I listen to a lot of sports talk radio throughout my workday, and it seems to me that Khris Davis has become one of the most derisive figures in Milwaukee sports today. Since breaking into the majors in 2013, Davis has posted a solidly above average batting line of .251/.311/.487 line with 33 home runs in 702 plate appearances, good enough for an OPS+ of 117. Many fans and even several radio personalities are not sold on Davis, however.
Clamoring for a pursuit of the likes of the high priced Matt Kemp or Justin Upton rang across my airwaves early in the offseason, though thankfully Milwaukee did not involve themselves with either two players. As the dust settled from those two players’ eventual trades, the Brewers were settling on a contract with Gerardo Parra, giving the outfielder a $6.2375 mil deal in his final year of arbitration. Since the Brewers did not add a big name to their outfield this offseason, the focus of the misinformed sports chatter has shifted to platooning Parra, a left handed hitter, with Davis (a righty) in left field. “HOW CAN WE KEEP A GUY GETTING PAID THAT MUCH ON THE BENCH?!” they scream. The Brewers, however, would be making a big mistake in taking at bats away from Khris Davis in favor of Gerardo Parra in 2015.
Though Davis’s .244/.299/.457 batting line may not have met the expectations of many around Milwaukee last year, Davis still posted an OPS that was seven percent better than league average. “Khrush” slugged 22 home runs, and his isolated power mark of .214 ranked 15th in all of baseball last year. His defense was much better than previously expected, as well. Khris managed a 3.1 UZR and 5 defensive runs saved, and was ranked 6th defensively among qualified left fielders by Fangraphs last season. Though he may not win a Gold Glove anytime soon, Davis can at least be serviceable in left field. All told, Davis was worth 2.1 wins above replacement last season (an entire win better than Matt Kemp).
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There is plenty of reason for optimism with Khrush, as well. While Davis managed only a 5.8% walk rate last year, his total was skewed by an awful April (1.0% BB rate) and a slumping September (2.9% BB rate). In between, Davis walked at rates of 7.2%, 7.1%, 7.1%, and 9.9%. Khris posted a 7.2% walk rate in the majors in 2013, and has a stellar 12.7% walk rate in his 1705 minor league plate appearances. ZiPS projects Davis to make a healthy jump to a 7.5% walk rate this season, which should boost Davis’ OBP closer to league average (.310 last season).
Davis’ low .244 batting average last season was also skewed by a .273 batting average on balls in play mark, which was 27 points below league average. Davis increased his line drive percentage in 2014, yet still saw his BABIP plummet from his .293 mark in 2013, meaning there was probably a lot of bad luck involved. If Khris can see a boost in line with his ZiPS projection of a .294 BABIP, we could see a marked improvement from an already productive offensive player. Davis is also immune to a platoon split, posting a .782 OPS and 115 wRC+ against righties and an .839 OPS and 128 wRC+ against lefties in his career.
Gerardo Parra, on the other hand, is a player that has been on an offensive decline over the past several seasons. After posting his only above average offensive campaign in 2011 (.784 OPS, 106 wRC+, 113 OPS+), Parra has seen his OPS fall each season since then, bottoming out at a career low .677 in 574 plate appearances last season. Parra has seen his walk rate fall each season since 2011, as well. Parra, a two time Gold Glove winner, even took a step back defensively last season, with his -1 DRS and -0.2 UZR/150 his lowest totals since his rookie season in 2009. All in all, Parra was valued below replacement level in 2014.
If we take a look at Gerardo Parra’s career splits, we should finally be able to put the argument to bed. Parra has put up a .758 career OPS against righties, and like most lefties, has struggled against same hand pitching to the tune of a .587 OPS. Parra, despite being a left handed hitter, posted an OPS against right handed pitchers that was 45 points lower than Davis’ in 2014, so there is literally no reason why Khris should be riding the pine against righties in 2015.
Despite a lack of faith from the Milwaukee fanbase, Khris Davis should be the unquestioned starter in left field for the Brewers in 2015. He is already an above average offensive player, and should improve on his solid offensive numbers this season. Davis hits both right handed pitching and left handed pitching better than Gerardo Parra has over his career, making a platoon seem like a foolish proposition for 2015. Despite his high salary and left handed swing, Parra’s position should remain as the fourth outfielder, someone with a solid defensive reputation who can be a replacement player late in games and provide decent offense off the bench. Khris Davis, meanwhile, is the right man to play left field everyday for the Brewers in 2015.