Swing the bat. Just swing the damn bat.
You are freakishly strong. You have changed many a game with the flick of your wrist. You’ve been doing this a long time. You’re being paid handsomely to cash in at the plate.
Go. Down. Swinging.
That’s likely the message you have for Orioles slugger Chris Davis in the past year or so. It’s the sentiment that resonated throughout Camden Yards – and in living rooms in the Mid-Atlantic region – Wednesday afternoon in the eighth inning.
With two runners on, two outs and the Orioles trailing 4-3, Davis took three straight balls to go up 3-0 in the count against Minnesota lefty Taylor Rogers.
Then, Davis took three more: A 93-mph fastball called a strike, a 93-mph fastball called a strike and an 80-mph curveball that froze Davis for strike three. Six pitches, and the massive first baseman didn’t swing at one.
“If I could have gone back and done it all over, if I would have taken a hack at the 3-1 pitch, 3-2 pitch was the best pitch he threw me,” Davis said after the loss. “You go after it or you don’t. It kind of just locked me up. Obviously, I haven’t been feeling great at the plate lately.”
Here’s what manager Buck Showalter had to say about Davis’ at-bat in the eighth: “I know it’s frustrating for him and I’m sure for some people who watch us. But he usually (brings) returns if you stay with him. I thought he was aggressive early in the count in his early at-bats. Tough at bat. He wasn’t the only one.”
Davis is streaky, we all know that. And his power is prodigious. On Wednesday, he homered for the 209th time as an Oriole – tying Brady Anderson for seventh on the franchise’s list – and he’s only been with the club since July 2011.
We also know sluggers strike out. In today’s game, that’s pretty much accepted. But striking out looking? That’s less palatable.
Especially from a massive human like Davis. Especially at the incomprehensible rate of how often he watches strike three.
He leads the majors in the category with 31, nine more looking strikeouts than the guy in second place. But the numbers are more staggering when you dig deeper.
According to baseball-reference.com, the big league average for called strikeouts is 30 per 600 plate appearances. Davis has 31 this year in 184 plate appearances. Stunning.
Davis struck out looking 79 times in 670 plate appearances last year – and that was by far a career high (he struck out looking 56 times in both 2014 and 2015). If he sustains his pace this year and reaches 670 plate appearances, he will watch a third strike an unfathomable 113 times.
There was a time when 100 strikeouts in a season was considered excessive. Davis is on pace to strike out without swinging at the third strike more than 100 times.
So, what gives? Why doesn’t he get the bat off his big shoulders more in two-strike situations?
“There are times when I’m a little too selective. I think there have been a number of at-bats where some of the pitches could have gone either way and, obviously, with my reputation (for striking out), most of the time they go against me. There are a lot of things I’m not doing well right now,” Davis said. “I think a lot of it is how am I getting into those counts. … I feel like I’m fouling a lot of pitches off. A lot of good pitches to hit and just not able to put the barrel on the ball consistently. I’ll keep working at it and hopefully it will start swinging in my favor a little bit.”
Last year, 36 percent of Davis’ strikeouts were caught looking. This year, that number is up to 47 percent. So almost half the time when he goes down on strikes he doesn’t go down swinging.
Davis said it’s a strange balance. As the only left-hander in the middle of the order, and one with a good eye (he has 26 walks already this year and has had 84 or more each of the past two seasons), he said some pitchers have a tendency to work him carefully. Others, though, attack him. And sometimes he gets caught expecting a ball and it ends up being the best pitch of the at-bat – like it was Wednesday against Rogers.
“I think over the past few years I’ve learned to be a little more patient. But I also understand that guys aren’t going to give in. I’ve seen a lot of called third strikes that were just really good pitches,” he said. “You go back and forth as a hitter. Are these guys going to come after me or are they going to pitch around me with me being the only lefty in the middle of the lineup a lot of nights? Like in certain situations, guys aren’t necessarily trying to pitch to me, but they end up making good pitches and that’s part of it.”
It becomes a guessing game within the game. And, in one sense, you want Davis to be smart and patient to extend an inning.
But, on the flip side, you expect the big man to swing the damn bat, too. Even if he whiffs, that’s a little more satisfying than watching him shake his head at a called strike three.
Bottom line is that’s something we’ve seen far too often this year.
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