CHICAGO — In a stern rebuke laying out what his own Hall of Fame eyes tell him, Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer used his platform on the team's postgame show after Wednesday's loss to the Chicago White Sox to lay out the issues he sees with slumping slugger Chris Davis.
Palmer questioned the work that Davis was putting into turning things around, and in the process, challenged the truth of comments made by Davis and hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh about their offseason work together. He said Davis, in "paralysis by over-analysis mode," was killing the team.
Davis and Coolbaugh responded with their thoughts Thursday, each providing his own account of what they did and did not do together. The only commonality was that something needs to change, and fast, as situations like what transpired over 12 hours in Chicago on Thursday morning are what make a bad season like the Orioles are enduring far worse.
"Those are the types of things that happen when you're having the struggles that we're having,” Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. “Chris is not the only one."
Indeed, he's not. At one point or another, the team has been without four former All-Stars and as much as half of their starting lineup. Their pitchers have been more inconsistent than their rebuilt rotation should have been. They took over the worst record in baseball by losing two of the first three against the White Sox, who previously held it, and are limping into the Memorial Day date executive vice president Dan Duquette has set for evaluating whether to dismantle the team.
Yet Davis, who signed a club-record seven-year, $161 million contract before the 2016 season, is drawing the most criticism. He entered Thursday batting .154/.230/.253 with four home runs and four doubles. Few, if any, around the game have performed worse.
That backdrop, along with Palmer's observation that Davis was not watching the ball on a called third strike Wednesday, caused him to expound on Davis' struggles on the “O's Xtra” postgame show. He relayed that Coolbaugh told him the much-discussed offseason work didn't happen, and said it's time for a major change with Davis. It hit home for the 32-year-old first baseman.
"I was disappointed," Davis said. "Obviously, it bothers me. It's disappointing that when things are obviously not going the way that I want for that to be called into question by two guys that I have a lot of trust, have a lot of faith in, that I've had a good relationship [with] for a number of years.
"I hate that that's where we are, but at the end of the day, I know the work that I put in in the offseason, I know the things that I try to make adjustments on, things that I try to correct, and it's frustrating for me every day to come in here every day and not see any return for that. I mean, it's obviously the way things are going right now, the last thing I want to hear about is someone within the organization questioning my work ethic. But that's where we're at."
Palmer using his platform for such comments should come as no surprise, given his frank way of speaking about the team and his support of fellow Hall of Famer and broadcaster Dennis Eckersley, whose criticism of the Boston Red Sox last year led to a dust-up with the club.
The same can't be said for Coolbaugh alienating Davis both to Palmer in the spring, as the analyst relayed postgame Wednesday, and in his comments to The Baltimore Sun on Thursday.
The two have worked together for 11 years, Davis said, first in the Texas Rangers organization and now during Coolbaugh's four years with the Orioles. Davis said he frequently apologizes to Coolbaugh for the fact that they're friends and have worked together for so long, creating a perception that the hitting coach is more party to his struggles than anyone else's on the team.
"That's all public perception, if people want to say that I'm associated because I'm the hitting coach and I'm the reason why Chris did this, that and the other," Coolbaugh said.
Said Davis: "We can't expect those guys to go out here and do the job for us. The weight is on our shoulders."
This offseason, each made comments at team events, including Davis in an interview with the “Orioles Hot Stove Show” on 105.7 The Fan and Coolbaugh at FanFest, about Davis' intention to be more aggressive and efforts toward improving after striking out looking a league-high 75 times out of his 195 strikeouts last year.
Their history helped fuel the presumption of that work happening in person, and frequently so. Though Davis' wife, Jill, had twins in January and each man has family commitments that could preclude them from working together often. Parsing how much was done in person and how much was conceptual, based on what they said Thursday, proved difficult.
Davis, even while calling their nearby homes an advantage, said he hit with Coolbaugh when they were both around and that they trained in person together "three times a week when he wasn't out of town," though that leaves open the possibility it was simply three times in one week together and that's all. Coolbaugh's memory is clearer.
"I saw Chris three times, and I threw to him, and that was it," Coolbaugh said. "It wasn't anything that I physically [did] with him, or used the offseason with any one-on-one sessions to change something. ... I had talked to Chris more about some of the mental stuff we had talked about — being more aggressive swinging in the zone. He had taken some pitches last year, and being more proactive, being more aggressive. That's about the only thing that I really talked about on the mental side, but physically, on the physical or mechanical side of things, I really didn't see him enough to make any changes or do anything to address that."
Davis said the totality of the work he did this offseason, a year after he hit .215 with a .732 OPS and 26 home runs, was more significant than prior winters.
"If you're looking for an ‘X’ number of workouts to validate me working hard, I hit four days a week, from about the third week of the offseason until spring training," Davis said. "Sometimes, Scott was there. Sometimes, he was out of town. He has a family, too. He had his offseason, too. But as far as putting the work in, I have no guilt, no regrets about any of that."
It's mainly semantics, and what Palmer referred to in a broadcasted follow-up before Thursday's game as the "he-said, he-said" aspect of it all masks the truth of what caused his comments in the first place. Davis has cratered past what were thought to be previous low points, and something needs to be done.
They dropped him to the bottom third of the batting order last August as the team surged that month, then moved him back up to the leadoff spot on Opening Day to maybe spark something in him and give him, as Showalter called it, “A new toy.” That didn’t even last a week, and a few weeks after that, he sat out a weekend to reset and reflect on what could be done. It worked for a few days, but his current funk is as deep as ever.
Showalter said he sides with Davis in regard to the effort put in to change his trajectory.
"I'm not going to get into fair and unfair," Showalter said. "I'm going to be supportive of Chris in this, because Chris works hard at his trade. And I think people, a lot of time, because he's not screaming and yelling and wearing emotions on his sleeve — he cares to a fault. Don't think for a second that he's just, '[Oh] well.’ "
No one will disagree that a lot needs to be done. Davis said if it were just one thing, it would be done already, but said he's "pretty much wiped the slate clean on a daily basis and said, “What do we need to do?"
Asked what the path forward is for Davis, Coolbaugh said: "Adjustment. Bottom line. Any player in the game goes through all periods of time when they adjust, whether it's mentally or physically, whether it's something that they do on a daily basis to change where they're at. I think self-evaluation, and knowing where you're at at the moment is a big thing. I feel like Chris needs to find a way to make an adjustment to get to the pitches. It's still the same mode. As you see, there's a lot of strikes that are taken. Until he assesses that on his own, I don't think there's any one person that can change it."
That, Palmer said as he doubled down on his criticism during Thursday's pregame broadcast, was the message he wanted to send all along.
"This team plays a lot better when Chris Davis plays well," Palmer said on MASN. "He's not playing up to his capabilities. He's not making adjustments. That's the point I made. We saw him looking at the third base coach when strike three came over. There's something going on. He needs to make adjustments, and I'll tell you what — Scott Coolbaugh, he had him in the minor leagues and said he was the last guy to leave the ballpark at night. I think he has to get back.
"It just doesn't happen at this level. It doesn't matter how much money you're making. It's not about how much money, how long your contract is. Are you doing the work to get better? I think that needs to improve. I stand by that. I think he does it and I hope he has success, because he's a better player than he's showed."