Heath Bintliff: The Chris Davis breakout

Is there anything Chris Davis can’t do?

Even though I held my breath every time a ball was hit to right field this weekend, Davis has added the job skill of “major league right fielder” to his resume.

It has been a remarkable season for Davis, as he continues to do things that he has never done before in the majors. He has played the outfield and pitched in his first major league game, but even more remarkable are the things he is doing at the plate.

Davis’ OPS+ of 132 is the highest of his career and in terms of OPS+, he is the second-best hitter on the Orioles this season.

But up to this season, Davis had yet to deliver on his enormous offensive potential. So what has changed?

Davis’ issue has always been making contact. He has always struck out at Mark Reynolds levels but without Reynolds’ ability to draw walks. This has led to Davis being a below-average major league hitter in his big league career.

Has he cut down on the strikeouts? Well, a bit. He is striking out at a 26.4 percent rate as opposed to his career average of 30.6 percent. That is not a huge difference, but not insignificant, either.

davis-c-sidebar-bat-white.jpgBut he’s not striking out less because he’s getting more selective and raising his walk rate. His walk rate is actually a bit down (5.7 percent) from his career average (6.3 percent).

So he’s still swinging for the fences like he always has. Why have the results been different this year? I checked into his plate discipline stats on FanGraphs.com. As it turns out, while his swing percentage overall is pretty much in line with his career averages, he is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone than ever before (73.2 percent this season versus 69.7 percent for his career) and, much more importantly, he’s making lots of contact on those balls thrown in the the strike zone - a whopping 87.5 percent of the time as opposed to 77.9 percent for his career.

So Davis, who always swings hard, is making more contact on those balls in the zone and thus putting more balls into play with authority.

And that is not an unsustainable contact level for Davis. It currently ranks at about 90th among all hitters in baseball, so it’s hardly an off-the-charts rate. In addition, when Davis was in the minors, the scouts raved first about his game changing power but they always praised his hit tool, his ability to hit for average. Is it possible that after 1,000 or so major league plate appearances, it finally all clicked for him?

Orioles fans sure hope so. And in 2012, Davis looks like yet another diamond in the rough unearthed by Andy MacPhail.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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