Of course, Davis has been the best OBP guy on the team, posting a .340 OBP since 2012, a mark surpassed only by Nick Markakis (in fewer PA, naturally). Even in what has to be considered a down season in 2016, Davis still finished second on the team with a .332 OBP, and in general runs an OBP that is far better than his batting average, making him almost like a unicorn on this particular team.
This should be great! The O's need OBP guys, and Davis is one of the most patient hitters on the team. It's likely one of the reasons that he may be the best leadoff option on the team. The problem, however, is that the more selective Davis has been in his career, the less success he has seen overall. Davis' walk rate has increased every single season since 2012, with his 13.2% in 2016 representing a career high, but produced his two worst offensive seasons in 2014 and 2016. This is a puzzle, as in general we'd expect high walk rates to correlate with increased offensive success.
One of the factors that may be able to explain this somewhat odd occurrence is to look at how often Davis actually swings the bat, since you can't hit homers and produce big offensive numbers unless you hit the ball. Davis swung at his lowest rate ever last season, swinging at just 42.7% of pitches. His career mark is 49.4%, and in his breakout 2013 season he swung at over 50% of the pitches he saw. To his credit, Davis swung at the fewest pitches outside of the strike zone in his career last season, but the flip side of that is he swung at the fewest percentage of pitches in the zone as well. In fact, the decline in this metric was so precipitous that it almost leads me to question whether his hand injury was far more severe than was reported. Unless his eyesight also declined last season, there is little other reason for why he went from swinging at 68% of strikes in 2015 to just under 60% in 2016.
This also brings up the issue of strikeouts, which is something that any discussion of Davis simply can't avoid. That Davis strikes out a lot is not news. What is interesting, however, is how he strikes out. Davis has, by far, the most called third strikes in baseball since 2012 with 279, and had 79 called third strikes in 2016, which is also the most by far for any player in any season since 2009. Some of that is a simply function of the sheer volume of strikeouts he racks up, but looking a bit deeper into the yearly fluctuations of called K's is particularly interesting. Below is a table of Davis' called strikeout percentage, his Weighted Runs Created (WRC+) and his Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) by year.
In years when Davis takes fewer called third strikes, he is at worst an above average hitter and at best one of the game's elites. In years where he takes a higher number of called third strikes, however, he is below average to slightly above.
Now, this may be sample size noise and there are likely other factors that contribute to Davis' offensive inconsistency, but it seems fairly clear that the less aggressive Davis is the less successful he is offensively. A strikeout is an out regardless, but a called third strike is probably the least productive out simply because there is no possibility of anything good happening. In Davis' case, it's doubly unproductive because he hits the ball extremely hard. He consistently ranks in the upper echelon of hard hit balls and obviously produces massive power when he connects.
It seems odd to say that a player should be less selective, and even more so when that player is on the Baltimore Orioles. In Davis' case, however, taking fewer pitches and being more aggressive at the plate certainly seems to correlate with better offensive production. So, I'd suggest something I never thought I'd have to to suggest to an Oriole: swing the bat!