Inbox: Can analytics solve Davis' struggles?

Beat reporter Joe Trezza answers questions from fans

January 17th, 2019

Orioles FanFest is right around the corner, and Spring Training shortly after that. Before you know it, the O's will be filing into camp at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla., with as many questions as anyone.
But now, it's time for yours. Thank you to all those who again filled my Inbox and Twitter feed this week with inquiries. Please continue to do so, so we can hit on as many topics as possible before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 12.
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How is Chris Davis coming along? Will analytics help him?
-- Rivka M., Baltimore
The short answer is, data has the potential to put any player in a better position to succeed, even if some are reluctant to utilize it. The new analytically-inclined Orioles regime will make sure Davis has access to as much information as he wants, and there are certainly areas of his game that it seems, at least in theory, more data could help improve. Think more advanced scouting reports of pitchers, how they attack him in specific counts, how well he performs against certain pitches, things like that.
That said, I've been sensing a hope among O's fans that general manager Mike Elias and company will be able to wave a magic analytics wand and instantly fix Davis. That's not going to happen. The numbers are not a cure-all by any stretch, particularly for a player like Davis, whose skills were diminished, in large part, by advanced data (think: shifts). I'm more curious about how they'll be able to help him -- stay with me here -- on the mental side.
Davis has admitted how his confidence plummeted last summer, and that led to his slump snowballing into what it eventually became. When reading about that, I'm always drawn to what Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter went through last April. Carpenter wound up putting up National League Most Valuable Player Award-type numbers, but if you remember, he began the season in a dismal slump. The 32-year-old hit .145 over the season's first month, at which point Carpenter -- who doesn't dig into data often -- solicited St. Louis' front office for help. Was there anything, he asked, in the numbers that could explain his struggles?
The Cardinals came back with spreadsheets that essentially said, yes. But the diagnosis wasn't dire. The gap between Carpenter's expected stats and actual stats were wider than any player's in baseball. While a lot of players feel like they're hitting into bad luck, Carpenter actually was, and the data proved it. The Cards suggested he keep everything in his swing the same, to stay the course. Relieved, Carpenter listened. He ended up having one of the best seasons of any hitter in the NL in 2018.
I'm not saying Davis' problems were all mental last season. But Carpenter's story is an example of how analytics can sometimes can provide a player with something as simple as piece of mind, and how sometimes that translates into improved production on the field.
What core group of players in the organization do you think the front office will build around?
-- Ryan Beckwith (@_beckwith_ryan), via Twitter
Outside of a few prospects already in the system (Yasiel Diaz, Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, etc.), the majority of those players probably aren't in the organization yet, to be completely honest. The new regime's focus this season will be on bringing young talent in, possibly via trade and definitely through the Draft. All eyes will be on the No. 1 pick, but the Orioles' work will not stop there. To truly crank their rebuild into gear, they'll likely have to hit on a number of selections over the course of those three days at the Draft in June.
When does the front office start addressing the outfield?
-- Steve (@fairwayguy2), via Twitter
Probably next, but that'll be whenever the market dictates. Literally nothing has changed on this front since we tackled the possibility of returning in last week's Inbox; all but one outfielder available then -- Danny Santana, who inked a Minor League deal with the Rangers -- remains unsigned. The O's can be as patient as anyone, and will probably have to be, given their status as a full-on rebuilding club.