Why All the Hate for Brewers Outfielder Khris Davis?
What if I told you that the Brewers once drafted a player 226th overall, and he developed into an everyday player in the outfield? What if to this point in his career, that player has been worth more rWAR than 37 of the 48 players chosen in Round 1 in that same draft? You’d be pretty happy the Brewers hit on a such a productive, lower round draft pick, right? Now what if I told you that player was Khris Davis?
It feels like no one in Milwaukee has to deal with anything like the collective vitriol that is thrown Khris Davis’ way. “My sister can throw better than KD,” is probably the most common insult, in addition to the host of people who simply shout “he sucks” or “he’s just an easily replaceable guy.” I’ve been told by a local sportstalk host to “hang on to my numbers” because Khris Davis just isn’t very good, and someone has suggested to me before that the team should “just cut him.”
The amount of Khris Davis hate there is out there is confounding to me, so let me run through some so-called “numbers” and provide a little context for Khrush. Davis got off to a slow start this season and missed some time with injury, but since Gerardo Parra was traded and Davis was inserted back into the lineup everyday, he’s absolutely raked. In 112 games this season, Davis is now hitting a robust .243/.320/.489 with 23 home runs. While some may scoff at his low batting average, KD’s outstanding discipline at the plate have more than made up for it. He walks at a 10.2% clip, nearly double his total last season and well above the league average of 7.6%, and his OBP of .320 is above league average as well. He does strike out his share, but that’s more an extension of his disciplined approach than and ability to work deep into the count than anything else. We know Davis’ true calling-card is his right handed power, and he hasn’t disappointed this year with an ISO of .246, nearly 100 points better than league average. In terms of OPS+, he’s 17% better than average offensively, while his 115 wRC+ is 19% better than the league average mark of 96 this season.
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When compared to his peers in left field, it’s easy to see why Davis is a starting caliber player. His wOBA of .347 ranks seventh among the 35 left fielders with a minimum of 350 PA, ahead of players like Justin Upton and Brett Gardner. He has the third best slugging percentage mark at .489, while his Isolated Power is ranked number one. His OPS of .809 also ranks seventh, his walk rate ranks eighth, and his wRC+ mark ranks 11th. Khrush Davis has hit the third most home runs among left fielders this season and is tied for 17th in the National League with his 23 long balls, despite missing more than a month of the season with injury. His 1.5 WARP would likely be much higher as well if he hadn’t had to sit out more than 30 games. All this while drawing a league minimum salary!
Then there’s Khris Davis’ much-maligned defensive prowess, which is actually a big misconception. While folks tend to equate Davis’ lack of arm strength with being a poor defender, that couldn’t be further from the case. Nicholas Zettel of Disciples of Uecker wrote a fantastic piece yesterday detailing Davis’ throwing in left field, and in it he pointed out, among other things, that only one team of the 30 in Major League Baseball has run on his arm in left more than they have against any average left fielder. Khris’ below average arm hasn’t hurt the Brewers near as much as some people want to think, and his defense overall has been a plus for the Brewers. According to Baseball Prospectus’ “Fielding Runs Above Average,” Davis is ranked as the seventh best defensive left fielder in the league this year (min 350 PA), rating him at 2.3 runs above average. In 2014, only Alex Gordon posted a higher FRAA in left field than Khris Davis’ 6.6 runs above average. Davis is a good athlete in the outfield and runs clean routes, and he uses his solid speed to track down and make plenty of tough catches. He might not be a Gold Glove player in left, but Khrush certainly helps the team with his defense more than he hurts it.
For the last place Milwaukee Brewers and their fanbase, 2015 has been a brutal season. That’s why it is even more confusing to me why people have chosen to latch their anger and hatred on a ballplayer who is clearly pretty good overall. Khris Davis has beat expectations throughout his entire career. He developed from a middle-round draft pick to unheralded prospect to legitimate everyday starter and above average contributor in the big leagues, yet he can’t seem to get nearly as much recognition and celebration as he deserves even amidst all the failure around him. While the amount of outfield depth the Brewers have in the minor leagues means Davis probably won’t be the long-term left fielder in Milwaukee, he would certainly be a hot commodity around the league if new GM David Stearns makes him available on the trade market this winter. When you combine his skill set with the fact that he’s under club control for another four seasons, the Brewers should be able to command, and receive, an excellent return.
The immortal words of the late Raiders owner Al Davis sum it up best: “Khris Davis is a great player, get over it!”