With the Orioles down two games and facing a steady diet of Royals right-handed flamethrowers, I suppose the obvious question is whether the presence of Chris Davis would have made a difference. Davis, left off of the ALCS roster because he still had five games remaining on his suspension prior to the series opener, is a powerful left-handed bat that if nothing else would have given the O’s lineup some balance. As it stands, with the middle of the O’s order right heavy, Royals manager Ned Yost hasn’t had to worry about matchups except to go chalk with Herrera, Davis, and Holland.
Right handed? Check. High 90s fastball? Check. Go get ‘em, kid!
At first it might seem strange to think a guy who hit (loosely using the term here) .196/.300/.404 for the season could provide any real value, but when the righty Steve Pearce is suddenly struggling at a .158/.273/.158 clip in the postseason and especially so in the ALCS (0-for-9 with two strikeouts and a lot of pop ups), Davis’ absence becomes all the more glaring because of his history of success against righties. For his career, Davis has hit .263/.338/.513 against right handers with a 125 wRC+.
The O’s could sure use some of that now.
Davis also has a remarkable ability to crush fastballs, particularly against righties, batting .289 against pitches considered Hard (via BrooksBaseball.net) with 65 career home runs. Just so you don’t think most of that came via his monstrous 2013 campaign where he hit .286 with 53 home runs, during ’14 he hit .252 with 13 of his 26 home runs against right handed pitches considered hard, though much of that success came from cutters and sinkers. He hit just .165 against fourseam fastballs with 49 Ks in 109 at-bats. Yikes. Well, the Royals pitchers are likely to throw a sinker or offspeed at some point, right?
If Davis were to provide value against the barrage of Royals bullets, how has he fared against the aforementioned relievers? Since the beginning of 2012 when Davis first joined the Orioles, he is 1-for-6 against Herrera with three strikeouts, 1-for-2 with a K against Davis, and is 0-for-2 with a K against Holland. Would Yost even bother to bring in the lefty Brandon Finnegan, someone Davis has never faced, when these three have kept him to a pair of singles and five punch outs? Of course, Yost would have to get to his bullpen and James Shields and Yordano Ventura might be vulnerable. Davis was 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against Ventura this season, yet has been more successful against Shields, going 3-for-12 with a double and a home run. In 2014, however, he was 0-for-3, all on ground outs, and those Ventura at-bats were when Ventura’s electric arm was fresh without the stress of 183 regular season innings and an additional 7 1/3 entering his Saturday start in Baltimore.
If there’s evidence that Davis would have been the difference maker, then I’m not seeing it. Unless you want to argue that his bat would have chased Shields from Game 1 sooner, but scoring against Shields wasn’t the problem; keeping Chris Tillman from loading the bases for Alex Gordon to play hero was. Tillman wiggled free from a bases loaded jam against the Tigers, but the Royals are playing to a Disney script in these playoffs1.
The lesson: do not give the Royals a chance to make highlight reel plays. Because they will. Repeatedly.
So maybe instead of replacing the righty Pearce he’d have taken over for Ryan Flaherty (this is exactly what would have happened anyway so it’s not like this is brilliant deduction) at third base, but Flaherty has been fantastic in the postseason, batting .375/.444/.375 in the ALCS with a huge two out single in Game 1’s fifth inning to plate both Adam Jones and Nelson Cruz. Flaherty went 3-for-5 in that game, but in Game 2 he was 0-for-3 with a walk and flubbed an easy grounder in the ninth, so it’s not as though his defense has been so spectacular you cringe to see Davis out there.
The way Davis was swinging the bat this year, though, his true value might have been off the bench. Maybe when Pearce comes up with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the seventh in Game 2, Buck Showalter could have pinch hit with Davis. Does Yost stay with Herrera here or go with the rookie Finnegan? Who knows?
So, in the end, the verdict is maybe Davis would have provided value, but the way he was hitting this year probably not. Entering Game 3 of the ALCS, 22 games of a 25 game ban later, the O’s go with what they’ve got.
- It’s also a tough time to be associated with pizza in Michigan. Former Domino’s Pizza CEO David Brandon has been coming under fire as the University of Michigan AD and Tigers owner and Little Caesars co-founder Mike Illitch seeing his bullpen collapse, not to mention all the bad press carbohydrates have been receiving by nutritionists anymore. ↩