In a season where the Baltimore Orioles proved their doubters wrong by making the playoffs, so too did the team’s slugging first baseman Chris Davis, who finally buster out from the AAAA shell with a 33-homer, 2.1 fWAR campaign in 2012.
For the Orioles to dispel any notions that their run to the postseason last year was a fluke, they will need Davis to do the same in 2013.
Whether he can, though, will depend on a couple of things that are likely beyond his control.
One of them – as much as it sounds like a cop-out, are the baseball gods/luck factor impact on his batted balls. A career .258 hitter to this point, Davis hit .270 last season despite not having any significant deviations in his batted ball profile, and as long as he can keep his BABIP above .320, his average shouldn’t hurt him too much and hover between .260-.270.
Where he has struggled, though, is when it drops below that. That’s evident from the 2010 season where he hit just .192 when his BABIP was .275, and even last June, when his BABIP was .231. Davis hit only .205 over that month, and not even his power will make him much of a contributor when that happens because he doesn’t have above-average on-base ability. As his average goes, so too does his usefulness. The Orioles aren’t going to put a guy with a sub-.300 OBP in the middle on their lineup, and that’s a line Davis will have to stay above next season.
Fortunately, he’s shown a good history on that end with a .335 BABIP over his career, so that may not be the biggest thing that the team will have to worry about.
The strikeouts, on the other hand, is something that Davis is going to have to keep under control. That’s saying a lot for a player who has a career whiff rate of 31%, but he is treading on a very fine line between success and failure there. Look, we know Davis is going to strike out a lot, but he can’t survive in the league as an Adam Dunn-type if that number starts veering even a little bit further north than that. A big part of the reason why is because unlike three-outcome types like Dunn, Carlos Pena and Mark Reynolds, Davis just doesn’t draw enough walks to compensate for making that many outs at the plate.
There is also the career-high 25.2% HR/FB rate to think about next year, but that’s not as much of a concern, as Davis has always shown very good power. Even after his mild breakout as the Orioles’ home run leader in 2012, Davis remains an interesting player going into 2013 in that he will need the BABIP to hold and really not tread any further in the strikeouts department in order to succeed.
Without those, he would simply be a two-outcome hitter barely holding onto a job. But if he can improve his strikeout rate to say, 25%? He might just end up being a star yet.