Here is the combined box score for Chris Davis against the Yankees from the just completed series: AVG .546, 3 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI. His rise to effectiveness last year and league dominance this year is rare, but not unheard of. Davis had almost 1,000 at-bats with the Texas Rangers, producing a .248 AVG and a .755 OPS. However, his last two years in the Texas heat were his worst. He's always had big league power, but the improvement in the rest of his hitting abilities is significant. I couldn't help but notice the inverse trajectory of his underlying performance with another former Texas first baseman: Mark Teixeira.
The simple answer to why Davis has gone from quad-A label to American League stud, is that he has learned to become more disciplined at the plate. It sounds so easy doesn't it? That's why I'm here and he's there, but it is the correct answer. Here's a quick view of the simplest way I like to express this. We have a lot more analytical toys to play with these days thanks to things like Pitchfx, but in the end it often comes down to these two elements: walks and strikeouts.
|Chris Davis||Age||BB||K||EYE (BB/K)||AVG||BABIP||OPS|
Davis has always had a fairly high BABIP for a guy with his profile. So it’s safe to say that he’s pretty good at squaring the ball up when he makes contact. His plate discipline, however, has been his trouble spot for a long time. There’s a correlation here between his EYE readings and his batting average. Excluding that small sample 2010 series, there has been a positive trend in his EYE the last couple of years. It’s fair to note that they also occur during his likely peak period by age.
Mark Teixeira is a really good baseball player. I don’t like to pick on him, but I thought I’d just get that out of the way, considering I’ve already written an article arguing for him to bunt to defeat the shift. He’s also an older player than Davis who hasn’t even been able to get on the field yet this year. However, the trends in his game when compared to Davis are interesting and informative.
|Mark Teixeira||Age||BB||K||EYE (BB/K)||AVG||BABIP||OPS|
First thing you should notice is Teixeira has been consistently better than Davis for a long time. He also happened to hit a peak in his EYE reading near the same age that Davis is currently. However, his BABIP has generally been lower, and has taken a step down due to the preponderance of the shift in recent years. Clearly, 2008 was an outlier year for Teixeira and his EYE reading. The trend the last few years, though, is concerning. Remember, this reading is really about plate discipline. You hope that once the skill is learned at the highest level it is maintained, essentially intact, from there forward. Hopefully, last year was just a dip down like his 2007 season. Coupled with the defensive shifts, however, it might be suggesting he's pressing more at the plate. He still produced an .800 OPS last year, so there's no cause to predict the demise of Teixeira, but I'm still concerned with this trend in his EYE. I would hope that if he isn't willing to fight the shift, then at least he focuses more on regaining some of his plate discipline that he lost last year.
There’s a reason why teams should always take a chance on power. Whether you are talking about hitters or pitchers, you simply can't teach the ability to generate power. It's something these athletes either have or don't. You can help them hone their skills, but you can't expect a pitching coach to turn a utility infielder into a .900 OPS machine. You also don't expect much more from a player after they've had 1,000 trips to the plate. The die is usually cast, but guys with power are the exception. Davis probably isn't going to end this season with a .329 AVG. It will be interesting to see if he can maintain his improved EYE going forward, though. It took nearly 1,000 innings pitched before Randy Johnson became a great pitcher. That's when his K/BB ratio broke north of two. People might like to make fun of Sabermetrics and Moneyball with their focus on walks, but there's a very good reason for paying attention. It sets up a lot more for the hitter than just getting to first base. The improvement for Davis has changed his label, and possibly a large part of his team's fortune.
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