Baltimore Orioles: What’s wrong with Chris Davis?

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has been struggling mightily this year, and especially lately, so what exactly is wrong with him?

Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has been struggling pretty badly lately. Not just on the season, where he’s batting .222/.332/.461 with 10 home runs, 26 runs, and 18 RBIs (which is on pace for his worst season since his miserable 2014 campaign), but especially lately.

During the Orioles’ weekend series against the Houston Astros, Davis went 1-for-12, which was part of a larger 2-for-26 slump that he’s been on lately. In that time, he’s struck out 14 times and leads the major leagues with 74 strikeouts.

Davis was asked about his struggles and had this to say: “I’m just not picking up the ball, and that’s going to make hitting pretty tough…I’m just not picking up the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. I feel like I was not really recognizing the pitch until it was right in front of me, but at that point it’s too late. Anytime I’m taking that many called third strikes, something’s going on because I’ve never been one to really lay the bat on my shoulder.”

What’s interesting about that quote is that Davis seems aware of the problem that he’s had: he’s not swinging the bat, and that could be the cause of most of his problems so far this season.

While Davis does lead the majors in strikeouts (his strikeout rate is at a career-high 37.8% right now), what’s odd is the kind of strikeouts – called strike threes.

If we take a look into the stats, there’s a really interesting correlation between Davis’s performance at the plate and how often he swings (as a caveat, it’s important to remember that correlation does not always equal causation, but the evidence hear seems pretty strong).

Davis’s big breakout season where he batted .286 with 53 home runs and triple digits in runs and RBIs was in 2013, so let’s look at his swinging percentages starting there with that season’s corresponding slash lines and home run/run/RBI totals in parentheses:

2013: 50.2% (.286/.370/.634, 53 HRs, 103 R, 138 RBIs)

2014: 46.8% (.196/.300/.404, 26 HR, 65 R, 72 RBIs)

2015: 47.5% (.262/.362/.562, 47 HR, 100 R, 117 RBIs)

2016: 42.7% (.221/.332/.459, 38 HR, 99 R, 84 RBIs)

Now, as you can see, Davis always hits home runs and that’s thanks in part to his massive hard hit rate and HR/FB rate. But look how much his average fluctuates, and really his overall season, with his swing percentage, there’s an obvious correlation.

What also points to this is just how many called strike threes Davis has. Last season, Davis had 79 called strike threes, by far the most for any player in baseball over the past decade (the next closest was Jack Cust in 2007 with 72).

So how’s he doing so far this year? Well as of this writing, which is before the Orioles play the New York Yankees on Memorial Day, Davis’s swing percentage is at 42.3% and he has 35 called strike threes (the next highest is Kevin Kiermaier and Ryan Schimpf with 23).

Looking further into the numbers, his chase rate (32.6%) is the highest it’s been since 2013, and his swinging percentage at pitches inside the zone is at a career-low 54.4%. To put that in perspective, his career average is 71.3%.

Hopefully now that Davis is aware of the problem he can work on a solution, whether it means fixing his approach or whatever it may be, the Baltimore Orioles need Crush Davis back to his regular form now more than ever.