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Milwaukee Brewers: The Confounding Khris Davis

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I’m not going to lie, I was pretty high on Khris Davis coming into this season. The 27 year old had a pretty good first full season in the majors last year, posting a .244/.299/.457 line in 144 games while slugging 22 home runs. Davis was better than expected in left field (though his arm is still among the league’s worst), and showed flashes last season of the excellent patience he exhibited in his five minor league seasons, where he walked at a 12.7% rate. After finishing tied for 18th in the NL with a .457 slugging, 7th with a .214 isolated power mark last year and posting 2.1 Wins Above Replacement last season, several writers thought Khris Davis was primed for a breakout in 2015.

So, what have we seen from Khrush Davis to this point? Like the 9-20 Milwaukee Brewers as a whole, Davis’s season has been a disappointment through the first month. His offensive production has been almost non-existent, slashing just .209/.305/.308 on the season with only seven extra base hits, one of them being a home run. Khris has been especially cold over the last week, collecting just one hit in his last 19 plate appearances. An OPS+ of just 69 combined with some poor defense in the early going has led to Davis currently being rated at below replacement level.

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The biggest knock on Khris Davis prior to 2015 had been his relatively poor eye at the plate. He walked in just 5.8% of his plate appearances last season, and struck out nearly four times per every walk he took. If Davis could just improve his plate discipline, I thought, he could become this generations Corey Hart: a passable defender in the outfield capable of producing roughly a 120 OPS+ while hitting around the middle of the order. The problem is, Khris Davis HAS improved his patience by leaps and bounds this year.

So far in 2015, Davis has walked 12 times in 105 plate appearances, good enough for an 11.4% mark, or nearly double his rate from last year. Khrush has dropped his O-swing rate (swings at pitches outside the strike zone) by 5%, with his 25.5% mark the lowest total among qualified Brewers’ hitters by some 11%. As a whole, Davis has swung at pitches at a 3.5% lower rate than last season, and he has seen an average of 4.13 pitches per plate appearance so far in 2015, ranking 28th in the major leagues. Compare this to last season, when he only saw 3.76 pitches per plate appearance and ranked below league average (though amazingly still better than most of his Brewers’ teammates).

So why hasn’t Davis experienced the success that we all dreamed of? Well, for one, despite seeing more pitches and swinging at less pitches outside the zone, Davis’s swing-and-miss rate and strikeout rate have both jumped over last season. Fastballs, formerly Khrush’s bread-and-butter at the plate, have given him a lot of trouble this season. After rating 10.6 runs above average against fastballs from 2013-14, Davis has been well below average with a -1.8 wFB mark this season. According to Brooks Baseball, Davis’s 30% whiff rate on fastballs rates as “disastrously high.”

When Davis does make contact with the baseball, it’s been much poorer contact this season than in previous years, as well. His “hard hit” rate of just 28.6% is almost a 12% decrease from last season, leading to a drastic decline in his power numbers this year. Though his fly ball rate has remained steady at 39.7%, his HR/FB ratio has fallen 10.5% to just 4.0% this year, and he has seen his line drive rate decrease, as well. Davis seems to have also forgotten how to pull the ball, with just 28.6% of his batted balls coming to the pull side in 2015. Last season, Davis pulled the ball over 40% of the time, with 14 of his 22 home runs in the direction of left field. This season, just five of Davis’s 19 hits have been pulled, and his only home run has been to straight-away center field.

Khris Davis has been confounding this year. Once thought of as a power hitter who needed to improve his patience at the plate, this year Davis has become a more patient hitter but his power has been almost non-existent. The things that made Khrush dangerous at the plate: his propensity to crush the fastball, his excellent “hard-hit” rates, and his ability to pull the ball with authority, have all seemingly gone by the wayside in 2015. If Khris Davis can rediscover the power he’s demonstrated to this point in his career and combine it with his new-found plate discipline, he could be a big threat in the middle of the order for years to come. If he cannot, however, one has to wonder how long Davis’s career in the big leagues will last.

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