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Third Baseman Profile: The enigmatic Chris Davis

After a dominant 2013, the Baltimore slugger had a terrible 2014. Can he rebound this year?

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Ready for a pile of "maybe"s that add up to a "probably"?

Maybe #1: So much of what we think we know about the effect of various drugs on performance in baseball is guesswork. There's a lot of correlation-not-causation, a lot of supposition, a lot of assumption.

I've gone on record as saying that Baltimore first/third baseman Chris Davis will be good again this year, that the return of his therapeutic-use exemption for amphetamines to combat ADD will help (he formerly used Adderall; now he will be taking Vyvanse, and no one here knows what the difference will mean for baseball). At this point, I've gone to that well enough times, and either you believe me or you don't.

Maybe #2: So today, I'm going to another well for my argument. Davis played most (all?) of 2014 with an oblique injury, the kind that experts tell us only gets better with rest. He did hit the DL in April/May with the injury, but all reports indicate it never really healed, and from his return from the DL to when Davis' season was ended by suspension - 109 games - he missed only four more. The injury often costs players four to six weeks; Davis missed 15 days, 12 games.

Oblique injuries most often represent themselves in power. You can't get your midsection rotated around as quickly because of the pain, your power just isn't there. If you assume the time off gives Davis' oblique time to fully heal, you have to figure his power jumps back up.

This, like the drug questions, relies on supposition, on assumption.

Maybe #3: There's no question that Davis was hurt by the shift last year - his singles average (the type of hits most affected by the extreme shifts) went from .167 in 2012 to .122 in 2013 to .102 last year. Rob Manfred's comments aside, the shifts aren't going anywhere, and while an improved oblique should help, Davis' singles average isn't likely to rise all the way back up.

That said, dude was still crazy unlucky last year. His BABIP, which had been around a career .330 entering last year, was .242 in 2014. Sure, a shift designed specifically to target a hitter like Davis is going to hurt his BABIP. But a drop like that is far too drastic to be just "oh, darn the shift."

His BABIP (and his batting average) isn't likely to return to previous heights with the shift in play - if it were, I'd rank him even more highly - but there's every reason to think it will at least climb to some improved level.

Maybe #4: As part of an effort to beat those shifts, Davis has gone on record as saying he's going to bunt more.

This could be hollow talk, lip service to an idea that has been floating for every single pull-hitting lefty who has been bitten by a shift. But if you assume Davis plans to bunt, and has even a modicum of skill at the act, then it should lead to one of two outcomes: Either his singles average, his BABIP and his batting average will rise because the bunts are working, or the defense will have to un-shift to combat the bunting, and Davis can go back to hitting like normal ... and the singles average, BABIP and batting average will rise.

That presupposes he can be a successful bunter, and he'll trade off the occasional chance at a home run for the sake of a successful single, but it is certainly a factor if you believe what Davis said.

Maybe #5: The Orioles lost Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis from last year's lineup. Full seasons from Alejandra De Aza and Steve Pearce, a season of maturity from Jonathan Schoop, a one last shot for Travis Snider, maybe you can imagine a way for the offense to equal what it had without strong returns from Davis, Matt Wieters and Manny Machado.

But the best bet for improvement, for sustained offensive success from that lineup is the big names. This isn't even really a "maybe," because "Oh, my team needs me" isn't a reason for a guy to hit better; if it is, that dude is a world-class loser for thinking the team didn't need him earlier.

On the other hand, if you assume the offense will be fine, there is another reason to expect it to help Davis. He's likely to hit fourth in the lineup, behind (more often than not) De Aza, Machado and Adam Jones. If you assume the offense will be more or less fine, then you have to be assuming those guys will be on base in front of Davis a fair amount. And any time there are baserunners on ahead of a shift-able guy - particularly runners on second or third - the defense simply can't shift as dramatically. If you lay the blame for Davis' struggles on the shift, then a good offense is a shift-corrector.

Those are all maybes. I can't say for certain all five will develop. But most of them are, to me, at least solid bets. I have Davis as my No. 1 third baseman this season, which says as much about what I see as the state of the position as it does about Davis himself. He was my No. 7 first baseman, which feels more appropriate for the guy. I think Davis' batting average, which was .270 in 2012 and .286 in 2013 before last year's .196, rises this year, but to a .255-.265 level at best, not the highs he had previously reached.

His power, though? Between the TUE and the oblique, I can't help but think that power jumps back up. Even if it doesn't skyrocket, he had 26 home runs last year in what had to be a year from hell. A little bump, and he's back to 2012's 33 homers, and a third baseman with 33 home runs is a strong option, even if he hits .230.