Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis is playing at a historic level that only Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera can rival.
The former Texas Ranger has taken the league by storm, seemingly leaving every ballpark he faces via the long ball. A player with such prowess in the power game should participate in the game’s biggest stage for sluggers of such magnitude correct?
First and foremost, this isn’t even about what happened during the second half for former Home Run Derby winner then Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Bobby Abreu — who won the competition in 2005 with 41 total home runs, 24 coming in the first round — and then Texas Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton — who belted 28 in the first round in 2008 and finished in second place with 35 dingers. Those two experiences were a joy to watch and we saw how they both had disappointing second halves for their respective organizations.
However, blaming the Home Run Derby for the decline in numbers is somewhat far’fetched in that baseball is never an exact science.
Look at last year’s winner Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder. The Prince came into Kaufmann Field in Kansas City with 15 homers and finished the second half with 15 for a grand total of 30.
Anything is possible and the event may or may not have an effect on the participants going forward. But, it is risky and especially for a potentially rising star in the big leagues in Davis.
This is not about PEDs… at all. Davis is naturally a big guy and has always been known for his power… even in high school. He is a workout warrior that packs a great punch at six-foot-three and 230 pounds. To not have some speculation is ludicrous though, but that is all that needs to be mentioned.
Last season, Davis was a strikeout machine and still somewhat is. The starting first baseman didn’t have a set position and was in search of a role for this team other than being one of three guys on the club that could hit for power — outfielder Adam Jones, infielder Mark Reynolds and Davis. His plate discipline and pitch selection were preposterous and the way he swung the bat wasn’t that of a guy hitting for contact. The left-handed batting slugger was one that seemed to grip it and rip it and if it didn’t result in a home run, he would seemingly pray that the end result would be a batted ball in play.
This season, the Orioles have found themselves a permanent starting first baseman — who toyed with right field, designated hitter, first base and even pitched last season. Davis has used his muscular frame to his advantage in obviously maintaining the power he displayed last season, but he has left ballparks on a more consistent basis due to changes in hitting mechanics.
Chris sees the ball as if he can imagine almost every strike zone for each respective umpire behind the plate. Yes, he still chases bad pitches, but even St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina chases on questionable pitches. The improvements in pitch selection and plate discipline have helped the 27-year-old bat a highly respectable .327.
In addition to a better eye for the strike zone, Davis has made adjustments with his swing and posture in the batters box. Being able to balance all of the force exerted on his back plant foot and maintain an upright stance as he swings through a pitch has allowed him to elevate his home run totals at a potentially record pace with 32 home runs and 83 RBI. His swing has also become less of a power hitter’s prototypical looping swing and is now a compact stroke that virtually stays on the same plane.
Just to put Davis’ start in retrospect, last season he crushed 33 homers, 85 RBI, 37 walks — he has walked 36 times this season–, 20 doubles — he has 26 already this season — and batted .270.
The jump in numbers is enough to raise anyone’s eyebrows, especially American League Home Run Derby captain and New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.
While it would be great to see an Oriole represented in the event, — the first since shortstop Miguel Tejada participated in 2006 — Davis should sit out if asked by the Yankees star.
It’s not that the derby is the sole reason for a potential decline in numbers because saying that is simply ludicrous. Players are going to naturally wear down and scouting reports become more advanced as the marathon that is the 162-game season progresses into its late stages.
However, with the Home Run Derby comes one thing: fatigue.
What happens when fatigue sets in? Not only in sports, but in life?
Technique starts taking a back seat and said tired person starts going through the motions and forgets the fundamentals that helped them become successful.
The same can be said about Davis.
As a big, strong guy, he is more apt to endure such a workload on his body. That doesn’t mean he is immune though.
If Davis puts on a good showing — let’s say 30 home runs in the contest — and ultimately goes all the way in the tournament, he is at least taking roughly 50 or 60 hard swings to try and pelt the ball out of Citi Field in New York.
He will get tired. His form will get sloppy. His technique will falter. And he will tire out, like all hitters do eventually. If he didn’t, he might actually look like this guy:
Can participating in this contest jeopardize his long-term success as an Oriole?
Am I being too cynical over an event that happens once a year in the middle of professional baseball’s regular season?
Will he maintain this pace and allow his muscle memory and improved hitting mechanics to take over when fatigue sets in?
Obviously, the answers to these questions will come in October when the Orioles are deeper in the pennant race.
I stand by my belief that this minor event can have some effect on the way Davis performs.
I’ve said my piece. The floor is yours…