Khris Davis burst on to the scene in a big way in Spring Training of 2013. An unheralded prospect as a 7th round pick in 2009, he smashed six home runs in just 61 at bats, slugging his way to a spot on the Brewers bench to open the season. After struggling in irregular playing time, Davis finally caught fire when he took over in left field following Ryan Braun‘s suspension. He ended the year with a .279/.353/.596 line in 153 plate appearances, slugging 11 home runs with a ridiculous .316 isolated power mark. This prompted the Brewers to trade Nori Aoki and move Braun to right field in order to clear a starting spot for “Khrush” in 2014.
In his first full season as a starter, Davis put up a solid campaign across the board. He slashed .244/.299/.457 in 549 plate appearances, slugging 22 home runs. His marks of 107 wRC+ and 107 OPS+ were both solidly above league average. Davis played much stronger defense than expected, posting the best range factor per game and second best total zone runs among NL left fielders, according to Baseball Reference. He was rated at 2.1 wins above replacement, more valuable to the Brewers than a player like Matt Kemp (1.1 WAR in 2014) was last season.
Davis was the victim of some bad luck last season, posting a very low .275 BABIP (league average was .300 in 2014). His mark in 2013 was a much more palatable .294 and his career mark in the minors was an astronomical .338, so he should be due for an improvement towards the mean in 2015. His 5.8% walk rate, while very low by itself, was skewed by marks of 1.0% in the season’s first month (when he was likely pressing to prove he belonged) and 2.9% in the season’s final month (when everyone else struggled). In between, his marks were between 7.1% and 9.9%, which are much more in line with his career walk rate of over 12% in the minor leagues. More hits should fall this year for Davis, and he should be able to get on base at a much better rate.
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The Brewers also have Gerardo Parra on the roster, a left handed hitter who some have conjectured could be in a sort of soft platoon with Davis in 2015. Parra is making close to $6.3 mil this year in his final season of team control, and provides a sterling defensive reputation as a former Gold Glove winner. I believe it would be a big mistake to take away a significant amount of at-bats from Davis, however. Davis is a strong breakout candidate based on his 2014 numbers, while Parra’s OPS has declined each of the past four seasons and Parra was actually given a negative defensive WAR value in 2014. Since Davis doesn’t suffer a significant platoon split (wRC+ of 106 vs RHP, 111 vs LHP in 2014), there is no need to shield him against right handed pitchers by sticking him in a platoon. At 27 with just over a year of service time, Davis should be entering his physical prime and we can expect him to continue to improve over the next few seasons.
The only significant detriment I can see to Khris Davis having a big 2015 would be his struggles against the changeup. He was given a -5.0 wCH (weighted changeup runs above average) by Fangraphs in 2014, one of the worst marks of any Major League starters. However, Davis managed a 1.5 wCH in 2013, leaving me optimistic that he will be able to adjust and perform much better against the pitch in 2015. Davis was given 3.7 weighted fastball, 6.0 weighted slider, and 4.6 weighted cutter in 2014, showing that he can rake against most other pitches.
In 2015, I’m predicting:
140 G 560 PA 510 AB 64 R 139 H 39 2B 1 3B 26 HR 81 RBI 4 SB 2 CS .273 BA .338 OBP .506 SLG 42 BB 120 K
As you can glean from my predictions, I’m pretty high on Khris Davis. We’ll rate Davis as a solid defender in left field based on his performance last season, and we’ll say he’s a below average baserunner given his -0.5 career baserunning runs above average (per Fangraphs). Using last year’s ML average .750 OPS, our simple WAR calculator rates Davis at 2.93 wins above replacement, an improvement of nearly a win over last season.
Khris Davis is primed for a breakout season. He suffered from poor luck and a couple bad months offensively in his first full season as a starter, but in between he showed the strong plate discipline and stellar power that brought him to the Major Leagues in the first place. If Davis can stave off Gerardo Parra and swing a little better against changeups, he should make a huge difference in the Brewers lineup for 2015 with his improved production. Davis should become power threat the Brewers have sorely lacked in the lower third of the lineup, and will provide a huge offensive boost as the Brewers drive on towards the playoff in the 2015 Championship Season.