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Trying To Live Up To Big Contract Has Messed With Orioles' Slugger Chris Davis' Head

October 16, 2017
Just before the Orioles' season ended in Tampa Bay, slugging first baseman Chris Davis -- the highest-paid player in club history -- asked the local media covering the team to give him an opportunity to address his second consecutive disappointing season since he signed his seven-year, $161 million contract and what he is going to do about it in 2018. 

While we can't be 100 percent sure why Davis felt the need to explain something to the local media that was crystal clear, we can conjecture he did it because he needed to do his own mental reset, as he now tries to figure out how he is going to return to being one of the most feared sluggers in the game.

Davis is the highest-paid player in Orioles history partly because Orioles owner Peter Angelos really wanted him back and probably overpaid him by $30 million-$35 million.

Why Angelos wanted Davis so badly isn't hard to understand if, even momentarily, we can erase what we have seen from Davis in 2016 and 2017.

The three years prior to Davis' free agency were remarkably productive -- even if we allow for the inclusion of Davis' 2014 season, the one in which he was suspended for 25 games for taking Adderall without a prescription. 

During those three seasons, Davis totaled 126 home runs, 327 RBIs, 89 doubles and 268 runs scored. His runs scored total shouldn't be overlooked, as it was a byproduct of excellent on-base percentages in 2013 (.370) and 2015 (.361).

Since signing the mega-deal, Davis has totaled 64 home runs, 145 RBIs, 36 doubles and 164 runs scored. His OBP in 2016 (.332) and 2017 (.309) paralleled his batting averages of .221 and .215 in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

Can Davis make it back to the point of being productive enough so that the contract isn't viewed as an albatross around the club's ability to spend the money needed to contend?

As bad as it got in 2017 for Davis, I have felt -- as Yogi Berra would have said – "90 percent of his problems are half mental."

Power hitters certainly strike out a lot. But Davis struck out more than a lot in 2017 -- he struck out in 42.7 percent of his plate apperances.

What was so striking about Davis' strikeouts were how many of them were of the passive variety -- called third strikes. That reeks of someone who -- from a hitting standpoint -- had a case of the yips. The yips as revealed on a Major League Baseball field have almost exclusively been talked about in relationship to throwing the ball. For example, former Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax suddenly could no longer make a short throw from second to first, and Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester can no longer throw balls to first base to keep a runner close or when a ball is batted back to him.

To me, Davis has suffered from anxiety based on the inherent expectations of such a long and lucrative contract. Davis' mea culpa to the media reminded me a bit too much of how he talked to the media in spring training, when it was all about the hand injury he suffered early in 2016.

I am not questioning the validity of his hand injury, just noting that it set in motion the added build-up on his pressure meter.

In a couple weeks, Davis can go back to work in a batting cage with virtually nobody watching, except for perhaps Orioles hitting instructor Scott Coolbaugh. From where Davis was at the end of the season, it won't be easy to get back to where he was a couple years back.

There is also an inherent danger in that process. When looking back at what went wrong, one can often forget how to best perform in the here and now. 

Issue 238: October 2017