Forget the contract, a prolonged absence by Davis hurts the Orioles - especially defensively - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Dan Connolly

Forget the contract, a prolonged absence by Davis hurts the Orioles — especially defensively

Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has not had a particularly good run since he signed his huge, $161 million contract in January 2016.

Last year, Davis hit .221 and struck out a league-worst 219 times in 665 plate appearances. This year, he was hitting .226 with a league-leading 95 strikeouts in 250 plate appearances before leaving Monday’s game in Chicago with a right oblique strain.

Davis hasn’t been placed on the 10-day disabled list yet, but he will be. The timeline for his return won’t be known until after he gets checked out by doctors in Baltimore.

But oblique injuries are usually bad news for hitters – and so he is probably looking at several weeks away from the team.

And that’s not a good thing, despite what some fans may spew via social media. It’s a terrible thing, given how bad this club is right now.

I know there are plenty of people who are frustrated with Davis and his continual all-or-nothing results at the plate. I get that.

I know there is a consensus that the Orioles already have plenty of power, and so Davis’ team-leading 14 homers this year (and 38 last year) are replaceable.

Maybe they are – although it’s not like the Orioles are swimming in runs right now. They aren’t swimming in anything but mediocrity (or worse) right now. And Davis has driven in 26 runs.

But I’ll concede that point. They probably can survive without his power.

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There is more to Davis’ game, however. Let’s not forget he leads the team in walks with 30. He had a .320 OBP – not great, but solid considering how low his average is – and was second on the Orioles in runs scored.

Still, you figure Hyun Soo Kim should get a little more playing time now that Davis will be on the shelf and Trey Mancini and Mark Trumbo get more time at first base. (Not sure what the playing-time plan will be for left-handed-hitting first baseman David Washington, who was scratched from Triple-A Norfolk’s lineup Tuesday and was joining the Orioles, according to the Virginian-Pilot.) If Kim gets the call more often in left field, he should be able to provide the club a lift in on-base percentage, or at the least give the Orioles what Davis did.

The real hole caused by Davis’ injury, though, will be felt on defense. It often gets overshadowed how good Davis is in picking throws out of the dirt at first base. They aren’t even throws. They are lasers coming from Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop and J.J. Hardy.

Machado can make that amazing, bare-handed, sideways throw because Davis is there to clean it up. Schoop can rifle a double-play ball from the air at second because Davis’ soft hands are on the receiving end. Hardy can go deep into the hole for a grounder and risk the throw because Davis’ balance on the stretch may take away a step from the runner.

In my opinion, Davis has become the best defensive first baseman the Orioles have had since Rafael Palmeiro, the first time around. Mancini will be fine, but he’s not as polished as Davis.

And, don’t be fooled, first base defense is exceptionally important. Ask Orioles manager Buck Showalter, a former first baseman in the minors. It’s underrated, but key.

I guess my point is, for all the Orioles’ fans grumbling about how Davis hasn’t lived up to his contract so far – and he may never live up to it – he’s still an important part of this team in several ways. And losing anyone like that – including Davis – for a period of time is going to sting a little.

It could end up stinging a lot, frankly, no matter what you think about his contract.

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