Let me start by saying that I was stoked to have the Orioles shown on national television all weekend. I was at the yard on Friday night sitting out in the center field bleachers, right above where Manny Machado’s 6th inning double fell. The O’s took it to the Yankees and CC Sabathia, and had two days of focused attention ahead of them.
Saturday saw the O’s obliterate the Yanks by the score of 11-3 on FOX, while Sunday Night Baseball came to town last night for the final blow, a 4-2 win to complete the three game sweep. Topics on hand for both crews were Brian Roberts’ return, Chris Tillman’s 19-5 record since his call up in July of last year, and Manny Machado’s spectacular innings streak that came to an end this past week.
The most pressing topic, however, was Chris Davis and his miraculous turnaround in Baltimore from his slower seasons in Texas. Davis had no trouble backing up the talks, as he belted a three run shot out to left center in the first inning followed by another bomb in the sixth. Davis kept it going on Sunday with a solo blast off of Hiroki Kuroda on a 90 MPH splitter that he placed in the left field seats.
Amid the positive discussions of Davis, now at 31 home runs in 2013 still before the All Star break, were mentions that he is on pace to break Brady Anderson’s team record of 50 home runs in a season and quite possibly the American League record of 61 home runs in a season held by Roger Maris.
On the down side, the national attention also brought a lot of very negative feedback from fans outside of Baltimore (and even some living here): Chris Davis must be on steroids.
A simple search on Twitter for the query “Chris Davis steroids” brings up a slew of tweets from baseball fans worldwide over the past few days with blatant accusations that Davis must be juicing. Things like “It’s time to test Chris Davis for steroids” and “He has to be cheating” were popping up left and right all throughout Saturday and Sunday. Davis even responded to one fan on Sunday afternoon with a simple “No” when asked “Are you on steroids?”.
Players deal with this kind of reaction on a yearly basis. Recent memory brings up the example of Jose Bautista, who broke onto the scene as a Baltimore Oriole in 2004 but didn’t establish himself as an everyday Major Leaguer until 2006 with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Bautista’s home run totals from 2006-2009 were 16, 15, 15, 13, respectively per season, decent numbers for a replaceable 3B/OF acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008 for a player to be named later.
Bautista flipped a switch in 2010, swatting 54 home runs and starting countless rumors and accusers that said he must have been using drugs, as a jump like this wasn’t possible otherwise. To back it up a year later, Bautista hit a respectable 43 home runs in 2011, raising his on base percentage to .447 that year and proving that he was genuinely making the right adjustments and becoming a top of the line hitter in baseball.
While Bautista has cooled down in the power categories and simmered fans’ accusations, Davis is in that same situation in 2013 and it became overtly apparent over the past couple of days on social media platforms while his unbelievable strength and contact-to-damage ratio were on display for the world to see.
Baltimore is generally known as a middle market team, especially with MASN’s launch in 2005. While the Orioles are not necessarily a penny pinching club like the Tampa Bay Rays or Houston Astros, they certainly don’t live up to the high payroll clubs such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
An opportunity on the national stage was important to this team, especially as the last time Sunday Night Baseball was hosted in Baltimore was all the way back in 2005.
It needs to be reminded to fans that Davis has always had this power tool. His strength has always been there. Dating back to his minor league days, Davis put up seasonal home run totals ranging from 23-36 in multiple years. In his first opportunities with the Texas Rangers back in 2008-09, Davis hit 17 HRs in 295 at bats and 21 HRs in 391 ABs. His declining average and ability to see good pitches and get on base are what got him sent packing off to Baltimore in 2011.
Thrown around the defensive side in 2012, getting starts in the outfield, first base, and a lot of time as the team’s designated hitter, Davis belted 33 HRs in a full season of at bats, a number that, if you asked Rangers fans, followers, coaches, and front office members, was fully expected of him just a few years earlier.
The major change for Davis in 2013 has come in his adjustments that have allowed him to slow down the game, get on base at a rate 80 points higher (.406 as of 7/1) than his career average of .326, and hit the ball to all fields, making him a valid threat daily to swat a double in the left center field gap just as much as he can be expected to launch a ball onto Eutaw Street.
The most impressive part of Davis’ game in 2013 has been how effortless it looks at times for him to hit the ball out of the park. Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs put together this fantastic compilation post of some of the most graceful swings by Davis thus far.
Players are tested before, during, and after the season for all sorts of performance enhancing substances. 2013 is the first year that the drug testing program has implemented in season blood tests to all players in order to detect human growth hormone. The New York Daily News also points out that “players’ urine samples will be automatically subjected to sophisticated Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing if a specimen does “vary materially from a player’s baseline values.”
A quick glace at photos of Davis from his early minor league days as well as his years in the big leagues with the Texas Rangers show us how he has always supported a large frame and muscular forearms throughout his career, nothing that suddenly changed coming into 2013. Compare that to the classic example of the overall muscle and frame size difference taken on by Barry Bonds over the years.
While we live in a day and age where stories on PEDs and the sort are all the rage, it is tough to look at Chris Davis and contemplate that he may be using. As Domenic Vadala of Bird Watcher simply put it, “For all I know, Davis might well be doing something illegal in attaining his numbers. And if that’s the case, then all of the people who are arrogantly calling him out will end up being vindicated.”
Davis has a track record to back up where his 2013 numbers are coming from, has not failed a single drug test since hitting the MLB circuit in 2008, and has shown signs of being a much more productive hitter in all facets of the game where slugging is just a part of the big picture.