Davis eyes 2019 as season of redemption
BALTIMORE -- It was with a mix of embarrassment, urgency and resolve that Chris Davis returned home to Texas this winter, determined to turn the page. By the time his nightmare 2018 season ended, Davis had already had more than enough time to stew. That last thing he wanted was more time to digest a year that, he says now, "didn't feel real."
"I took a deep breath and let it go," Davis said this weekend at Orioles FanFest. "There was so much that went on away from baseball. Having to deal with failure on a constant basis, unmet expectations, that by the time the season ended, I was just so tired."
Flash forward to present day and Davis says he's "ready to put all that behind me." He plans to travel to the Orioles' Spring Training complex in Sarasota, Fla., early, with a restored sense of confidence and a promise.
"In my mind, that was a fluke; that's not going to happen again," Davis said. "For me, it's about getting back to the player that I was in 2013, in 2012, in 2015, and years that I was productive."
Whether Davis rebounds or not, and to what degree, remains to be seen. What's clear is that either way, 2019 will be different, for a variety of reasons. Davis will be working with a new hitting coach in Don Long, and said he's open to incorporating the data that will likely be available via the Orioles' new analytically-inclined front office.
Both changes figure to run parallel with the larger theme of Davis' offseason, which was defined by reevaluation and overhaul. Over the course of the past few months, Davis revamped his workout regimen, consulted old hitting coaches, and spoke to sports psychologists. His goals were two-fold: relocate the swing that made him one of the game's premier power threats earlier this decade, and relieve the mental anguish that stemmed from last season, statistically one of the worst in baseball history.
To do so, Davis huddled in the batting cage with instructors from his prospect days as a member of the Rangers. In between sessions, he tweaked his exercise regimen to add extra emphasis on conditioning and flexibility ("I can't go in the gym and crush arms all the time anymore," Davis said. "Everybody tells me I look skinny."). It was a winter that sent the former All-Star back to the proverbial drawing board.
"To come down this path the last couple years, and make no adjustments, make no strides in a different direction, I don't want to do it anymore," Davis said. "I had a lot of work to do, so there wasn't a whole lot of time for me to sit back and feel sorry for myself. I wanted to explore a lot of options as far as my offense was concerned, my nutrition and training. I felt like the clock was ticking."
That anxiety over job security exists for Davis at all speaks to just how trying 2018 was. After years of declining production related to increased swings and misses and defensive shifts, Davis bottomed out. He hit .168, the lowest average in more than a century for a player who qualified for the batting title. He managed just 16 home runs, his fewest since 2011. At -3.1 fWAR, he ranked as the least valuable player in the Majors (before factoring in his $21 million salary).
Now, barely halfway through his club-record contract, Davis is inherited by a new front office solely focused on the future. He is 32 years old, defensively limited, and owed $92 million through 2022 -- making him virtually untradeable. Davis will make more than a quarter of the Orioles' 2019 payroll, as it's currently constructed.
All of which means that, at this point, the O's can do little but hope for a bounce back. And while Davis can never escape the numbers, he's motivated to reverse them.
"Going through last season, that stretch of failure day in and day out, got me to the point where I said I need to exhaust all options and make an adjustment," Davis said. "I don't feel physically, like I've lost a step. I don't feel like I've lost any ability. If anything, I have a lot more perspective than I had a couple years ago. I still feel like I'm at the top of my game. I still feel like I can compete with anybody. I'm looking for a chance to redeem that."