We are all aware of the kind of damage Chris Davis is capable of when a pitcher puts a pitch in the strike zone.
Take Sunday’s 4-2 win over the Detroit Tigers for example. With the Orioles trailing, 2-0, in the seventh inning, Tigers starter Rick Porcello hung an 81-mph changeup over the outside edge of the plate. Davis casually uncorked his 6-foot-3 frame and ignited an Orioles comeback with a towering solo homer to right center.
Davis has made hitting baseballs very far look way too easy this season. He leads the American League with 20 home runs, a .732 slugging percentage and a 1.168 OPS. He is second in the American League with a .357 batting average, 52 RBI and 45 runs. He has 20 doubles, too, which made him the hitter that got to 20 home runs and 20 doubles fastest in MLB history, according to Elias Sports Bureau, doing it in just 58 games.
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Now that national analysts are done waiting for Davis to fall back to Earth, they are instead traveling to Baltimore to try to figure out how he has become one of baseball’s most feared hitters.
ESPN the Magazine’s Eddie Matz recently penned this story about the man behind the growing myth. His ESPN colleague Jonah Keri, who writes for Grantland, took an in-depth look at why Davis has been so dangerous since late last season.
Keri pinpoints a 12-2 win over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sept. 26, 2012 as the turning point for Davis, who had shown this prodigious power in spurts. Davis hit two home runs in that game and has been on a tear since.
Keri reports that Davis has been more patient and selective at the plate, writing: “He's swinging less often, chasing pitches out of the strike zone less often, and seeing a lower percentage of pitches thrown in the strike zone. As a result, Davis owns an 11.8 percent walk rate that's a personal best and well above his career mark of 7.2 percent. He's also destroying pitches in the strike zone.”
His story includes a heat map of Davis’ slugging percentage since Sept. 26, 2012. It basically looks like a gigantic red poltergeist has possessed the strike zone. Clink the link above if you want to see it.
Some of the numbers that ESPN Stats and Info dug up for Keri are very telling. Davis is swinging at pitches outside the strike zone 29.7 percent of the time after swinging at 36.4 percent of them before Sept. 26, 2012. Meanwhile, Davis is crushing pitches inside the strike zone and has a batting .440 average and .981 slugging percentage to prove it. Plus his walk rate is up 4.6 percent.
That patience has paid off for the 27-year-old, who is on pace to have one of the best seasons in Orioles history. Credit the Orioles, too, for acquiring Davis in the Koji Uehara deal after the Texas Rangers ran out of patience with him two years ago.
That Paul Bunyan-type power has always been there for Davis. Now he is making the baseball world aware of it on a nightly basis.