May 26, 2012; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis (19) hits a solo home run in the second inning against the Kansas City Royals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
I was poking around Chris Davis' stats page on Baseball Reference because he confuses me. Sometimes he looks so terrible that I feel like I could strike him out, but sometimes he swings effortlessly and hits a ball that looks like it'll be a lazy fly out but his strength pushes it over the opposite field fence.
Because of his power potential and his streaky nature, he is sometimes compared by Orioles fans to Mark Reynolds and Luke Scott. But both Reynolds and Scott have something that Davis doesn't have: the ability to take a walk. So even when they are playing poorly, they still have that skill. Davis does not, and if he doesn't have that skill, how valuable will he ever really be?
It was only a month, but April 2012 was a very good month for Davis. He hit 4 home runs and 6 doubles, but the thing that made April stand out for Davis compared to many other months he's played is the fact that he took 6 walks in 78 plate appearances. A 7.6% walk rate is far from outstanding, but for Davis, it is quite good. If he could keep up a 7.6% walk rate then when he stopped hitting for a spell he wouldn't become a complete black hole at the plate. It's hard to say what that would do to his power, which is of course always a concern.
When I was looking at Davis' May stats, a month that started off great for him and ended great for him but featured a black hole in the middle, and I was like, ".400 BABIP for the month! Pfft." Then I discovered that Davis' career BABIP is .342 (for comparison, the real BABIP god, Ichiro, has a career .349). My completely unscientific theory on this is that Chris Davis hits the crap out of the ball. So when he makes contact, he's awesome. But if you look at his black hole in May, which I have spanning ten games from May 6-18, Davis put up a batting average of .200 with a BABIP of .333. That's because in those 41plate appearances he struck out 16 times and didn't walk once.
(Please note I'm not trying to say anything about Davis' skill level or project any performance based on a ten-game sample. I'm simply pointing out what happens when Davis stops making contact)
I don't care about strikeouts. I love Adam Dunn (and I'd love Mark Reynolds if everyone didn't keep pretending he's a third baseman). But the problem with Davis is that when he's striking out so much he's not getting on base. He only gets on base when he knocks the crap out of the ball to the tune of a .342 career BABIP. In the entire month of May he walked just twice in 100 plate appearances. Ouch.
For now, Chris Davis' hitting line of .309/.348/.521 is among the best on the team. He's hitting better than Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Pena, and of course the recently demoted Adam Lind. But for a player who is so reliant on making contact to be successful, he could take a major turn for the worse at any time. And while I hope that he doesn't, it's hard to build a team with players like that.
(and that doesn't even touch on his defense)