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Orioles’ Chris Davis leads the majors in strikeouts looking. His manager thinks his past success might be why.

Orioles’ Chris Davis leads the majors in strikeouts looking. His manager thinks his past success might be why.
Chris Davis of the Orioles reacts after striking out during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on July 14, 2019. (Will Newton/Getty)

With a pair of opposite-field singles Wednesday, Orioles first baseman Chris Davis once more presented the possibility that he could overcome an infamous start to bring his batting average to its most respectable point in two years. Yet one glaring problem that confounds even his manager remains in his approach.

Davis’ 41 strikeouts looking lead the majors, four more than Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr., who has the most plate appearances in baseball and over 200 more than Davis. More than one in every 25 pitches thrown to Davis this season has been a taken third strike, the highest rate of any player who has seen at least 250 pitches in 2019, per Statcast.

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Perhaps most concerning is the number that have come on obvious strikes. Davis has struck out looking 11 times on pitches thrown in the middle third of the strike zone, two more than any other major leaguer and at least four more than all but two players. Six of those strikeout pitches were fastballs.

When asked about Davis’ tendency to strike out on pitches that are, more often than not, unquestionably strikes to manager Brandon Hyde this week, Hyde opined that Davis’ past successes, when he hit 197 home runs from 2012-16, could be the root of his lack of aggressiveness.

“I see the same thing you do,” Hyde said. “I don’t know if he’s locked up. I don’t know if he’s guessing. I think before when he was hitting 50-plus [home runs] and a real threat in the league that people were careful pitching to him. He was getting mistakes and guys were, I don’t know if pitching around him, but being more careful on the edges. And I think sometimes it surprises him where guys are going right after him. And he’s got to make that adjustment.”

Chris Davis of the Orioles reacts after striking out in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
Chris Davis of the Orioles reacts after striking out in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. (Rob Carr/Getty)

More than 10% of Davis’ plate appearances have ended with strikeouts looking every year since 2015, with this year’s 17.7% the highest in that time. His 251 backward K’s in that span exceed any other player by more than 50.

Meanwhile, Davis’ average exit velocity has decreased every year since 2015, according to Statcast data. He opened the year with a hitless drought of 33 at-bats, one that came as part of offseason-spanning record streaks for consecutive at-bats (54) and plate appearances (62) without a hit.

After breaking out of it, he put together a monthlong stretch in which he hit .290/.371/.581 with five home runs, climbing within range of a .200 batting average for the first time since 2017. He faded from there, striking out 43 times in his next 83 at-bats and going without a homer in all of June, before approaching that mark again with a four-game hitting streak that included two home runs. He went 0-for-12 in the next four games before Wednesday’s two-hit performance.

“He's had some moments where he swung the bat pretty well,” Hyde said. “Kinda has gone through periods of struggle and periods of swinging the bat well. It just feels like he's having a tough time being consistent with it. The few positive weeks he's had on occasion gives you some hope that he can keep it rolling.”

Hyde said he’s been pleased with Davis’ consistency in the clubhouse, though. Davis, the oldest Oriole at 33, reached 10 years of major league service time earlier this week.

“What I love about CD is that you’d never know [whether he’s struggling],” Hyde said. “He’s the same guy every day. He’s been unbelievable in the clubhouse. I’ve talked about how we have a really good relationship. Everybody’s pulling for him. He cares. So it’s just one of those things for me where he’s having a hard time being consistent, being on time with fastballs on a nightly basis and understanding just taking good at bats. And there’s been moments this year where he has and moments this year where he’s struggled. And we’re just going to continue to help him and work with him, and it’s up to him to find a way.”

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