Welp. They certainly tried.
In what ended up being a valiant effort to try to swim back to the Wild Card surface, the Orioles recent six-game losing streak pretty much drowned any hopes of meaningful October baseball. After yesterday’s win, an immediate trip to New York with games against the Red Sox and Rays are sprinkled in between now and the end of the schedule.
With sets of flaws both in the starting staff and within the lineup, the Orioles are probably going to finish among the mediocre in the American League, proper justice for a team that is perfectly average in its parts. Optimism is key to outlasting the nervousness of the stretch run, but as five teams remain better positioned to snatch the second Wild Card slot with only 16 games left, you can draw your own conclusions and determine just how confident you are.
Suffice it to say, I am not.
Where there has certainly been a lot of bad, let us not forget the good. Jonathan Schoop proved that a little more plate discipline can do leaps and bounds throughout the course of a season. While Trey Mancini looks like an everyday hitter, Miguel Castro was a pleasantly productive pickup. Most extravagantly, Manny Machado reminded us that the first-half of this season wasn’t a true representation to his caliber.
The bad will most certainly linger into the offseason *cough* MARK TRUMBO *cough*, as there’s plenty of finger-pointing to be had *sneeze* EVERY STARTER NOT NAMED BUNDY *wipes nose*.
Though the unspeakable acts of the starting staff will always be the most obvious reason for the Orioles falling in the category of sub-par, it would be generous to label Chris Davis’ 2017 season as such.
After last night’s ballgame, Davis is currently hitting .217/.311/.429, worth a wRC+ of 93. He’s struck out more than he ever has at a rate of 37.2 percent, while the contact he produces has diminished to a point of unprecedented personal failure. Perspectively, in terms of wRC+, Davis’ offensive output mirrors infielders Dee Gordon and Brandon Phillips. You know, a slap-hitting slim jim and a 36-year-old.
To his defense, having missed 30-plus games due to differing injuries has certainly contributed to fewer home runs, but Davis’ current allotment of 24 long balls would be the fewest he’s had since 2012.
He hasn’t looked good all year, and as we speak, he’s currently stuck in yet another prolonged rut. With only five hits in his last 42 official at-bats, Davis has managed to see strike three in 48 percent of those trips to the plate. Last night, one swing—if you wanna call it that—pretty much summed up Davis’ year.
Down 0-2 after Stroman started the at-bat with a fastball and changeup, he leaves a fastball up and out over the plate. Davis sees it, attacks it, then somehow, he reverts to what some would describe as hitter’s version of the fetal position. He just kind of gives up.
Like he has all year, Davis looked completely unsure of himself in that swing. As he would go on to eventually flail at a slider at his feet, swinging and missing hasn’t been the biggest issue in regards to Davis. It’s been the exact opposite.
In what is an unsettling trend, Davis has steadily been less aggressive within the strike zone. Though this approach has led to more contact both inside and off the plate, Davis’ production resembles a below-league average player. Less so a player being paid all the way into 2037.
In 2015, Davis’ 149 wRC+ season that convinced Peter Angelos to bring him back at a club-record cost, his swing rate sat at 47.5 percent, a frequency slightly less than his career numbers to that point. Since the start of 2016, Davis’ swing rate has fallen to a mark of 42.6 percent, a heavy plummet in the realm of a guy who has consistently seen more strikes as the years have gone by.
The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh researched the subject in tremendous detail in early June, but as we’ve seen with our own eyes, Davis’ was then, and continues now to watch strike three at an alarming pace. This unintentional passiveness is another sign that Davis isn’t buying into his approach.
When he’s not watching strike three, Davis is probably frustrating you anyway.
As Davis is still being pitched primarily in the righty batter’s box, the majority of his swings have come on the inner-half of the plate. Even so, he’s shown he’s most vulnerable towards his hands.
Down and in happens to be where Davis’ bat path is more natural, so the power production in that corner of the strike zone makes sense. But as a power hitter who’s made a career crushing mistakes out over the plate, Davis isn’t doing much in an area of the strike zone he tends to thrive. For the biggest chunk of his swings to be to where he’s most vulnerable, and for his slugging yield to be practically non-existent where it usually presents itself, is a sign he really is lost.
This season, Davis’ home runs have been equally dispersed. With 12 home runs both to his oppo and pull side, you would think this kind of spray would depict a well-rounded hitter. In theory, this makes sense, but as Davis’s fly ball rate has fallen and with a pull-rate still heartily below his prime, he’s simply produced weaker contact.
In 2015, Davis was third in baseball in terms of Baseball Savant’s barrels per plate appearance. For those unaware, a barrel is officially “a well-struck ball where the combination of exit velocity and launch angle generally leads to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage”. In it’s purest form, a barrel is a ball hit hard somewhere. In 2017, Davis hasn’t hit the ball as hard nearly as often.
With only 31 confirmed barrels compared to 73 only two years ago, Davis has hit a lot more harmless baseballs into play. Davis’ most intimidating trait, aside from his handsomeness, is the threat his hulking frame will square up a baseball. More pop ups, ground balls and sky-high outs have turned Davis into a dud.
Is Davis is capable of more? Definitely. His willingness to take more pitches is welcomed and is a foundation he can still use to his benefit. But if Davis is missing pitches over the plate and his current paralysis is the cause of a confused hitter, there are probably forces at work beyond anything Fangraphs can explain. His long swing has always been dangerous on both sides of the aisle, but it looks like pitchers may have figured him out.
The beauty of the spring carries the thought of fresh beginnings and new life. For Chris Davis, March can’t come fast enough.
Though, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.