Chris Davis can usually be counted on for a few good quotes, and he also knows how to respond to them. The Rangers were at Fenway Park last week, and their articulate, albeit struggling (.188/.264/.292 before a Friday demotion to Triple-A Oklahoma) first baseman sat down with Baseball Prospectus to do just that.
Chris Davis: I think he meant that there is kind of an art aspect to hitting. Everybody has their own style, certain things that work for them, and there are a lot of things that guys do, that they put into their swings, that really makes them go. But at the same time, it’s not a 1-2-3-step process. I don’t think any guy can go up there and say, “If I do this, this, and it equals this, every time I’m going to get a hit.” I mean, a lot if it is left up to chance. As an artist, you think of somebody who’s kind of freelance, somebody who draws what they feel, or paints what they feel, and that’s maybe how he explained hitting. He did what felt right. He did what he felt comfortable with. There’s no scientific method for that.
DL: Wee Willie Keeler famously said, “I keep my eyes clear and hit ‘em where they ain’t.”
CD: That’s pretty cut and dried. Obviously, you want to see the ball as best you can and give yourself a chance to get a hit, but sometimes it seems like you can’t hit it where they’re not. Sometimes, you hit the ball hard, — you put a good swing on it and you just hit it right at somebody. The best thing you can do is find some grass, or some dirt out there, where nobody is standing and try to put it there.
DL: Vance Law once said, “When you’re in a slump, it’s almost as if you look out at the field and it’s one big glove.”
CD: Absolutely, and I know exactly how that feels. You go from not hitting anything to finally putting the ball in play, and finally hitting the ball hard, and it seems like they have 80 fielders out there. That’s just the way it goes sometimes. And there are times when you’re swinging the bat and it feels like they’ve got two guys out there—the pitcher and the catcher. That’s the fun of the game. That’s one of the reasons why we play. It’s a contest. It’s constant competition.
DL: Yogi Berra once said, “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change the bat.”
CD: That’s a really good one. That’s a good idea. I think sometimes you kind of feel like that. You feel like you’re doing everything right, and you’re like, man, “It’s my bat today. I’ve got a hole in my bat.” But that’s pretty funny. It’s a good way to keep yourself loose in tight situations.
I’m actually a guy…I know a lot of guys that go one bat for BP and one bat for the game, but if I feel comfortable with a bat, I’m going to stick with it. It doesn’t matter if I’m getting hits. If my swing feels good and the bat feels good in my hands, I’m going to stick with it.
DL: Harmon Killebrew once said something along the lines of, “I don’t have evil intentions, but I guess I do have power.”
CD: That’s kind of funny. We talk about, “hit the ball with some bad intentions.” You’re not directing evil, but at the same time you want to inflict some pain. I think that was the biggest thing we talked about in spring training. When we’re up there at the plate, we want do some damage and inflict some pain, whether it’s on the baseball, the pitcher’s feelings, or whatever it is. That’s just the competitive nature of the game.
DL: According to Toby Harrah, “Baseball statistics are a like girl in a bikini. They show a lot but not everything.”
CD: That’s pretty good. I think that’s probably one of my favorite ones. I think a lot of guys get caught up in the statistics of the game—what’s this guy hitting? Is he hitting .300?—when there are so many other things that go into it. Is he having productive at-bats? Is he moving runners? Is he really doing his job? We talked earlier about [the relative impact of] strikeouts. Look at Mark Reynolds, man. Did he hit .300? He hit .260 last year, had 40-plus home runs, and drove in 100-plus runs, and he struck out over 200 times. A lot of people point to the strikeouts, but he’s a staple in that lineup and a very productive player. I think you can get a lot out of stats, but it does not tell the whole story, by any means.
DL: Warren Spahn is known to have said, “You only need two pitches—the one the hitter is looking for and the one he’s not.”
CD: I guess if you only needed those two pitches, you’d be pretty successful. Sometimes, it seems like the guy only needs one pitch. Maybe he thought that if you know a guy well enough to know what he‘s looking for, then you can just throw what he’s not looking for and you’re going to get him out. It’s kind of an open quote, kind of a broad statement.
I think, for me, a lot of times I get caught up, as a young hitter, going up there and just focusing on one pitch. I’m a power lefty. I’m not going to see fastballs out over the plate all day. That’s just not going to happen. There are guys, like [Josh] Beckett last night, and [A.J.] Burnett and C.C. [Sabathia] that we faced in New York. They’re going to challenge you with fastballs, but when it comes down to it, you might have to hit their pitch. I think the biggest thing for younger hitters is to just go up there with a solid plan. You can’t always look for one pitch in one location. A lot of guys like to sit on pitches, or have an educated guess, but the big thing is just seeing the ball and hitting the ball. Kind of have an idea of what the pitcher is going to do to you, know what your strengths are, and just go off of that.
DL: Nolan Ryan said, “It helps if the hitter thinks you’re a little crazy.”
CD: I think that’s absolutely right. As a hitter, you don’t want to step in the box against a guy like Nolan, who throws 100 mph, and if you (upset him), there might be some bad intentions there. Like I said, it’s a constant game of competition. Anything you can do to get an edge on your opponent is going to benefit you. If you know that a guy is up there competing and he’s scrappy and not afraid of anything, you know you’re going to have to bring your A-game.
DL: Ted Williams said, “If I was being paid $30,000 a year, the very least I could do is hit .400.”
CD: That’s Ted Williams. That’s one of the greatest hitters ever in the game. I understand what he meant. We get paid well to play the game we love. I think that refers more to the work aspect of the job. He’s saying that if he gets paid that amount of money to go out there and play every day, he’s going to do everything within his power to go out there and try to hit .400. I think we all feel like that. We all want to be the best baseball players that we can be, not only for our teams, our staffs, our organizations, but for the fans. We want to give them a good show. That’s just our competitive nature, but like you say, sometimes things just don’t go your way. Sometimes you hit struggles, sometimes you hit slumps. Like I said, that’s the beauty of the game.
DL: The next one is from Honus Wagner: “There ain’t much to being a ballplayer, if you’re a ballplayer,”
CD: You’re bringing those quotes from back in the day. That’s when the game was at its purest form. Those guys went out there and played 110 percent every game. We refer to it as old-school, and they played the game with a chip on their shoulder. They were out there to prove something and they were out there to uphold the dignity of the game, and I think that’s something, as baseball players later on, that we have to uphold, respect and pass along.
DL: Leo Durocher said, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
CD: I feel like that sometimes. You talk about the struggles and the journey it takes go through the minor leagues. That’s one of the hardest things that you can do in professional sports. You get drafted and you have to go…some guys spend seven or eight years in the minor leagues and finally get a chance to be in the big leagues. It’s definitely a game of opportunity and a game of chance. I think he’s exactly right. There are a lot of guys who have played baseball, but not a lot of guys that you know have played in the big leagues.
DL: Dick Allen said, “If a horse can’t eat it, I don’t want to play on it.”
CD: I think that baseball is supposed to be played on grass. It’s the way the game was created. It’s the way the game was known for a long time and to be honest with you, I don’t know too many people that like turf. There’s something that can be said about walking out onto a baseball field and smelling the grass and just the way it looks. It’s baseball in its pure form.
DL: The last one is from Ernie Harwell: “Baseball is a ballet without music, drama without words.”
CD: I think that’s a really good description of the game. There are times…when you see a double play, or a guy roll a double play or a guy makes a diving catch — there are certain things about the game that are so beautiful and so pure. You just can’t even compare it to anything. I think that’s one of the things people really enjoy and it is the reason that it’s America’s pastime. There are so many intangible things about the game, so many things that you can’t touch, or sometimes can’t even describe. We just had two nights in a row with walk-off wins here. There’s the sense of adrenaline, the sense of emotion. I mean, that’s just baseball at its finest. This is a great game.