CLEARWATER, FLA. — If Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is going to have to break down every single one of Chris Davis’ spring training at-bats, with the next batch likely to come Tuesday when the split-squad Orioles host the Tampa Bay Rays at Ed Smith Stadium, he’ll want the rest to be like the first three.
Davis drew a walk and punched a soft single into short left field against the shift in his three plate appearances in the home opener Sunday. There are plenty of caveats attached; the Boston Red Sox didn’t bring major league arms, it was one game and Davis was coming to the plate in advantageous spots.
But asked about the single, which Davis flipped over the vacated left side of the infield, Hyde paused for nearly 10 seconds before answering whether the Orioles asked Davis to focus on using the whole field instead of trying to pull for power.
The pause was pregnant. This is a time to let Davis simply work on whatever he feels he needs to work on, and no matter the menu of offseason options the Orioles gave him, he has already ordered up what he wanted: more muscle for more power.
So, Hyde thought, and carefully answered.
“I don’t want to take away his raw power, but it would help him out to make a little more contact, to give himself an opportunity,” he said. “I just saw last year. Last year, watching, he was behind in the count so often. So yesterday, it’s 3-0, and I yelled at him, yelled something out there to make sure he knew I’m freeing it up. I want him to move the barrel. I want him to be on time with the fastball. I want him to be more aggressive at the plate in the right situations. He was aggressive yesterday, and walked twice. That’s what’s going to happen.
“When there’s fear there, where if I miss he’s going to do damage on me or put the ball in play hard, now all of a sudden people are pitching to the edges and off and not just attacking him. I’d just like to see him be more aggressive early in the count and make a little more contact this year.”
The walk Hyde was referring to was in his second at-bat. In his first, Davis was behind in the count but worked the walk anyway. As Davis has slumped since signing his seven-year, $161 million contract ahead of the 2016 season, his passivity at the plate has become a sticking point.
According to MLB’s Statcast data from BaseballSavant.com, Davis’ lack of aggression at the plate — particularly on balls in the strike zone or at the edges — were worth minus-24 cumulative runs in 2019.
Davis took 38% of pitches thrown over the heart of the plate in 2019, with the league average at 27%. When expanded to what the site refers to as the “shadow” zone, where pitches could be called either balls or strikes, he took 56% of pitches, with the league average at 47%.
“I liked all three at-bats,” Hyde said. “The first at-bat, I was excited about. A couple runners on, nobody out, gets behind in the count, fouls a couple pitches off, takes a couple tough ones, works a walk. Great at-bat.
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“I like the left-on-left base hit to left, too. Stays in there, stays closed, used the whole field, which I’ve talked about on numerous occasions, and punches one to left off a left-hander. I thought it was a really good day one for him games-wise. He took three good at-bats.”