He faced pretty much daily criticism during the 2017 season and was easily the most criticized Orioles player. We don’t keep a sabermetric stat on that, but we don’t need one to know that Chris Davis took a barrage of criticism during the 2017 season. And 2016, as well.
As a player with a long-term contract and the highest salary on the team, fans expected a lot and didn’t get it. As fans around Birdland looked to assign blame for a team that came up short of the playoffs, they pointed often to first base.
Davis had a monster season in 2013, one where he hit 53 homers and drove in 138 runs and finished third in the American League MVP voting. Two years later, he hit 47 homers and drove in 117 runs and was 14th in the MVP vote.
But Davis also hit better for average in those seasons, batting .286 in 2013 and .262 in 2015. But in 2014, he hit just .196, and in the last two seasons, his batting average was .221 and .215.
As Davis’ production has decreased these last two years, the strikeouts remain high and that has driven some fans crazy. They especially get frustrated when Davis takes a called third strike, many times going down on a pitch that ranges, it seems, from very hittable to one that is right down the middle.
Does Davis not see the ball well? Does he not recognize which pitch is being thrown? Per FanGraphs.com stats, Davis actually chased fewer pitches last year than he did during the huge 2013 season. The bigger issue has been not swinging at pitches that are strikes, not offering enough at pitches that were in the zone.
Davis swung at 74.5 percent of pitches inside the strike zone in 2013. The last three years, that percentage dropped from 72.2 in 2015 to 64.1 in 2016 and to 60 this year, which was his career low. So he took four out of every 10 pitches inside the strike zone. He certainly let hittable pitches go by.
While we saw Jonathan Schoop improve when he began to chase fewer pitches outside the zone, Davis probably needs to get back to being more aggressive inside the zone as he was in earlier seasons. Yep, get the bat off his shoulder.
Furthermore, Davis’ strikeout rate went from 29.6 percent during that 2013 season to a career-worst 37.2 percent last year. He’s not striking out at that rate because he is chasing too many pitches. He has simply been swinging at fewer strikes than ever before.
Manager Buck Showalter likes to talk about contact-to-damage ratio. Davis can do damage when he makes contact. He can’t do any damage when he doesn’t swing and takes strikes, Captain Obvious said.
During his career, Davis has often had a solid walk rate and shown a pretty good eye at the plate. But in recent years, it seems whenever he takes a close pitch, he doesn’t get the call. He is probably going to have to figure out a way to become more aggressive not only on the right-down-the-middle pitches, but some on the margins, as well. With his power, he can hit any pitch in the zone out at any time. He just needs to starting swinging at them.