Chris Davis adds bulk, but no swing overhaul heading into season

With high strikeout numbers but declining home run numbers, the Orioles’ Chris Davis has recorded an OPS of just .539 in 2018 and .601 last year.

In 2019, over 352 plate appearances (his fewest since 2011), Davis hit .179/.276/.326 with nine doubles, 12 homers, 36 RBIs and 139 strikeouts.

Davis-Chucks-Bat-After-Strikeout-Gray-Sidebar.jpgBy September he was a part-time player, and he made just nine starts in that month. With three years left on the big contract he signed before the 2016 season, Orioles fans are wondering if Davis has made any winter changes to become more productive this season.

During the Winter Meetings, O’s executive vice president and general manager Mike Elias spoke about trying to help Davis get his bat going again.

“The message is the same, that we all want to figure out a way for him to get better. But we want to try some different specific things, or some tweaks specifically, to aspects of his program,” said Elias.

On the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 the Fan last night, Davis was asked about his offseason work. He indicated we could see a bigger player in spring training, but don’t look for any big swing changes.

“We talked a lot about the mechanics of my swing and ‘Are we going to do a swing overhaul?’” Davis said during the show. “I basically told those guys, ‘Look, I’ll be 34 in a couple of months. I’ve had success consistently in the past doing some things that are just really more comfortable to me and more familiar to me.’ I don’t think at this point in my career I’m going to be a guy that’s going to crouch down or close off (my stance) or anything like that. Nothing drastic.

“But I do think there are some things that I needed to tend to that I’ve kind of experimented with over the years. One of those is just my overall strength and weight. We looked at a lot of video from the past and one of the first things that Mike and Brandon (Hyde) and actually (coach) Tim Cossins and a couple of our coaches said were, ‘Man you were a lot bigger when you were younger.’

“The older I’ve gotten the more I’ve tried to keep my weight down, thinking it would be more beneficial to my body. Thinking that, as you get older, your joints and ligaments tend to carry less weight a little bit better.”

So a bigger, stronger Davis will arrive soon in Florida to start his 13th major league season and his 10th with the Orioles.

“For me, I’ve got to be strong,” Davis said. “That has always kind of been my forte. If I feel I can hit any pitch at anytime out of any part of the ballpark, I’m not going to overswing and do some things that I’ve done in the past to shoot myself in the foot.

“The physical aspect of it - the weight training and conditioning and nutrition was a huge part of it. I actually had a chance to start that late last season when I wasn’t playing every day. That gave me a regimen I could carry into the offseason. So, I really like where I’m at right now. Feel like my weight is back up and I feel strong again and like I’ve got my legs underneath me, and I think it’s going to be a good year, I really do.”

Davis has talked about letting the ball travel farther and working on getting back to using the whole field more. When he had a huge season in 2013 (53 homers, 1.004 OPS) he hit 32.1 percent of his homers to left or left-center, according to STATS research, and last season that was down to 25 percent.

He is also taking more pitches than ever. During that big 2013 year, Davis swung at 50.2 percent of all pitches. In 2018 that number was 45.1 percent and last year it was down to 40.4. And he was taking way too many third strikes.

During the show last night I asked him if he is guessing too much at the plate and/or having issues with pitch recognition?

“Honestly, I try to play the game the right way, I really do,” Davis said. “What I mean by that is - there are certain things and real baseball fans will appreciate this. If you’re leading off an inning after you’ve been on defense for a while, I’m not going up and hack at the first pitch. Even if it’s a fastball right down the middle. Even if I hit a home run, yeah, that’s a run on the board, but it’s a quick result and the chances are after a long inning your pitcher is going to need a little bit of a blow. Not to mention the guys that were on defense.

“I try to understand and embrace my role in the lineup. Over the years, as I kind of moved down in the lineup - and a lot of times it’s being the only lefty or vet in the lineup - I want to do whatever I can to make that pitcher throw as many pitches as possible. To give as much information up as he possibly can.

“Do I take a lot of called third strikes? More than I would like to, absolutely. And that’s something that I’m going to have to remedy and kind of understand and adjust as we go through the season. Because I love being aggressive, and over my career I’ve been more productive when I’m aggressive.

“I’ve got to find a way to really let my ability take over in unison and in harmony with what our lineup is constructed to do. I feel like I’ve done a lot of work this offseason. I feel like, mentally, I’m just in a much better place and I’ve got my confidence back. I’ll be the first one to tell you, the last few years there were days when I would go to the field and I didn’t feel like I was myself. But I’m excited about this season and excited about some of the younger guys that are going to be around camp.”

Davis realizes that there is a bit of a logjam on the roster at the DH and first base spots. He said he expects to have to earn playing time. He also understands one of those younger guys he referenced includes prospect Ryan Mountcastle, who is getting close to joining him in Baltimore, adding another possible 1B-DH to the team.

“I think if we are going to start turning in the right direction, then everybody should go into camp feeling like they have to win a job,” he said. “Some guys are penciled in, if you will. But if we’re going to be competitive in the future, that has to be the mindset of everyone in the clubhouse.

“I know Ryan had an unbelievable year last year, and the guy can hit, no doubt about it. You can see that. I want to see how he’s progressed at first base and what he’s gone through in his progression as a hitter.

“I look forward to getting the chance to work with him and talk to him. I’m no fool, and I understand that my time is limited and that he’s part of the next wave. But I want to be as impactful as I can, whether that is on the field or off the field, and I want to see this organization start trending in the right direction.”

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