Davis' talents are not fully optimized unless he is DH-ing.
Chris Davis played parts of four up-and-down seasons with the Texas Rangers before coming over to the Baltimore Orioles via trade mid-way through 2011 and became a valuable player for the 2012 team that made the ALCS. To most effectively utilize Davis, the Orioles must stop playing him all over the field and install him as their regular designated hitter in 2013.
The left-handed hitting Davis entered 2012 platooning in left field with Nolan Reimold and first base with Nick Johnson and even had a memorable pitching performance against the Red Sox. Despite his willingness to play wherever he is asked, he is a subpar defender and should be installed as the Orioles full-time designated hitter; a position where the Orioles have lacked consistent production over the past couple of seasons.
The Orioles, starved for a productive designated hitter, traded for the ancient Jim Thome in late June. He fizzled at the plate and clogged up a role that would have been better handed over to Davis to let him do what he does best—hit.
The on-field value of Davis lies solely in his bat. He ended 2012 hitting .270 with 33 home runs and 85 RBI. It was by far his most productive season in the majors, and according to Fangraphs.com, he and Paul Konerko of the Chicago White Sox tied for fifth place among AL designated hitters with a 2.1 oWAR.
Davis has grown significantly as a hitter since coming to Baltimore, hitting a combined .271 after posting just a .248 mark with the Rangers. This growth has come in large part because of his improvement against left-handed pitchers. As a Ranger he hit just .217 against southpaws but has upped that to .288 with the Orioles. This versatility allows him to stay in the lineup on a more consistent basis and makes him an ideal candidate for the full-time designated hitter.
Despite striking out 169 times last season, Davis still slightly improved putting the ball in play. He struck out in 30 percent of his at bats in 2012, compared to 31.5 percent during his first four seasons. He will never be a classic contact hitter, but as long as he continues hitting home runs and managing his whiffs, he will be an effective starter.
Having played at both corner positions in the infield and outfield, Davis can’t be knocked for his willingness to do what is asked of him defensively. It’s just that he’s not very good with his glove.
Davis’ defense is so bad that it seriously detracts from his hitting. His -1.5 dWAR reduced his overall 2012 production to slightly below average. With Manny Machado likely playing third base and Nick Markakis returning to right field in 2013, it should be easier to keep Davis’ glove in the dugout.
Last season the Orioles were a better team when Davis was their starting DH. The team went 37-23 in those 60 games, as opposed to their 56-46 record when somebody else started.
Just 27 at the start of next season, it can be reasonably surmised that Davis has room to get even better. If he is installed as the regular designated hitter and no longer has to worry about being exposed playing in the field, he could emerge as the top player in the AL at that position and help the Orioles become regular visitors to the playoffs.
Statistics via BaseballReference
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