If some things had gone a different way several years ago, Chris Davis might have been hitting homers for the Yankees rather than against them.
Davis was drafted by New York in round 50 in 2004 out of Longview (Texas) High School. He was also taken a year later in round 35 by the Angels. He didn’t sign either time and finally did when the Texas Rangers drafted him in round 5 of 2006. Then he became an Oriole in a trade deadline deal in 2011.
That all worked out well for him last summer, when he batted .270 and led the club with 33 homers and 85 RBIs. Davis tied for eighth in the American League in homers with Robinson Cano. He slugged .501 and had an OPS of .827. In those important games down the stretch in September, Davis batted .337 with eight homers, 17 RBIs and an OPS of 1.071.
Those are all good power numbers, but they are numbers Davis feels he can top this season.
“I was happy with the way I swung the bat last year. I think I made a lot of strides in the right direction. It’s a benchmark for me, something to look at and be proud of, but also something to learn from. I think I can go up from there. I hope to go up from there,” he said recently in the Orioles clubhouse.
Davis actually has some specific numbers in mind. He sets goals for himself.
“I do,” he said. “But I will never tell you guys. It’s something personal that I’ve done since I was in junior college. My coach brought that up to us as a team to sit down individually and write our goals down. It is something I do every year.”
Davis averaged a homer every 15.6 at-bats last year, an impressive number and one that topped Jay Bruce (16.5), Adrian Beltre (16.8), Prince Fielder (19.4) and Albert Pujols (20.2) among others.
Davis hit those 33 last year in 515 at-bats over 139 games. If he plays just about every day this season, he could get another 100 or more at-bats. At last year’s pace, that would be another six or seven homers, putting him in the 40-homer range. No Oriole has hit 40 or more home runs since 1998 when Rafael Palmeiro hit 43 and it has only happened four times in club history.
Davis likes hitting at Camden Yards. He hit 22 homers at the Yard last season and that is second-best in park history to Palmeiro and his 25 in that 1998 season.
One key for Davis to put up the solid power numbers is the ability to hit the ball out to left and left-center when he is pitched away.
“Really, in the minor leagues when I took off as a power hitter, that was what I was doing well,” Davis said. “Starting to use the opposite field and go the other way with the ball. When I am hitting the ball the best, I am using all fields. There are times last year when I looked at video and there was a pitch outside and I pulled it to right. But as long as you feel comfortable at the plate and you have a solid approach and are swinging at strikes - which is big for me - the ball is going to go where it’s going to go.
“I have actually seen that a lot more in spring training (pitchers pitching him away). Guys pounding me hard in off the plate and then trying to get me to chase (an outside pitch). It has helped me get into a lot of hitter’s counts. If I can be patient like that during the season, it could pay off.”
Also helping Davis pile up the homers is the ability to drive the ball about equally well versus left and right-handers. His slugging percentage was .496 last year versus southpaws and .502 against right-handers.
He hit 20 of his 33 homers against the American League East and he put his name alongside Reggie Jackson in the O’s record book when he homered in six consecutive games late last year.
Davis turned 27 about a week ago and could be coming into the prime years of his career in an Orioles uniform. Had he made other decisions years ago he could be in another clubhouse right now. But he’s pretty OK just where he is.
“Our chemistry in the clubhouse was so huge last year, to have that closeness and that family feeling. I think it has (carried over this year) and we have a great clubhouse, a great group of guys and I’m excited about this year,” he said.
What is your take?: What do you think of Davis’ power potential? How many homers will he hit this season?
OK, this is really funny: Check out this story about the Mets’ long-time public relations director. You may laugh hysterically.