DRINK THE “CRUSH”

Back in the 70s and 80s, in an era where soft drink companies other than PepsiCo and Coca-Cola advertised on television, Orange Crush had themselves a popular little ad campaign. The gist of the these commercials as seen here was basically, a person asks someone, a close friend or relative, to hold onto their Orange Crush for them, emphasizing to them that they were not to drink said Orange Crush. Well, inevitably, in classic fashion, the person designated to hold, but not drink, the Orange Crush would, rather quickly, give into temptation and would, not just drink, but chug that Orange Crush down in one or two gulps. This, of course, understandably, was done much to the chagrin of the original owner of the soft drink who would return to their empty bottle with a look of ire and disappointment. Much like those folks that were unable to resist drinking the “Crush”, I may not be able to resist drinking drafting the “Crush”…Davis that is.

I know what you’re thinking, “no one calls him “the Crush.” Well, I know that, I was just trying to add a little flair, so just, ya know, go with it, alright? What’s that? That wasn’t what you were thinking at all? Oh, you were actually thinking Davis was sort of terrible last season and he is probably going to continue in a downward spiral. Yeah, I guess that would be considered a more rational train of thought given my premise. Fine, let’s address that, then.

You could say that Crush had a tough go of it at the plate in 2014. That is generally a safe thing to say about someone who hits below the Mendoza line, which is precisely what Davis did last season with a  .196 batting average. That average is rough to overcome in a standard 5 x 5 league, but Davis tried his best. Despite the low batting average, a statistic I do not hold too much stock in anyways (.196 is still atrocious, regardless), Davis did still manage to sock 26 homers, while driving in 72 runs and scoring 67 runs. Look at that without the batting average and that doesn’t seem so bad, right? Let’s momentarily veer away from the Chris Davis 2014 batting average debacle and put those other numbers into some further perspective.

Twenty-six home runs – do you know how many major league third basemen hit more home runs than that in 2014? Wrong! Two. Only two third basemen hit 26 or more home runs in 2014. Those 72 RBIs, that would have been good for 10th among third basemen in 2014 and the same can be said for the run total. This isn’t to say that those numbers will be the same in 2015, but who is to say that Chris Davis’ numbers will be the same? Oh man, wait, isn’t that the main point that I was supposed to be addressing? I knew I forgot something.

Other than average, Chris Davis’ numbers, in a proverbial vacuum, would have landed him in the top ten for third basemen. Now we will address the batting average. You don’t exactly need to be a baseball nerd to know that a .196 batting average is somewhat deplorable. Part of the large drop in batting average was due to a significant drop in his average on batted balls.  I don’t think the Aderrall amphetamine business has much to do with the decline and could be wrong, but this is about as much as I will do to address that.  Davis’ BABIP was a career low .242 in 2014, down from the .330s the previous two seasons. A significant amount of this decline in BABIP could be due to the significant increase in shifts that Davis is seeing. As you can see in this FanGraphs article by the talented Mike Podhorzer, Davis saw a shift over 80% of the time in 2014, coinciding with a steep decline in ground ball BABIP for Mr. Davis. As Podhorzer mentions, this is still something of conjecture. I would go ahead and classify it as educated conjecture, though. Now I don’t have the shift data by month, but an interesting thing to note is that Davis had a .256 average in September, thanks to a BABIP of .348 in that month. So, allow me to posture some educated conjecture of my own. Albeit, a tiny 39 at bat sample size, does this maybe point to Davis adjusting for the shift? After all, Davis did have his highest ground ball rate of the season from those 39 at bats. Again, the sample size is in no way large enough to really draw a conclusion, but in this case I am going to give Davis the benefit of the doubt.

Benefit of the doubt given, you still shouldn’t expect a spectacular average from Davis, but is .240-.250, reasonable? I think so, with a worst case scenario around .220s? Like I said, not spectacular, but you can more than likely work around that with the rest of your lineup and besides, batting average is not really why you draft a Chris Davis, is it? Generally guys nicknamed “Crush” are not the ones you draft for a boost in average, am I right? Most likely you are drafting him to crush pitches out of the park and Davis still did that somewhat well in 2014. As I mentioned earlier, Davis still managed 26 home runs in 2014, which is still darned decent. The issue though is that the 2014 number in the home run category for “Crush” was about half of what that number was for him in 2013. Let’s say you see a trailer for a movie that just blows you away – you know like the opposite of the trailer for the Adam Sandler vehicle Blended – and you can’t wait to see it, and then once you do… it’s just okay? Did you think it is was just okay because it was actually just okay or did you think it was just okay because you expected much better? This is sort of how I look at Chris Davis’ 2014.

Coming into last season, everyone was pumped to have him on their fantasy team (he didn’t escape the first round in my leagues), and chasing his 2013 numbers seemed like a safe enough bet. Fifty homers probably wasn’t in the cards, but 40 was something many could see happening. The thing with baseball is that often times it is hard to chase previous seasons’ numbers, especially when they are as ridiculous as what Davis put up in 2013. Right now, though, what do you expect from Davis? Most people are betting on an improvement over 2014, but are we expecting 2013 numbers to return? Probably not. Davis had a slight dip in fly ball rate in 2014 and while a dip also happened with his HR/FB rate, the digit in that column of his stat sheet was still over 20%. To put that into perspective, only Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton had a higher rate in that category last season. Davis’ career HR/FB rate is now at 22.5%, so 20% or better should still be in the cards. The dip in HR/FB rate from 2013-2014 was minimal and was not for lack of fly ball distance. Davis’ average fly ball distance was still around 300 feet. That’s good. So, I feel fairly confident that the home runs will still be there in 2015.

Steamer over at FanGraphs projects 30 homers, 71 runs and 79 RBIs with a slash of .242/.326/.477 for Davis and quite frankly I think that I agree. I actually think that he could get the RBI totals in the 80s and if that stat line comes to fruition, you are probably talking about a top five third baseman. Based on the ADP data from fantasypros Davis is currently the 11th third baseman going off the board, so value can be found here. Davis’ ADP is improving, so the “value” is somewhat decreasing, but I think you can sill land him in the 6th or 7th round and his end of season should still be better than that. I say reach for the potential and drink the “Crush” in 2015.

Will Emerson

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Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.