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Orioles' Davis hopes to reduce called third strikes by being more aggressive early in counts

The last time we heard Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, he had gathered the traveling beat corps together at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., before the final game of the season and took the blame for his frustrating 2017 campaign, relaying that it was as difficult to go through as it likely was for fans to watch.

He also looked forward to the offseason, vowing he would spend his time off working to ensure he wouldn’t duplicate last season. And since then, Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette has said on multiple occasions that while a chief offseason priority is getting a left-handed hitter, the best development for balancing the team’s batting order would be a rebound from Davis, who as of now is the only left-handed-hitting starter.

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Among the most frustrating aspects of Davis’ season was not necessarily his strikeout numbers, but the fact that 38.5 percent of them came looking. His 75 called third strikes in 2017 were the most in baseball — no other player had more than 63 — and Davis talked that last day of the season about how he somehow had lost his aggressiveness at the plate.

Chris Davis looks at a third strike, stranding two runners in the eighth inning against the Twins, who defeated the Orioles, 4-3, on May 24 at Camden Yards.
Chris Davis looks at a third strike, stranding two runners in the eighth inning against the Twins, who defeated the Orioles, 4-3, on May 24 at Camden Yards. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Davis has had plenty of time to think about what went wrong last year. And speaking on the Orioles’ 105.7 The Fan Hot Stove radio show Thursday night, Davis painted a clear picture of what he believes was behind watching so many called third strikes and how he plans to reduce that number next year.

The slugger will strike out a lot. It’s a part of his game, but next season he plans to get more out of his at-bats by being more aggressive earlier in the count.

“I had so many strikeouts looking and I know strikeouts have gone up dramatically the last few years in the game, and it’s really how are you getting to that strikeout?” Davis said on the Hot Stove show. “Are you going up there waving at three pitches that aren’t even close? Are you taking a called third strike? Are you doing things that aren’t beneficial to yourself to get to that strikeout?

“And that’s really what I was frustrated about, that there were so many called third strikes. And I think a lot of that was … trying to be too perfect and me trying to be too picky, and knowing that in certain situations, coming up with two outs and nobody on, trying to get something started, that by even trying to get a pitcher to throw a few more pitches, I was putting myself behind the 8-ball. And then you end up taking a called third strike and you don’t end up having a productive at-bat.”

Not only did Davis strike out looking more than any other hitter, but he did so seeing fewer pitches. Those 75 called strike threes accounted for 3.51 percent of the pitches he saw (out of 2,134 total pitches seen), according to Baseball Savant data, and no other hitter who had seen more than 1,000 pitches reached the 3 percent mark. By comparison, New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge, who led the majors with 208 strikeouts, recorded 62 called strikeouts but saw 3,028 pitches, so those called strike threes accounted for just 2.05 percent of his total pitches seen.

Despite a strong and diverse group of young pitchers, there are some notable absences from the Orioles' minicamp roster for next week in Sarasota.

“I felt like there were so many times I’d get out there and get to three strikes and have only taken one swing,” Davis said. “They give you three [strikes], but they only give you three. For me, I think being a little bit more aggressive early in the count really it helps me because I’m in the at-bat, I get a lot more information from a swing than I do from just taking a pitch, and that’s something I’m going to have to be conscious of.”

Davis watched his share of first-pitch strikes last season, 158 in 524 plate appearances, which accounted for 30.2 percent — nearly one-third — of his plate appearances. And 44.8 percent of those called first-pitch strikes were on off-speed pitches. But more than half (38 of 75) of the called third strikes against Davis were on four-seam fastballs.

It’s no secret that Davis is at his best when he’s hitting the ball the other way, especially considering how much opponents shift him to pull, positioning three infielders to the right of second base. Davis said he hopes to put the ball in the air more next season. And while he said that part of his lack of patience at the plate had to do with waiting for a perfect pitch to hit, he added that he hopes to try to take the inside pitch the other way more next season, even as pitchers attempt to pitch him inside hoping to get him to hit into the shift.

“I really feel like there was a point in the season where I was really trying so hard consciously to go the other way that I was missing pitches on the inner half that I could have done a lot of damage with,” Davis said. “And it’s two-fold. You want to go up there and look for a pitch you can do something with, but at the same time, you don’t want to manipulate your swing to where you’re carving a pitch that’s inside to the left side for a weak ground ball or a pop-up. They say it’s a game of adjustments and that couldn’t be truer as it pertains to me. … It’s going to be something I’m going to have to be conscious of and continue to make adjustments, and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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