(Note – another writer on Camden Depot, Matt Perez, reached the opposite conclusion. Worth the read as well, if you’re so inclined.)

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