Coming into the season, Chris Davis was almost a unanimous choice for a first round pick. On average, 5 hitters when before Davis in most drafts, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew McCutchen, and like him or not, Carlos Gonzalez. We knew he would not hit over 50 home runs this year, but everyone felt confident enough that he would hit 30 at a minimum. We knew the average would probably come down due to all the strikeouts, but we believed it wouldn’t fall any lower than the .270 he posted in 2012. We didn’t expect another 138 RBI season, but somewhere between 90 and 100 seemed realistic.
Davis was a monster rookie that the Rangers expected big things from, but after 4 years of attempting to recapture his rookie form in the majors, Texas shipped him off to Baltimore in 2011. In 2012, Davis broke out in a big way, smacking 33 home runs in just over 500 at bats. People were still skeptical due to the high K rate, but those that weren’t and took a chance on him in 2013 were heavily rewarded. While his bottom line was a thing of beauty, there were warning signs in his batting average and obscene strikeout totals. Could we have seen this coming? Can Davis rebound this season or improve in the future? Or, is this what we should come to expect from Davis moving forward? Let’s go back and take a look at the past 2 seasons to see when things started going wrong.
2012 Batting Average
Davis finished the year with a .270 batting average. Not bad, but how did he get there? He started strong, batting .310 for the first two months and went out like a lion hitting .337 in September. With a strong bottom line and 30+ home runs, people ignored the .205 he hit in June along with the .225 in July and .238 in August. Casual owners probably didn’t even notice how bad his average was until August because his average was still at an acceptable level and he was still hitting home runs. While Davis had 3 strong months, he also had 3 forgettable ones.
2013 Batting Average
Davis finished the year with a .286 batting average. His .336 BABIP wasn’t ridiculously high and was right in line with his 2012 totals. Just like the year before, Davis was red-hot in April and May batting .348 and .364. A .383 and .400 BABIP for those 2 months say he was very lucky, just like he was lucky in 2012 with a .360 and .400 BABIP for those 2 months. Things evened off in May where he hit .290 with a high but not unsustainable .345 BABIP. Things took a turn in July when his average went into the dumpster and his BABIP dropped to .279. He turned things around in August batting .287, but fell apart again in September batting .216. The power dropped in the second half, but not enough for people to care. And, while the average dipped several times, nobody blinked an eye.
So we’ve got fluctuations in his monthly average for 2 straight years showing he has some holes and issues to work on. Next let us discuss those strikeouts which are one of the obvious problems.
2012 & 2013 Strikeouts
Davis had a strike percentage of 30.1 in 2012. It was more of the same last season with a K% of 29.6. Looking at the strikeout leaders for 2012, only 5 names appear before Davis, Adam Dunn (222), Curtis Granderson (195), Danny Espinosa (189), Carlos Pena (182) and Pedro Alvarez (180). B.J. Upton, Dan Uggla and Rickie Weeks round out the group of strikeout leaders. In 2013, Davis was second in strikeouts (199) to Chris Carter (212). Finishing right behind Davis was Adam Dunn (189), Mike Napoli (187) and Pedro Alvarez (186), honorable mentions go to Mark Trumbo (184) and Dan Uggla (171 in 448 at bats).
The one thing that all of those strikeout leaders have in common, none of them can hit their weight. At one time early on they may have found a way to make it work, but eventually things caught up with them. Granderson is one of the few anomalies of the group. His K rate has always been high, 2012 was just the turning point to where they started to get the best of him (well, 2011 really). Mike Napoli has been able to make it work so far, but with his 33rd birthday approaching, I can see a cliff year approaching. Then there is Dan Uggla who had gotten so bad that Atlanta ate his contract and dropped him. Pedro Alvarez is being benched and could join Uggla in a year or two in the unemployment line, and B.J. Upton isn’t too far behind. I can go on, but I think you get the point. With the occasional exception, guys with high strikeouts have bad batting averages and a very short life as a useful fantasy player.
Coming into the season, we thought Davis might turn out to be one of those exceptions, someone with a high K rate that could still produce. In April he hit .260. Not great, something we can live with when it comes to a big home run guy, but he only hit 2 home runs. From there, things really went downhill. The power picked up slightly, but the batting average sank like the Titanic. The .209 he delivered in May would be the last time he would see his average above the .200 mark. Then there are the strikeouts. I never expected things could get worse. Currently, Reynolds holds a 34% strikeout percentage, and he’s probably lucky that it isn’t higher. It started out as 26.6% in April, increased to 31.6% for May and June and for the month of July it was 43.2%. For the month of August, Davis’s strikeout percentage is 41.1%. 34% is unacceptable, 41%…there are no words to describe this atrocity. So what’s behind the high strikeouts, bad average and diminished power numbers?
His ISO (Isolated Power) is .205, far below last year’s numbers but not that far from the .231 he posted in 2012. Davis sits in 8th place for average fly ball distance with 305.38 feet, that is right in line with last year and 8 feet further that he hit the ball in 2012. He has improved his BB% which currently sits at 11.6, which is up from the 5.6 walk percentage he had in 2012. Line Drive, Fly Ball and Ground ball percentage all are in line with what he has averaged the past 2 seasons. Pitchers are still offering the same number and assortment of pitches to Davis. The number of fastballs he sees has gone down slightly since last season, still more than he saw in 2012 but less than league average.
The only real changes were in his plate discipline. The percentage of swings he takes at pitches outside the strike zone has gone down for 2 straight years, from 39.8% in 2012 to 31.4% this year. The same trend is true for pitches inside the strike zone, from 77.6% in 2012 to 71.7% this year. Davis swings at 48% of the pitches thrown to him, down from 54.9% in 2012. His contact rate percentages are down as well, both inside and outside the strike zone. His overall contact percentage is 66.7, down from 71%. Overall, he is swinging at less, assuming he’s trying to be a little more selective.
So what does all this have to do with Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn? There are a lot of similarities between Dunn and Reynolds. Both these men have and still do have the same issues as Chris Davis. Adam Dunn has a career strikeout percentage of 28.4, although he’s been above 30% since 2010 and is close to that this season (29.4%). Mark Reynolds has a career strikeout percentage of 32, and that has been a few points lower in recent years. Dunn’s career BB% sits at 15.9% while Reynolds sits at 11.6%. Chris Davis is close to Reynolds when it comes to swing percentages while Dunn is more selective. When it comes to making contact, Davis is closer to Reynolds but has shown he can have a higher contact rate like Dunn. When it comes to batting average, Reynolds had two decent years out of his first three in the majors and then went downhill. Dunn was up and down with his average for the first 10 years of his career, and the last 4 he has looked like Chris Davis does now (except with power).
Despite the bad average years, Adam Dunn has been a solid supplier of home runs throughout the years. Mark Reynolds had 3 really big power seasons and quickly faded into an average player with a sub par batting average. The question is, which one of these men will Chris Davis emulate moving forward?
That’s a good question, and I wish I had a definitive answer for you. He has all the tools to be Adam Dunn lite, but he has many similarities to Mark Reynolds as well. Before the season started I was on board with the rest of you, but after looking closer at things, I’m not so sure about Davis. He’s a few years younger than Reynolds so there is a chance he could bounce back some over the next few years. Unfortunately, the days of Davis hitting over .260, I believe, are over. If you own Davis in a keeper league, I would find that one Davis believer and make a deal in the off-season. For those in redraft leagues, I wouldn’t touch Davis anywhere in the first 5 rounds at minimum in 2015, the risk is just too high. If you do draft him and he turns in a good season, cash in your chips, consider yourself a winner and find another game to play. He could still be a useful source of power for several more years, but how much are those long balls worth to you? It was a fun ride, but this is where I get off. Sorry Crash.