Baltimore Orioles: Can Chris Davis return to form?

Pitching has been the big talking point for the Baltimore Orioles thus far in the off season. And justifiably so. However there are two parts to any story in sports: both offense and defense. What will the Orioles’ offense look like in 2018?

That question hinges largely on the bat of first baseman Chris Davis. Davis seemingly hit his peak in 2013, when he hit 53 homers with a .286 average for the year. 2015’s 47 home runs at .262 wasn’t shabby either.

We all know what Davis is capable of doing. However last year he only hit 26 home runs, at .215 for the season. That’s a tough drop-off. However it’s also worth remembering that Oriole bats went into a tailspin for much of September last year as well. Not just Davis.

So why would that bode well for 2018? September was the sum of literally everyone on the team pushing too hard – including Davis. That won’t be the case when spring training or the regular season begin. Everyone will have a new slate. However there have been numerous reports of Davis working out, and working out hard thus far all winter. Could that make a difference?

Interestingly enough, Davis has admitted that the shifts which teams play against him have affected him. Although perhaps not in the way that opposing teams would have envisioned (quote courtesy of Brittany Ghiroli, mlb.com):

A lot of it is just the shift. I’ve been shifted since — I can remember — 2011, I think, was probably the year it was the most consistent throughout teams. The last couple years I’ve tried so hard to try to hit against the shift, to play that game with them, that I got away from who I was.

Those shifts are designed to guard where players seem to generally hit the ball. The idea being that someone’s there guarding that spot, and it’ll assist the defense in recording an out. However in that same aforementioned article, Davis also said that he became “too picky” last year, presumably in attempting to defeat the shift:

Last year, I had way too many called strikes. Called third strikes. Way too many counts where I was taking two strikes before I ever took a swing. For me, it’s a matter of being a little too passive or too picky and not trying to capitalize on the pitches early in the count.

In simpler terms, Davis outsmarted himself. He became so ardent in trying to defeat the shifts that teams were playing on him, he was letting good pitches go by – and swinging at bad ones. Ultimately that racked up the strikeouts big time. So in a way it’s an interesting critique on how one lives his life in that you have to be yourself. If you try to become someone other than yourself, odds of failure go way up.

The fact that Davis recognizes his mistakes and is working to correct them bodes well for the Orioles’ offense. As critical as people can be at times, most fans know that when Oriole bats get cranking the ball starts to fly out of the yard. And I’m sure we can expect a lot of that from Davis this year. Teams can play a shift all they want, but if he hits the ball out of the ballpark, it’s meaningless.

Since he won’t be letting pitches go by this year as he did in 2017, we should expect more of that. However it’s not just the home run ball; even if he records a would-be out on the ground, the ball’s still in play. The defense could commit an error, and/or runners could move up. That can’t happen on a strike out. Does this mean that the Orioles’ offense won’t ever struggle this coming year? Not at all; every team does at some point. However the hope is that the lows aren’t quite as low with Davis’ new techniques. And perhaps the highs are higher as well.

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