The Baltimore Orioles enter Wednesday's 7 p.m. tilt with the New York Yankees on ESPN with a 1.5 game lead over the Bombers for second place in the American League East, and first baseman Chris Davis is a major reason why. The former Rangers farmhand had just a 94 OPS+ in parts of four seasons with Texas and posted the same mark with the O's last summer after getting swapped to Baltimore along with Tommy Hunter for Koji Uehara. Given one more chance in 2012, Davis is thriving by making more contact.
The lefty slugger struck out in 31.5 percent of his plate appearances from 2008-11, trailing only new teammate Mark Reynolds and Kelly Shoppach for the highest K rate in the majors over that time frame. Davis was particularly whiff-tastic on pitches thrown high in the strike zone. Check out his contact rate by pitch location from 2008-11, and then the league average for lefty hitters:
Davis missed 42 percent of the high pitches that he swung at from 2008-11, compared to the 18-19 percent major league average. Danny Espinosa, Reynolds and Russ Branyan were the only hitters to come up empty more often when swinging at high stuff. This year, Davis has made solid gains in connecting on upper-third pitches:
The 26-year-old's miss rate on high pitches has declined to 27 percent. That, in turn, has helped him cut his K rate to 22 percent and tap into the power present in his 6-foot-3, 230 pound frame. Davis has five home runs, matching his 2011 total. And with a 175 OPS+ he ranks behind just the Cubs' equally surprising slugger shedding the Quad-A label, Bryan LaHair (240), and the White Sox' Paul Konerko (194) among first basemen. Davis might not be this good of a hitter, but the extra contact will help him stay in Buck Showalter's lineup and buck concerns that his Pacific Coast League exploits wouldn't translate against pitchers at the highest level.