Khris Davis

Has Khris Davis Progressed In 2015?

For the Brewers this season, Khris Davis has actually done a lot to carry the offense. He has followed up his 2014 campaign, in which he compiled a .283 TAv over 549-plate appearances, with a .273 TAv thus far in 254 opportunities, supplying his fair share of the team’s 3.92 runs per game. His offense may have declined a bit from last year, but Davis’s bat still holds its own. After all, a .260 TAv is generally considered league-average.

Does something in the previous paragraph seem incorrect?

By more conventional measures, Davis has improved from 2014 to 2015. His average has stagnated in the low .240s, but his on-base percentage has jumped from a sickly .299 to a more respectable .327. Importantly, he has not sacrificed power to make fewer outs, either. His slugging percentage has increased from .457 to .462. It all adds up to a .789 OPS, .342 wOBA, and 113 wRC+, each of which represents an upgrade from 2014. These metrics spit in the face of TAv and would suggest that Davis has done even more for Milwaukee than previously thought.

Let’s focus on wRC+, which (like TAv) attempts to adjust for the park and league context. If we run a linear regression of the 146 qualified batters in 2014, we get this equation for an expected TAv:

xTAv = .00118 * (wRC+) + .14668

By this, Davis’s 113 wRC+ translates to a theoretical .272 TAv — eleven points lower than his actual mark. Only eight other qualifiers had a double-digit disparity:

NAME wRC+ TAv xTAv Difference
Chase Utley 106 .288 .272 .016
Chris Davis 95 .271 .259 .012
Coco Crisp 103 .280 .268 .012
Jason Heyward 110 .288 .277 .011
Khris Davis 106 .283 .272 .011
Domonic Brown 75 .246 .235 .011
Starling Marte 133 .315 .304 .011
Jean Segura 66 .235 .225 .010
Evan Longoria 105 .281 .271 .010

Davis hasn’t qualified for the batting title in 2015, thanks to the second-craziest injury of the Brewers’ season (after Jonathan Lucroy’s broken toe on a foul tip). We’ll thus lower the bar for our 2015 regression to 250 plate appearances, giving us a 246-man sample and the following, almost analogous formula:

xTAv = .00119 * (wRC+) + .14652

Plugging Davis’s current 113 wRC+ in here yields an expected TAv of .280, which comes in seven points higher than his actual figure. Granted, the distance between the two doesn’t put Davis in particularly select company (49 players have a larger difference), but this still upends what occurred last year. Whereas wRC+ underestimated Davis’s 2014 talent, it appears to have overestimated his 2015 talent.

What’s behind this?

TAv departs from other batting statistics in its reliance on situational performance. This isn’t reducible to clutch hitting; rather, it takes into account that, in some circumstances, certain plays matter more than others. When the leadoff batter hits a double, for example, a groundout to second will probably advance him to third, while a groundout to short will probably keep him in his place. Productive outs such as these can help a team score runs, making the player who creates them more valuable.

Baseball-Reference tracks these unusual events. Players who advance or knock in a runner by making an out receive the appropriate credit for doing so. The resulting rate statistic, Productive Out Rate, saw Davis excel in 2014 and has seen him tumble back to mediocrity in 2015. In the former year, he converted 17 of his 46 chances, for a 37 percent rate. He’s only done so in six of his 28 tries — a 21 percent clip — during 2015. (An average hitter will posts a mark around 30 percent.)

The decline doesn’t stop there. In terms of overall capacity to advance runners, Davis has fallen off the pace as well.

Year <2,3B Scr % 0,2B Adv %
2014 27 17 63% 24 15 63%
2015 12 5 42% 13 5 38%
MLB Averages 51% 55%

With a runner on third and less than two outs, Davis used to routinely bring them around. That has changed for the worse, as has his ability to move ahead a runner on second with no outs.

Overall, Davis has hit better with runners on base this year. He owns an .843 OPS in those situations, compared to a .748 OPS otherwise. That differs from last season, when his .787 bases-empty OPS brought with it a .717 figure with men on. One thing has become worse, though. He has gone down on strikes much more often:

Year BE K% MoB K%
2014 23.9% 20.2%
2015 26.5% 28.0%

His overall uptick in strikeout rate would already harm him, since TAv docks hitters for failing to put the ball in play. The fact that it’s spiked in the more important situations only makes matter worse. When the team needs Davis to help push a runner closer to scoring, he hasn’t fulfilled that responsibility.

If forced to identify a cause for this, I’d suggest that the club’s poor play has caused Davis to press at the plate. Under more pressure to produce, Davis may have expanded the zone throughout 2015, and pitchers may be taking advantage of that. Were that behind this, it would hopefully dissipate once the team’s fortunes turn around. However, the strikeout rate will likely remain high; Davis has swung more overall and made less contact, a combination that generally leads to punchouts.

Other factors have a hand in this. With regards to outs created, Davis has struggled in another way. He’s grounded into more double plays. As a percentage of opportunities, his double-play rate has gone from 11.9 percent in 2014 to 15.2 percent in 2015. The 27-year-old has put the ball on the ground to the same extent (39.7 percent of the time) in both years, so he seemingly hasn’t shifted his batted-ball distribution to impact this. His teammates have also given him roughly the same number of opportunities. This will likely regress to last year’s level going forward, although what’s happened so far won’t go away.

As mentioned above, wRC+ tries to take the hitter’s park into account; however, it doesn’t use a custom park factor tailored to his schedule, instead implementing a general metric based on his home field. Therefore, it hasn’t changed for Davis — he’s had a park factor of 104 in both 2014 and 2015. By contrast, TAv recognizes that uneven playing time and scheduling will favor some and penalize others. The former has been the case for Davis, who has a park factor of 100 for 2014 and 102 for 2015, indicating that he’s seen more action in hitters’ parks this year. That could help inflate his numbers, an effect that TAv would neutralize. Should Davis continue to see sporadic action at the plate, this one could go in either direction. With that said, the Brewers reside in something of a bandbox, so it’s safer to bet on his park factor staying high.

Lastly, one of the more quirky means of helping one’s team — reaching on an error — has vanished for Davis in 2015. He managed to rack up eight of those last year, but he has not netted one so far this season. Like the double plays, though, this likely has come as the result of random fluctuation. In the final month-and-a-half of the season, he should make it to first safely after a fielder messes up.

In 2014, several elements of his play made Davis an underrated offensive player. Many of those have failed to recur in 2015, and it’s unclear whether that will continue to be the case. Whatever happens, the Brewers will still possess one of the more intriguing young hitters in baseball, a guy who can help them pump out runs in multiple ways. Davis may have slightly declined with the stick this year, but his future remains bright.

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