If you were to tell me that you knew the type of year Chris Davis was going to have, I would have laughed at your face and then, immediately after, with a stern demeanor, called shenanigans sir. As of this writing, he has hit 33 homeruns, tying his previous career high. To put that into context, this is second week of July ladies and gentlemen. Probably more gentlemen in this case, much to my chagrin. We always knew the power was there, no question. In fact, that was the only skill we thought he possessed, and more specifically, that is the only skill that we continued to dream upon drafting him all these years, always wishing, hoping for more. You see, the story of Chris Davis was once quite different, just as recent as last season, and even as far back as 2009. Once a highly touted prospect in the Rangers system, he possessed that one skill everyone loves — raw power. He didn’t quite live up to expectations, but still offered 20 homeruns with lousy rate stats. That was who he was. That was who he was going to be. So say you. So say me. So say the stat page. So say we all.
Boy, did we miss the mark… by that much. I’m holding my arms as far apart from each other as I can. Hurry up and look, I’m getting tired. How did a player with a career triple slash of 258/310/466, and a BB% of 6.5 and K% of 31.0% turn into a player that is now hitting 324/399/721 with a BB% of 10.0 and K% of 27.1? Let us begin to explore, discover and so forth.
This Bear/Bull series has met it’s poster child. We are now reaching the halfway point of the season where teams have an average to an above-average sense of how their team is faring, what their weaknesses are, if they should compete or tear it all down, etc. And of those teams, there are two groups. Teams that own Chris Davis and teams that don’t. And from that brilliant deduction, it is brilliant, so shut up, but from that deduction, we can further deduce, my dear Watson, that there are those who want to trade him away with the mindset that this is as good as it gets, that no player, especially Chris Davis, can sustain this elite talent level, so sell-sell-sell. What this post presupposes is, what if you don’t?
To reach any conclusion of what to do with Chris Davis, we must first examine the indicators for his epic production, and whether or not we are, in fact, watching a new sustainable skill level… or not. But, before we get to that, let’s actually watch Crush Davis in action, because GIFs bro.
That ball was crushed.
This, too, was also crushed.
Good advice for the pitchers kitty. Good advice indeed.
So now that the fun is over, let’s get to the dirty work. In terms of distance of his flyballs and homeruns hit, so far in 2013, Davis’ average sits at 311.49 feet. In 2012, he hit the ball in the air at an average of 297.01 feet. Not a drastic difference, but one nonetheless. While this one data point tells us that while Davis is hitting the ball harder, he isn’t hitting the ball drastically harder, the first sign that there might not be a large regression in store. Staying on the topic of his batted balls profile, heh, balls, looking over his LD%, GB%, and FB% paints an interesting picture. Let me set the table for you to look at. FORKS ON THE RIGHT OF THE PLATE ALWAYS! OR IS JUST IN EGYPT? YELLING MORE!
Here, we see a couple different things going on. First, I’m sure we all notice that his line drive rate (LD%) has stayed somewhat stable. What has not stayed stable, though, is the rate at which Davis hits the ball on the ground (GB%) and hits the ball into the air (FB%). They have basically flipped. It doesn’t take a genius to realize the that more balls you hit in the air, the greater chance of those balls going over the wall is. The easy conclusion here is that Davis is not matching his normal profile, and therefore, will regress into who he was previously. Except, there is actually evidence that supports the contrary. In this past off-season, Chris Davis tweaked his approach by working to eliminate his uppercut tendencies during his swinging motion. By focusing on a level swing, he’s allowing his bat speed to work with his raw strength, and that’s allowing him to pretty much crush the ball wherever its pitched, and also acting as a natural mechanism to avoid chasing outside of his zone. You’ve heard the term ‘hitting to all fields’. That’s exactly what Davis is doing, and don’t just take it from me. Davis explained the process himself here. Let’s take a look at his two different swings, because again, GIFs bro.
Old swing, 2011.
New swing, 2013.
If you look carefully, you’ll notice the uppercut in the first GIF compared to the second. His front shoulder lowers and dips at the ball, while his follow through ends at a lower point, with the bat going through the zone at a higher plane. And just to hammer the point of a changed swing a bit more, check out the results so far from these nifty heat maps. They’re so hot, it’s like a fire sale. The fire! It burns!
If you notice, his hitting profile is generally the same, except for three spots. You’ll notice those changes located in the boxes at the upper left and lower right and left of the zone. These are not just the locations where an uppercut swing could hurt you the most, they also the three hardest locations for a left handed hitter to execute contact. His new mechanics have helped him focus on his wheelhouse, thus also affecting his entire plate discipline profile, swing at less ‘junk’. Now, Chris Davis is still striking out in large amounts, but there are other reasons, besides his new approach, that are fueling a career high BB%. See for yourself.
The only number that’s really changed by a large margin is his F-Strike%. (First pitch strike percentage.) Sure, over time, his plate discipline has been improving steadily in small amounts based on his career SwStr% changes and the fact that Davis is swinging at pitches nearly three percent less overall, but the leading indicator this year isn’t just coming from better zone selection. Rather, he’s hitting the ball so hard and so often, that pitchers are throwing outside the zone more often. Add in the fact that he’s already drawn three more intentional walks (nine) than all of last year (six), you have the ingredients of a career high walk rate.
We knew the power was legit, but at this pace? Nope. Didn’t see it coming. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to stop. We’ve seen that the process is real and there is no BABIP dragon either. His .361 number this year is not that far off from his career .340 average. The walk rate does seem a bit inflated, but if he keeps hitting, the regression is marginal. So, while I don’t think we are seeing the next Barry Bonds, I think we could be seeing the next Jose Bautista. Now, Davis clearly has worse plate discipline tendencies than Joeybats, but I think a 40+ homerun projection should be the norm from here on out, health permitting of course.
So we now have a good enough idea that the power spike is legitimate, and isn’t being fueled by luck or some other random thing. Like ninja’s or sewer alligators. For what it’s worth, it’s always at least partly due to ninja’s, so we’ll just have to take that into account. Rather, these numbers are being fueled by real changes in his approach, and there is tangible evidence to support that. If you are in a redraft and have enough power to spare, you could use him as a chip to fill other holes, no doubt. But I’m not so sure you could get the value that he’s earned here. The output is so out of this world, what exactly is equal value? Yeah, I’m not quite sure either. It should be astronomical, but the idea that it can only get worse from here on out is baked into every rational owner. The better play is to focus on selling players that have established skill sets and continuing to rely on Davis. I’m taking the same approach in dynasty’s as well. Power is gold, a premium fantasy resource, so hold onto it when you got it. I’m holding for dear life, both in redrafts and dynasties.
“That ball wouldn’t have been out of a lot of parks.”
-Jake Taylor and Rick Vaughn, Major League (1989)
Yeah. Pretty much Chris Davis in a nutshell.
Jaywrong is a 30-year old Korish writer who finds solace using Makers Mark as a vehicle to impress average-looking women, and also has an affinity for making Jennifer Lawrence GIFs. You can follow him @jaywrong, read his blog Desultory Thoughts of a Longfellow, or, you can find his GIFs at his tumblr, named Siuijeonseo.