Orioles first baseman Chris Davis arranged an interview session with some of the beat writers before the final game at Tropicana Field and vowed to dedicate his offseason to working with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh in Texas while attempting to improve his average and get back to being a threat in the middle of the order.
It wasn’t just lip service.
Davis had just finished another session with Coolbaugh last night and was driving home as he called into the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan. He’s made a few more changes in his routine and is thrilled with the results.
“I think it’s something that you always tweak and kind of monitor as you get older, as you learn more about yourself and what you need, but I’m absolutely very pleased with the way this offseason has gone and where I’m at right now,” Davis said.
“I know I talked a lot at the end of the season about some of the adjustments that I wanted to make and I really feel like I have a good handle on some of the things that I need to do to be more productive and I feel like this has been a great offseason.”
Davis is coming off back-to-back disappointments since receiving a seven-year, $161 million deal, easily the most lucrative in franchise history. His average has dipped from .262 in 2015 to .221 and .215, his on-base percentage from .361 to .332 to .309 and his slugging percentage from .562 to .459 to .423. He led the majors with 47 home runs in 2015 but has totaled 38 and 26 the past two summers, an oblique injury costing him a month of the 2017 season. His RBIs have dropped from 117 to 84 to 61.
He’s no longer crushing fastballs. He’s no longer registering the same exit velocity. And it’s unacceptable to everyone, including the guy who’s putting in the extra hours now in Texas.
“Really, the most frustrating thing for me the past couple of seasons has been the batting average,” Davis said. “I understand that the game is changing, that the shifts are getting a little bit more extreme, if you will. But as a competitor you always want to get a leg up on the competition. The game is really going in a direction where guys are trying to hit the ball in the air a little bit more.
“For me, I think that’s something that is going to be really beneficial moving forward. As we’ve seen the last couple of years, they have 800 defenders over there, so for me, I really want to try to get the ball in the air a little bit more. But I think my approach and kind of my role will be dictated by how our lineup shakes out, where I fit in and I think we’ll have a little bit better understanding of that once spring training starts and we get everybody together.”
Davis is most effective when hitting the ball to all fields. The slumping version seems to pull everything or fail to make contact.
Fans screaming for Davis to bunt down the third base line in every at-bat aren’t going to be satisfied.
Bunting is “on the table,” Davis said, “and I think honestly that I’d be foolish not to explore that, but I think I’ve told you this over the years. I’ve actually asked guys, division rivals, guys from the other team what they’re trying to accomplish with the shift and almost every one of them said the same thing. They want me to lay the ball down four times a game.
“They said, ‘If you go 4-for-4 with four infield singles, we have a better chance of winning the game than if you go 1-for-4 with a three-run homer.’ So I understand what they’re trying to do. A lot of it is what I just said. It’s going to kind of depend on my role, what the game is really asking me to do. But driving the ball the other way has always been my strength. Teams know that. They’re not going to just lay it in there for me. But I think there has to be a conscious effort made on my part directionally when I’m hitting the baseball.”
The lineup gets criticized for its impatience, for its inability to work the count and find ways to get on base that don’t involve circling them. It’s a fair point. But for Davis, a lack of aggression is working against him. The bat is planted on his shoulder and the same walk is made back to the dugout with more frequency than anyone else in baseball.
“I had so many strikeouts looking and I know the strikeouts have gone up dramatically over the last few years,” Davis said, “but for me it’s really, how are you getting to that strikeout? Are you going up there and waving at three pitches that aren’t even close? Are you taking a called third strike? Are you doing things that aren’t beneficial to yourself to get to that strikeout?
“That’s really what I was frustrated about was the fact that there were so many called strikes and I think a lot of that was just me trying to be too perfect, trying to be too picky and knowing that in several situations coming up with two outs and nobody on, trying to get something started, maybe trying to make a pitcher throw a few more pitches, I was kind of putting myself behind the eight ball. And then you end up taking a called third strike and you don’t have a productive at-bat.
“When I was talking about the aggressiveness, I think it was more early in the count. I felt like there were so many times that I would go out there and get to two strikes and maybe have taken only one swing. They give you three, but they only give you three, so for me I think being a little bit more aggressive early in the count, it helps me because I’m in the at-bat. I get a lot more information from a swing than I do from just taking a pitch. And that’s something that I’m going to have to be conscious of.”