Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Followup On Ben Davis  

Ask and you shall receive. While writing the Glass Half Full Preview on catchers, I looked and looked but could not find any information on what Ben Davis was doing this offseason to fix his second-half woes. Well, look no further. Larry Larue provides a thorough piece on Ben Davis that looks at his second half swoon of 2003 and how he is trying to fix it.

In the GHF preview, I hinted that Bob Melvin's tampering with the lineup after the All-Star Break might have affected Davis. Beginning July 22, Melvin rested Davis 4 straight days, and after that he was never the same. In Larue's article, Davis confirms that Melvin's lineup tinkering affected him. He says:
"At the break, I was playing a lot and doing well. After the break, I think Bob Melvin started looking for the best matchups - hitter vs. pitcher - and I didn't play as much. Then, when I did play, I didn't do the job. I'm not blaming Bob."

He also adds, "It got to the point last season where I almost dreaded coming to the park and looking at the lineup, hoping I was in it. I wasn't. Hopefully, I can change that this season."

I believe that after putting up an All-Star caliber first half, Ben Davis felt he had earned more playing time. Instead he received less in July and it affected him. Each start after that he felt he had something to prove, and he began pressing. Here is how Davis describes his second half: "I stunk. It was never a lack of effort. The whole second half was hard to swallow. I started to press. It got to me mentally. The second half was tough for the whole team."

So, this winter, Ben Davis grew up a bit. He got married, which trust me, matures you in a hurry. He took a look at his career and has decided he does not want to be a backup catcher anymore. And so he has worked hard to fix what he thinks is broken.

"I spent a lot of time watching video this winter, and I've changed my approach at the plate," he said. "I'm trying to take what Edgar (Martinez) does from the right side and what John (Olerud) does from the left.

"I hit off the tee a lot with that in mind. I eliminated the toe tap I've had, I took the wiggle with my hands out of my stance. I've tried to get shorter swings to the ball."

And while some of his female fans may miss the toe tap and the wiggle, they may admire his new physique. Last year he bulked up coming into the season, reaching 255 pounds. This year he is in camp at 242.

"My ideal playing weight is probably 235 pounds," he said. "I came in last year at 255, ended the season weighing 228. I'm hoping to lose a few pounds this spring and then maintain my weight."

In a similar article from the PI's John Hickey, Davis reminds us that it wasn't his playing weight that hurt him in the second half, it was his playing time.

"There's no correlation between my weight (loss) and hitting .140. The correlation is between playing time and just getting out on the field and into a nice rhythm. It's great to hear that I'll be given a chance to get it this year."

This is the kind of attitude and work you want to see from your starting catcher. Lets hope Ben has a monster spring, because the sooner he is playing full time, the sooner we have a big bat behind the plate, and Ben could make my .280/.340/.460 projection for him seem downright pessimistic by year's end.

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