Chris Davis Needs His Walk-Off Homer to Be Major 2014 Turning Point

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Chris Davis Needs His Walk-Off Homer to Be Major 2014 Turning Point
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Baltimore Orioles slugger Chris Davis entered Monday's action in need of a big hit in the worst way but in a lousy position to get one. It's not so easy to hit from the bench, you know.

Fortunately for Davis, baseball has that one rule that allows managers to use pinch hitters.

The Orioles entered the bottom of the ninth inning of Monday's contest trailing the Chicago White Sox by a score of 4-3. With two on and one out, Buck Showalter called on Davis to pinch hit for Delmon Young against White Sox closer Ronald Belisario.

After working the count to 3-2, Davis caught hold of a pitch and sent it out to right field for a three-run, walk-off homer that gave the Orioles a 6-4 win and set the crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on a roar.

It looked like this:

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The win was Baltimore's third in a row to run its record to 40-35, and it allowed the Orioles to remain 1.5 games behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL East.

In all, not a bad day at the office for a guy who began the game on the bench. Showalter started Steve Pearce at first base instead, which made sense given that Pearce has been hot while Davis, well, hasn't.

Pearce entered Monday's game on a string of five straight two-hit games and with a 1.164 OPS in June. As for Davis—aka the guy who launched 53 homers with a 1.004 OPS in 2013—he entered with a .565 OPS over his last 25 games, a cold stretch that dropped his 2014 OPS from .892 down to .749.

Put simply: Davis had been sucking.

Hey, his words. As told to Eduardo A. Encina of The Baltimore Sun:

The hope now, obviously, is that Davis' big walk-off homer will be a turning point.

That's what the Orioles need it to be, as the "Crush" Davis they've come to know would certainly be useful in keeping pace in the tightly packed AL East. Bit it's also true for Davis himself, as he's a guy who needs to keep alive the notion that he's deserving of a big payday with free agency looming after 2015.

As for whether Davis' big homer will be a turning point, the best we can do is say "Maybe" in an optimistic tone.

One reason for optimism is that you never know when a big hit is going to give a guy a confidence boost. And going off what Davis had to say about benching, it sure sounds like he needed one of those.

A slightly more tangible reason for optimism is that Davis just might have fixed something with his approach at the plate when he sent Belisario's pitch sailing through the Baltimore night. This has to do with the kind of pitch it was. 

Per the naked eye and Brooks Baseball, it was a slider that Davis hit out. Sliders are from the breaking ball genus, and that's one that Davis has been having a ton of trouble with in 2014.

Here, look at this:

Chris Davis vs. Breaking Balls
Span Pitches AVG SLUG AB/HR
Through 2012 1,619 .232 .449 62.3
2013 617 .303 .680 38.6
2014 226 .138 .345 56.5

Brooks Baseball

Regarding what Davis was against breaking balls before 2013, Grantland's Jonah Keri put it well when he called Davis a "real-life Pedro Cerrano." He couldn't hit breaking balls.

Until he all of a sudden could, of course. But after mashing them in 2013, Davis has once again had a very tough time with them in 2014. And the problem was especially bad in his 25-game cold stretch, as he hit .042 against breakers with a .167 slugging percentage.

Keri's article had a couple of GIFs in it that showed how Davis' struggles against breaking pitches could be chalked up to poor pitch recognition and mechanics. Most noticeable of all was how he couldn't keep his hips closed. His front hip would fly open and a wild swing would ensue.

That's part of the beauty of Davis' dinger Monday night. Check out the position of his hips as the pitch neared home plate:

Image courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Yeah, that's what we want to see on breaking balls. No wonder Davis hit it out.

There is one catch, though.

The pitch that Davis hit out was clocked at 87 miles per hour. According to BaseballSavant.com, Davis owns a .288 average against pitches clocked at 87 or higher this season. That's compared to an .098 average on pitches clocked at 86 and slower. So rather than "complete victory," a better term for his dinger would be "progress."

Still, progress will do for, um, progress. And if progress begets more progress, Davis could soon become one of the American League's most dangerous hitters once again and make a lot of people happy in doing so.

The Orioles would be happy because the return of "Crush" Davis is a potential game-changer in their postseason chase. For example, you can look to how, according to FanGraphs, they wasted a 3.67 ERA over the last 30 days by pairing it with middle-of-the-road offense and think, "Man, what if?"

Perhaps we'll get a chance to find out over the next 30 days, and beyond.

Then there's Davis himself. There are no guarantees that the Orioles will rush to sign him to an extension if he finishes 2014 on a strong note, but you never know. The Orioles could finally be free of Nick Markakis' $66 million contract, and Nelson Cruz departing would render them in need to lock up a power bat for the future.

To that end, who would be better than the guy who hit 53 homers and came alive to save their bacon in 2014?

For at least a moment on Monday night, Chris Davis was "Crush" Davis again. If he's able to stay "Crush" Davis, there's much to be gained.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

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