2012 was a terrific season in Baltimore. The Orioles made the playoffs and thousands were able to rejoice. A lot of the Orioles success could be attributed to the big bat of Chris Davis down the stretch. Remember that he hit a HR in six straight games, and he even hit a HR with a broken bat! Oh, and he also did this…and this…and this…
At the end of the year, Davis compiled his best season ever at the MLB level. He finished with a .270/.326/.501 batting line with 33 HR, a .335 BABIP, .352 wOBA and a 120 wRC.
If someone would have told me Davis would have been so good with the bat at the beginning of the year, I would have been ecstatic. Of course he still struck out 30.1% of the time and often showed a lack of discipline at the plate…but the Orioles can live with that if he hits like this every year.
So how exactly did Davis produce so much in 2012? Was it just from getting well-needed playing time at the MLB level, or was Davis just simply lucky?
Don Olsen was kind enough to provide us with a scouting report on Davis before 2012:
Davis has always been a solid low ball hitter, an absolute nightmare completely over the plate. Overall, his calling card was more or less a pull hitter early in his career, where he would routinely be caught out with his weight over the front foot and roll everything over that had break. His swing and uplifting path could attack any fastball on the middle to inner half and ride it for pull power.
He was actually a tougher out to right handed pitching in his early days. He would turn on any backdoor slider if they caught too much or loopy curves that sat in the wheelhouse, and fastball counts would place the pitcher at a disadvantage. If right handed pitchers could get ahead, his hitting mechanics left him susceptible to outside change ups and quality tailing 2S fastballs, or a quality backdoor slider that skimmed the outside of the plate. Left handed pitchers were fairly simple, work it off the hands (middle/inside zone), as he had problems extending on the swing, tough inside/out swing was not consistent. A left handed pitcher would never throw a fastball or slider in the lower/inside or anything down the pipe, allowing him to extend and ride the pitch into the right field bleachers. Left handed pitchers that could spot it low/away would throw any quality break as he had trouble with weight transfer picking it up. Overall, he would roll over a lot to lefties.
Anyone who watched Davis before 2012 could tell that this is spot-on analysis. Of course, we are looking for improvements in his game this past year. Below is a chart displaying each type of pitch against Davis in 2011 and 2012. I have calculated the difference between each year for the different categories. All statistics used are from my favorite site Texas Leaguers.
Just from taking a look at each category, it’s fairly obvious from the eye-test that Davis improved in a ton of areas. I went ever further and broke these down into each pitch. This should help illustrate how he improved much clearer.
(Note: The top bars are 2011 and the bottom is 2012)
The FF chart displays a number of reasons as to why Davis had a career season. While he actually saw less FF (Which is not very surprising), he whiffed a little less and swung a little less. He also saw less strikes. So it’s enough to say there was a slight improvement against the FF.
Interestingly enough, Davis saw less change ups in 2012. In reality, not much changed with Davis against this pitch. He whiffed a little less in 2012 and put a couple more in play, but overall it was status quo. As mentioned by Don, low/away with this pitch has always been strong against him
This is the pitch in which Davis saw quite a few alterations. Selection was down, but he saw more sliders thrown for strikes. The important factors though are that he swung more and whiffed less. He fouled off more and put a decent chunk more into play.
The only marginal difference with the curve in 2012 was that he put some more in play. Otherwise it was status quo. He did hit a higher percentage of HR off the curve in 2012, 5.85% compared to 2.37% in 2011.
Davis saw a lesser percentage of cutters in 2012, but he had much more success. He nearly cut his whiff rate in half, while swinging less and taking less strikes. While he saw this pitch much less than the ones above, it’s still worthy to note that there was a decent chunk of improvement.
Two-Seam fastballs nearly doubled in 2012. He took less strikes from them, but whiffed more and put less in play. This pitch was deadly at times to Davis in the past, as he simply was pull-happy and this tails away from him.
Davis improved against the Sinker. He cut his whiff rate nearly in half while swinging less. He was able to put a better percentage in play as well, although he actually had a higher percentage of hits in 2011 (25.12%) compared to 2012 (24.65%). More of those hits were a HR in 2012 at 5.85% compared to 2.37%.
With that, there is a little more light as to how his game has altered in a year. Slight improvements against each pitch can go a long way. Below is the rest of Don Olsen‘s scouting report, which includes his improvements from 2012. I think a lot of what he says is in-line with the above statistics.
He has matured as a hitter this season. He continues to pull on anything down the pipe, and you run the risk allowing him to extend inside, but a lot has changed. If you loop anything on the inside on the hands, he will turn on it with a level swing and ride a line drive into the gap. If you try and loop it high or pitch it high, he no longer will go with an uplifting path, and starts to ride with the pitches. He is not pulling, showing an inside/out approach ,and the ability to take the out and over or out and away to the opposite field. He is spraying the ball better, hitting the tailing 2S into left field, taking a quality backdoor into LCF instead of pulling it, rolling over the hands and making a routine ground ball to 2B. Left handed pitchers better have a quality slider anywhere on the inner half, as if it loops, he will extend. Depending on the location, he shows a better level path. These two little wrinkle improvements are helping to iron out contact. He may never be plus, but I can see him sustaining 50/55 contact. Major power calling card on right handed pitching has not diminished. He possess that major low ball power, and now neither side can count on passing him low in the zone. The inner and down the pipe low will be driven, there is even signs of his extension power low/away on occasions.
His bat speed is quality and can allow the pitch to come to him. He is not as pull happy aggressive; he rides with pitches, hips square with the path better, not swaying out to first base side. Quality pitchers that can locate hard and inside can still be effective, also those that pop the radar gun up/away. He is not a complete hitter, and still has warts on quality breaks that change eye level, especially those with quality from the left side. A pitcher better paint the sides and have quality spin, as now anything less will be turned on the inner half or poked the other way. He is no longer “just your fastball down the pipe” power pull hitter.
With that being said, the Orioles have found a solid role-player. Davis may not be a superstar, but he is better than many people thought heading into 2012. In 2013, I expect him to put up similar numbers for the most part. He is certainly the type of player that needs to hit 30+ HR to be a 2-3 win type of player, and that is certainly plausible since he is one of the few players in the game that probably has true 80 raw power. Whether he plays first, DH, or even some OF, Davis is a solid piece to this club and his gradual improvements have certainly been noted.
Tucker Blair was born and raised in the Baltimore area and currently lives in Elkridge, Maryland. He graduated from York College of Pennsylvania with a B.S in Entrepreneurial Studies and is currently a Project Analyst for a Management Consulting Firm in Federal Hill, Baltimore. Tucker was previously the Managing Editor at Orioles Nation, where he worked on prospect lists, reports, and analysis on the Orioles minor league system. He also previously wrote his personal blog, The EntreprenOriole.