Chris Davis Ties AL Record
After the 1969 All-Star Break, the AL’s pitchers famously stopped throwing Reggie as many strikes as he saw in the first half, and he hit only ten more round-trippers in the second half to finish the year at 47 HRs. Reggie also walked 114 times that year, his career high by a wide margin (his next best year was 92 walks in 1986, the next to last year of his long career).
16.1% of Reggie’s plate appearances resulted in walks in the first half of the 1969 season, compared to an 18.1 % rate after the All-Star Break. Before the All-Star Game, he struck out 19.9% of his plate appearances, but he struck out at a 22.4% rate after the All-Star Break.
Reggie was only 23 in 1969, and he found it hard to be patient when the AL’s pitchers wouldn’t throw him strikes. Even so, Reggie walked at a significantly higher rate in 1968 than Davis did last year, and Reggie walked a lot more in the first half of 1969 than Davis has the first half of this year.
Davis’ batting average has already fallen to .315, down from .331 when I wrote about Davis eleven days ago. Although Davis is currently on pace to hit 62 dingers this year, he’s only on a pace to walk 64 times while striking out 186 times (Jackson struck out 142 times in ’69 to lead the AL that year).
You just have to think that Davis is going to see far fewer pitches to hit in the second half. I know that if I were a pitcher facing Davis, I’d certainly want to see whether Davis is really willing to take a walk, or if he’ll revert to his free-swinging ways of the past if pitchers refuse to give in to him. At any rate, the potential cost of missing off the plate is now demonstrably less than missing out over the plate to Davis.
The one thing that I thought Davis would have going for him is that there’s so much more offense in today’s game that the relative value of pitching around Davis in the second half of 2013 (i.e., facing the next hitter in the Orioles line-up) is less than the value of pitching around Reggie in 1969 (i.e, facing the next hitter in the A’s line-up). However, review of the two teams suggests that may not be the case.
In 1969, the A’s had Sal Bando to bat behind Reggie. Sal hit 31 HRs of his own and finished the season with an excellent .885 OPS (Reggie finished first in the AL that year with a 1.018 OPS, and Bando finished 9th). Bando’s OPS was the highest of his career, although like Jackson, he hit better in the first half of the season than he did in the second half.
For the Orioles this year, the next two best hitters after Davis are Adam Jones and Manny Machado whose respective OPS numbers at currently .813 and .81o. In fact, Davis of late has mostly been hitting fifth in the Orioles line-up behind both Jones and Machado, presumably on the so-far successful theory that teams will be forced to pitch to Davis if the bases are full of base runners.
Something’s got to give. What pitchers are doing with Davis so far this year isn’t working, and there’s what seems to me an obvious new approach to try.