Everyone has heard the tall tales of Paul Bunyan, an American lumberjack who grew up in Maine and the American wilderness. Paul was known for his massive height (conservative stories had him at seven feet tall) and his superhuman strength. Stories told of him clearing wooded areas with a single smooth stroke of his axe; of his enormous appetite where he would eat fifty eggs and ten containers of potatoes every day, as a child (Gaston wasn’t the only one who was able to eat that many eggs as a child).
If there is a baseball player today that best fits the description of Paul Bunyan, its Orioles’ first baseman Chris “Crush” Davis. Drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 5th round of the 2006 MLB draft, Davis always was highly regarded within the Rangers organization for his strength. While his rookie season in 2008 was seen as a success, he had trouble duplicating that in the next three seasons with them. During this time, the Rangers were one of the top teams in baseball and had just gone to the World Series in 2010 (they lost to the San Francisco Giants). Well they were doing another run at the championship in 2011 but they desperately needed pitching. On July 30, 2011 they decided to trade for Orioles star reliever Koji Uehara. In return, the O’s got right-handed pitcher Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis. He had trouble fitting in the O’s lineup the remainder of the season, and he found himself playing a lot of third base (not his strong suit). But in 2012 he carved himself a starting role and has been the Orioles 1B/DH since.
While only standing at 6′ 3″ and 230 pounds, Crush Davis has made himself a reputation in baseball for being one of the strongest and most powerful hitters in the game. Here’s a fact that proves it: no one has hit more home runs in the majors starting 2012 than Chris Davis, and in that time he has led the league twice (2013 and 2015). Here are the top ten in home runs during this time period.
|2012-2016 seasons||Home Runs|
Fun fact: Davis, Cruz, Jones, Trumbo have all played (at least one) season with the Orioles in that time, the most on this list.
What makes him remarkable (and hence the Paul Bunyan reference) is that he makes it look effortless. Here is a Youtube video of him mashing a long home run back in 2014.
Notice how effortless and smooth that swing is. And just because its effortless doesn’t mean the ball doesn’t travel far. He is able to hit moonshots that just hang in the air. Whenever he can get his arms extended on a pitch, he can hit it deep anywhere in the ballpark.
Besides mashing home runs, Davis has developed patience at the plate. His walk totals have been getting better over the past several seasons:
- 2012 – 37
- 2013 – 72
- 2014 – 60
- 2015 – 84 (tied for 10th most in majors)
- 2016 – 88 (tied for 10th most in majors)
Taking walks means he is not relying on his bat just for offensive production. He understands that he needs to wait for his pitch and to not swing at the bad pitches. It also means that while in a hitting slump, he can still get on base and not record outs at the plate. In addition to walks, he has developed into a fine defensive first baseman (not to mention right field where he occasionally fills in). He also can pitch for you if in a bind!
At this point you may be thinking “Sure, he hits home runs, gets on base a lot, and can hold up his own defensively. So what is the catch?” Sluggers who generally swing for the fences sacrifice “precision” for strength and as a result tend to strike out a lot. Davis is no exception. Actually I should be saying “Davis is an exception, but not for the reasons you are thinking.” It’s not just that Davis strikes out a lot. He strikes out A LOT.
- 2012 – 169 (tied for 6th most in majors)
- 2013 – 199 (2nd most in majors)
- 2014 – 173 (tied for 6th most in majors)
- 2015 – 208 (lead majors)
- 2016 – 219 (lead majors)
His ability to make that effortless swing also means that when he misses on a pitch it compounds the effect of him looking helpless at the plate. As a fan, it has been frustratingly difficult to remain calm while watching him flail at the plate. He is also very streaky at the plate which means sometimes he will go weeks at a time either just walking or striking out. An additional consequence of his hitting approach is that he doesn’t carry with him a high batting average (mathematically, this is hits divided by at-bats)
- 2012 – .270
- 2013 – .286
- 2014 – .196
- 2015 – .262
- 2016 – .221
So what do we make of Chris Davis for the upcoming season of 2017? Part of his enigma is that we don’t really know what he will do. Here are his season statistics from 2012 to 2016.
(Aside for those not familiar with baseball statistics)
BA = Batting Average. This is Hits / At-Bats. Historically BA of .300 or higher is seen as really good while BA of .250 or lower is seen as poor.
HR = Home Runs
RBI = Runs Batted In. It is a counting stat which represents the number of runners who scored as a result of this player’s at-bat. In other words, the number of runners who scored after the batter hits the ball.
SO = Strike Outs
OPS = On Base Perctage plus Slugging. (Think of on-base percentage as batting average + walks and slugging as a measurement of the power of a hitter). OPS above .900 is considered really good while OPS between .700-.750 is seen as league average.
OPS+ = (Normalized) On Base Percentage plus Slugging. This takes an OPS and “normalizes” it such that it is a comparison against OPS numbers all across the league. The normalization is done such that OPS+ of 100 IS league average, 110 is 10% above league average, 90 is 10% below league average, and so forth. The point of normalizing players’ is to be able to compare statistics between players in as neutral of an environment as possible.
bWAR = WAR (Wins above replacement) as calculated by baseball-reference.com. If you are not familiar with WAR, it is a stat which attempts to measure the total contribution of a player and then normalizes the number to represent “number of wins that player brings to a team”. Typically WAR 3+ is all-star level and WAR 5+ is MVP level.
What this table shows is that Davis’ year-by-year numbers are all over the place. In 2013, he put up MVP-type numbers, especially in the first half of the season:
37 home runs, .315 batting average, 93 RBIs, OPS 1.109
But his 2014 season was a huge disappointment. He fell off a lot in terms of production. Why the drop in performance? Perhaps pitchers started to pitch to Davis’ weakness and he couldn’t adjust to it. Perhaps it was due to a switch in medication. He took Adderall the previous season for medical reasons but was denied an exemption to use it in 2014. In addition to his disappointing season, it ended on an embarrassing note when he was caught trying to use Adderall and was slapped a 25 game suspension (an action which caused him to miss the Orioles 2014 postseason run). So we have seen Davis an MVP player in one season, and a major disappointment in the next. To make things a little more confusing, he returned to (an ok) MVP type player in 2015 and then dropped off a bit in 2016.
So what can we expect at this point? Assuming he plays a full season, I think he will continue to have 35-40 home runs, bat around .240-.250, strikeout 200+ times, and walk around 80-90 times in the season. Apart from that, no one knows. But we can definitely expect some Paul Bunyan moonshots from Crush.
Oh, and how does Crush compare to Paul Bunyan’s appetite? After Davis signed a new deal with the Orioles in 2016, Jimmy’s Seafood in Baltimore gave him free crab cakes for life (as well as his next two generations of family). I’ll interpret this to say Davis has a big appetite.