Last year, Chris Davis had one of the worst seasons an MLB hitter has ever had. Can the Baltimore Orioles help Davis find his way back to relevancy in 2019?
What does success look like for Baltimore Orioles first-baseman Chris Davis next year? We’d like to say that he can return to his 2015 self, but that feels overly optimistic. At 32, Davis is on the wrong side of the aging curve and his profile doesn’t bode well for the future.
A return to something resembling his 2017 season feels a bit more realistic, despite being relatively underwhelming. However, there’s a non-zero chance that Davis might just be done as an MLB hitter.
Davis was never a contact hitter. He relied on his power and at his peak, was able to draw enough walks to keep his on-base percentage in the .350 range. However, he’s led the league in strikeouts twice, and has averaged 204 strikeouts per year over the past four seasons.
While Davis has been in a steady decline since 2015, he fell completely off the cliff last year.
Part of it might be attributed to bad luck – Davis’ .237 BABIP fell significantly below his career .305 mark, and his homer/fly-ball rate dropped to 14.5%, the first time since joining the Orioles that he’s posted a mark below 22%.
But is that a sign of bad luck last year, or does it also indicate a drop in skill level? It’s probably a bit of both, especially when we again consider where Davis sits on the aging curve, but there’s real cause for worry when you look at Davis’ batted ball profile.
Davis’ average exit velocity dropped to a career-low 88.9 mph last year, and for the first time since 2014 his hard-hit rate fell below 40%. Davis just isn’t squaring up the ball like he used to. At his best in 2018, he looked uncomfortable at the plate; he never found his rhythm despite repeated attempts to correct it.
So how does he get out of this slump?
Davis recently spoke with MASNsports.com reporter Roch Kubatko about the work he’s already put in this offseason; he’s been at it for about a month already, trying to get his reps in early and find a way back into some semblance of a comfort zone at the plate.
Davis has expressed a willingness to do whatever is necessary to get himself back on track, but nothing has worked so far. I can’t pretend to know how to fix Davis’ issues, but it seems like the only solution right now is to get Davis to the point where he’s comfortable in the batter’s box and confident in his ability to hit major league pitching.
If that involves gaining deeper access to opposing pitchers’ scouting reports and tendencies, and spending more time working in the batting cage refining his approach, so be it.
But consider that it could also involve Davis taking a step back from all of the available information, get back to basics and just find a way to feel comfortable at the plate.
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Information overload is a very real thing and it’s possible that Davis has tried making too many micro-adjustments to his approach over the past couple years.
There’s a scenario where Davis comes into 2019 healthy and confident, and posts respectable numbers. There’s no reason to think he’s not strong enough to hit for power, and we can reasonably assume that he’ll have a bit more luck next year than he did in 2018.
But like previously mentioned, there’s a chance that Davis is just done. He no longer has the athleticism or defensive ability to warrant mandatory starts in the field, and if he’s not hitting, the Orioles will need to find creative ways to spread the playing time around.
For the time being, I’m trying to stay cautiously optimistic about Davis. While it’s tough to see him as a superstar going forward, he can certainly return to being an effective major leaguer and provide veteran leadership to a clubhouse desperately in need of it.