Looking into the Surprising Season of Orioles’ Chris Davis

The exciting rise of Orioles first baseman/outfielder Chris Davis will be one of the most studied stories of 2013. Davis has powered his way into MVP consideration, and his production has transformed the Orioles lineup into one of the most powerful in baseball. Much like Jose Bautista’s 54 home run barrage in 2010, tape from Chris Davis’s 2013 will be studied by teams and players alike going in 2014. Unlike Bautista, however, Davis showed a precursor of this MVP-type campaign in 2012 (.270-33-85). He now stands as the second most feared hitter in baseball (sorry – it’s still Miguel Cabrera) with his .299-44-112 through 118 games. The statistics are mind-blowing. He leads everyone in baseball in homers, RBIs and is second to Cabrera in runs (85), slugging (.682) and OPS (1.056). Davis is on pace for a presumably clean 60 homers, and doesn’t play in the steroid era. Certainly these numbers raise skepticism given the sport’s desire to clean up the game once and for all. But we’ve seen some presumptive-PED free home run kings blossom; guys like Cecil Fielder, Ben Oglivie, Bautista and heck even Jesse Barfield has seasons that jump off the page (i.e. 40 homers out of nowhere). If you were to take a poll, it’s likely the majority of MLB players think Davis is clean.

This dominance was a long time coming for the 6’3, 240 lb Orioles slugger. Davis, like Bautista, labored for years swinging at every damn thing. He still does, really. His strikeout-to-walk ratio and on-base percentage are not MVP-worthy. Even in 2007 in Single-A Bakersfield, he walked 22 times and struck out 101 more times than he walked. His early scouting reports detailed his prodigious power but utter lack of plate discipline. It was more pronounced once the Texas Rangers called him up for good. While the light-tower power was there, his strikeout to walk ratio was laughable. Between 2008 and 2009, he hit 38 taters and drove in 114 RBIs in 193 games; he walked 44 times and struck out 238 times. He was traded to Baltimore and the walks-to-k ratio is just his thing; in the midst of this season he’s still only walked 47 times and went down swinging 143 times. In 2012, Davis began to put things together late and played 100 games in a season for the first time ever. Although Chris Davis doesn’t have the plate discipline of your usual dominating slugger, he’ll obliterate the Baltimore record (set by Brady Anderson in the late 1990s) sometime by the end of the month.

The difference is where the balls are going when Davis makes contact. His Isolated Power, or ISO, is an other-worldy .378 which jumps off the page from his 2012 ISO of .237 although he did approach those numbers in the minors. When you check his statistics, he’s no Mark Reynolds. Davis has always hit for a decent average even in the minors and hit .285 as a rookie in Texas despite that 20-85 walk-to-k ratio in the same season.

He’s not missing his pitches and drives the ball everywhere with authority. He’s no Adam Dunn. He’s got 33 doubles so far this year adding to his MLB leading 296 total bases. Pitchers trying to nibble on the corners in the American League have been rudely surprised –- Davis is really making hay bashing balls on the outside corner — which should up his walk total for sure in 2014. His impact in 2013 has had a trickle-down effect on other Orioles; centerfielder Adam Jones, who’s hitting at a .296-32-115 pace, shortstop J.J Hardy who projected to hit 30 homers, and third baseman Manny Machado who leads the AL in doubles. Chris Davis is also mashing in the middle of a pennant race in the tortuous AL East division. His O’s trail the wildcard leaders by a handful of games.

Let’s give Chris Davis the benefit of the doubt, Rick Reilly and others. Baseball has a random drug testing policy in place, and he was a bulked gym rat two years ago when he was shuffling back and forth from the minors. Davis almost considered quitting from the game and Orioles nation is awfully glad he didn’t. His quest for 62 is good for the sport. If these last two years are any indication, it’s safe to say Davis is going to be a top slugger for awhile now.