2018 was pretty much set up to be a make or break season for Matt Davidson. The former Top 100 prospect return for Addison Reed was coming off a disappointing 2017 that managed to include 26 home runs with a .711 OPS and a K:BB ratio of 165:19. Not exactly what you want or need out of a bat first prospect whose long term defensive home at this point is DH that can spell your regular first baseman every so often. With the impending and inevitable flood of younger prospects coming down the pipe, Davidson had to show significant improvement to earn a spot on a suddenly crowded roster.
He hit the ground trotting, smacking three dingers against the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day. While he didn’t manage to hit a hat trick’s worth of home runs every game, he remained absolutely torrid throughout March and April, hitting nine homers to go with a .253/.375/.609 slash line and 15 walks to boot. He still struck out a lot (33 K in that same stretch), but when you’re only four walks shy of tying your career high before May rolls around, you’ll take the improvement.
Unfortunately, the hot start was unsustainable and he only had one other month with an OPS over .750 (.751 in August). He started more games at DH (64) than at third and first combined (45 and 14 respectively) and for good reason. His range at either corner doesn’t seem to extend much further than his wingspan and he has all the grace of an under-oiled tin man when attempting to scoop up the ball. He also struck out just as many times this season as last (165).
But there were notable improvements. Yes, Davidson will always be a high-strikeout hitter. But his batting eye improved tremendously as he drew almost three times his previous career high in walks (52). That was good enough to goose his OBP up .059 points, shifting him firmly into the territory of average hitter instead of an all or nothing power bat without enough power to make that work.
And in the most interesting development of his year, Davidson made three appearances as a relief pitcher. In a year that featured more position players pitching than any sane person would believe, Rick Renteria called for Davidson during three separate blowouts. How did he do? 3 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 ER, and 2 K. Look at this curveball that sat Giancarlo Stanton down swinging.
Almost vintage Ben Sheets with that 1-7 drop!
The roster crunch might still catch up to Davidson this winter, especially as baseball seems to move ever farther into bigger and bigger pitching staffs at the expense of bench players. But even before his surprising and delightful development as the last man out of the bullpen, barring some major additions to the roster it’s hard to imagine not finding at least a spot on the bench for a guy capable of an .882 OPS against southpaws.
Lead Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports