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« Derrek Lee: Dangerous Inside, But Elsewhere.. | Main | Bourn Again Hitter »

Can Chris Davis Connect in Baltimore?

Over the past four seasons, Chris Davis has shuttled back and forth between the Pacific Coast League and Arlington, never establishing himself as a full-time major league starter. Davis' frustration boiled over this spring when he told's Tim McMahon, "I’ve done everything the Rangers have asked me to do. I’ve been a good sport about it. I’ve had a smile on my face and a good attitude about it. When it comes down to it, the fair thing to do is to give me a shot either here or somewhere else."

Over the weekend, Davis got his wish. Texas traded the lefty-swinging slugger and right-hander Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara. Now that Derrek Lee is a Pirate, Davis (who also has experience at third base and in the outfield) is expected to take over at first base for the O's. The 25-year-old will look to prove that he's more than a minor league masher whose swing-happy, low contact game doesn't translate to the highest level.

In nearly 1,000 career plate appearances at Triple-A, Davis has pulverized pitchers for a .337 average, a .397 on-base percentage and a .609 slugging percentage. Granted, the Pacific Coast League is a fantastic hitter's environment (the league average line since 2008 is .278/.348/.436), but Davis' power production has been off the charts.

In the majors, however, Davis has hit like a Mike Jacobs clone. He's got a .249/.299/.453 line in 957 plate appearances, which is nine percent below average once adjustments for park and league factors are made.

When Davis makes contact, he does plenty of damage. In particular, he creams low-and-in and high-and-away pitches:

 Davis' in-play slugging percentage, 2008-2011

His career Isolated Power (slugging minus batting average) in the majors is .205, while the MLB average has ranged from .140 to .155 in recent years. But the key part of the above paragraph is, "when he makes contact." Sadly, that hasn't been very often:

 Davis' contact rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

Davis has missed 35 percent of the pitches that he has swung at in the majors, and he has an especially hard time against high pitches (42 percent miss rate). The 2008-2011 league average miss rate, by contrast, is slightly over 19 percent. It's no surprise, then, that Davis has struck out in 32 percent of his plate appearances.

Making matters worse, Davis' strike zone is Texas-sized. Look at his swing rate by pitch location, compared to the league average:

 Davis' swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

League average swing rate by pitch location, 2008-2011

Davis has chased 35 percent of pitches thrown out of the strike zone from 2008-2011, compared to the 27 percent league average. On a related note, he has drawn a walk in less than seven percent of his plate appearances.

The odds of Davis becoming an offensive force with his current skill set are slim. Baseball-Reference's list of hitters most similar to Davis includes marginal names like Mike Simms, Garrett Jones and Chris Richard. Similarity Scores aren't destiny, of course, but Davis needs to make more contact and get on base to avoid the same sort of career path.


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