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How long of a leash should a slumping hitter get in a short season?

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Khris Davis has been slumping since last summer. How long can the Oakland A’s give him to bounce back?

Oakland Athletics v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s have played six games so far, which constitutes 10% of their 2020 season. A week from Saturday, we’ll be at the one-quarter point, which is usually in mid-May. The halfway point is Aug. 24, a little over three weeks away.

With that kind of sprint ahead, there’s not as much time as usual to let slumping players work through their troubles with everyday at-bats. That doesn’t mean benching everyone who has an 0-fer day, but you can’t give them a month to find their rhythm either. Especially not when you have enough depth that there are quality hitters sitting on the bench.

The Oakland A’s have such a conundrum on their hands. Khris Davis is one of the best home run hitters of this generation, one of the couple dozen sluggers in history ever to hit 40+ in three straight seasons. He was the model of consistency for years, Mr. 247, and you could pencil in his dingers with confidence. Then last season he got hurt and hit a skid, and never really pulled out of it.

After that off-year, Davis was already one of the team’s biggest question marks entering the season. Would he revert to his usual power display and make us forget all about the 2019 blip, or had he simply taken a step back at age 32?

The early returns have been discouraging. Through his first few games, Davis is 0-for-15, with seven strikeouts and two walks in 17 plate appearances. He’s had six chances with runners in scoring position and gone 0-for-5 with a walk, and overall he’s left 15 runners on base.

A few bad games would be easier to overlook in a normal year, and even though the length of the season has changed that doesn’t mean the nature of sample sizes is any different. We haven’t really learned anything about him yet and he might be just fine, but right now the name of the game is instant gratification rather than trusting the long-haul process, with the clock ticking 2.7 times faster than normal.

The team doesn’t sound worried about Davis long-term, but at the same time they’re not waiting around to begin acting. Susan Slusser of the S.F. Chronicle offers the following:

“[Hitting coach Darren] Bush said that Davis’ timing is slightly off, which was the problem much of last year when Davis tried to play through a side injury and threw his swing out of whack. Bush said Davis’ mechanics are good and his batting practice shows that, but batting practice is nothing like facing multiple live pitchers in a game, with different stuff, velocities and arm angles. If a swing is a fraction of a second behind, that’s enough to ruin an at-bat.”

Unfortunately, the solution prescribed is more at-bats to work through the issue, and that’s exactly what the A’s might not be able to afford. Indeed, Slusser’s story notes that manager Bob Melvin will “back off on the workload a little bit, probably try to pick some matchups.” That sounds like reducing playing time for the highest-paid star on the roster just one week into the season, which is not an insignificant reaction.

It also doesn’t sound like completely benching him, though, which is for the best. It’s too early to entirely give up on Davis, especially knowing that he’s a streaky hitter as well as a player prone to mental blocks; if indeed he’s physically fine and just needs to stop pressing and make that One Final Adjustment, then he really could explode at any moment into exactly the kind of supernova slugger you want on your side in a short summer.

And so the A’s find themselves with quite the balancing act on their hands. A big star still mired in a long-term slump, who has enough upside to be worth trying to fix in a six-month campaign but who’s a big risk to stick with too long in a two-month sprint. How long of a leash should they give him to keep getting regular at-bats? We’ll find out their answer in the coming days and weeks — or, hopefully we won’t because he rediscovers his mojo and goes back to khrushing dingers.