Chris Davis - Baltimore Orioles first baseman

I’m finding it increasing difficult to be critical of the Orioles — which is awesome. I’m all for not complaining. Winning is a lot of fun.

While recording our show a week ago, myself and the BSR Podcast gang talked about how cool the O’s bats had gotten and how the starting pitching had begun to pick up the slack and carry the club. Over the past seven days, the Orioles have slashed .293/.355/.552 as a team. That’s the second highest team batting average over that span, behind only the red hot Royals.

Yup, all is well in Birdland.

All except for possibly Chris Davis‘ struggles at the dish.

After finishing third in the American League MVP voting in 2013 with a 53 homer, 103 RBI, 6.9 WAR season, Davis has hit just 20 homers, 47 RBI and is currently playing just barely above replacement level at 0.2 WAR. His average has dipped to .195.

My podcast co-host Patrick Guthrie boldly proclaimed on this week’s show that he thinks Davis would currently be in the minor leagues if not for his breakout season last year. Sadly, he’s probably right.

Davis’ strikeout rate is up slightly this season (33.3 percent) from his 2013 mark (29.6 percent) and his isolated power is way down (.204 this season, .348 a year ago). After watching Davis record a .336 BABIP a season ago, you might speculate that he’s run into some bad luck with his .245 BABIP this season. He ranks second lowest among qualified hitters in BABIP this season behind only David Ortiz — another pull hitter who isn’t exactly fleet of foot.

Based on that stat alone, it doesn’t take a genius to theorize that the shift is killing Davis this season. He’s hitting less balls in the air and more on the ground and as a result he’s making more outs.

Sure, the problem seems pretty obvious. What’s causing it though? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Breaking pitches are crushing Crush this season.

Davis vs. curveballs
2014: .088 AVG, .158 BABIP, 0.39 K%, 8 GO/5 FO
2013: .294 AVG, .457 BABIP, 0.40 K%, 8 GO/6 FO

Davis vs. sliders
2014: .188 AVG, .222 BABIP, 0.47 K%, 5 GO/7 FO
2013: .291 AVG, .404 BABIP, 0.40 K%, 9 GO/10 FO

Davis vs. cutters
2014: .250 AVG, .375 BABIP, 0.27 K%, 2 GO/0 FO
2013: .308 AVG, .375 BABIP, 0.27 K%, 3 GO/4 FO

So, what should the O’s do? Here’s basically the scenarios I see:

  • Keep running him out there and hope that 2013 Davis returns.
  • Know that the average is down this year, but feel good about the power threat he still provides.
  • Bench him and replace him with Steve Pearce.
  • The ol’ phantom DL stint.
  • Encourage Davis to occasionally bunt against the shift.

Truthfully, I’m not sure what the answer the is here. Each of the above scenarios has their drawbacks. Even though he’s a middle of the order bat, I would still like to see Davis lay one down the third base line once in a while — even just once a game. I understand that doing so takes the home run bat out of his hand, but long-term it could change how and when teams shift on him, which I think will drive up his overall production.

The good news is that despite Davis’ season-long struggles, the Orioles have been fine offensively for most of the season. But wouldn’t it be awesome to get 2013 Crush back?

Image Credit: Keith Allison