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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.



Bourn Again Hitter

Michael Bourn, recently acquired by the Atlanta Braves from the Houston Astros, is posting the best numbers of his career in 2011.  His BA, OBP and slugging percentage all stand as best single season marks for the outfielder.  Bourn's improved strike zone judgement stands as one reason for his progress:

Michael Bourn swing rate, 2008-2010.Michael used to chase pitches inside quite often.  He stopped doing that in 2011.

Michael Bourn swing rate, 2011.He's improved his coverage of the strike zone.  He still chases a lot of pitches, 67% this season, but down from 76% the previous three years.  His better pitch selection is leading to better results when he puts the ball in play, however:

Michael Bourn, in play batting average, 2008-2010.He's hammering the low, inside quadrant of the strike zone this year:

Michael Bourn, in play batting average, 2011.With Michael no longer fishing at pitches off the plate inside, pitchers are forced over the plate more.  That's leading to a hits driven rise in all three of his averages.


Koji Uehara good pick up for the Rangers

WWhen you look at the strong desire by so many teams for set-up men coming out the bullpen, you have to think that the Rangers made a really good deal acquiring Koji Uehara from the Baltimore Orioles.

Uehara is a 36-year old righty who is having a superior season out of the pen. In 43 appearances he has thrown 47 innings with an ERA of 1.72 and a microscopic WHIP of 0.702. He has recorded 13 holds, but he has allowed six homers. His control is outstanding, he has walked only eight while striking out 62 batters (11.9 per 9 innings), a 7.75 strikeout to walk ratio.

Let's take a look...

Uehara has faced 174 batters this seasonOverall batters are hitting just .152 against Koji. Righties are only hitting .171, but what makes Uehara particularly valuable is that lefties are hitting only .136.

Uehara against lefties

Koji pounds the outside against leftiesUehara has faced 96 lefties, allowed a mere 12 hits including two doubles and three homers. He has walked eight and whiffed an amazing 34. For the most part, batters have not been able to go to the opposite field against Uehara, in spite of the predominance of outside zone pitches. Of the 12 hits allowed only two have been to left: a double by Matt Stairs and an infield single by Roger Bernadina, both of the Nationals. Just 18 outs have been record to the left of second base and centerfield.

Uehara with runners on base

Koji has pitched with 57 runners on baseWhile Uehara has allowed 4-of-10 inherited runners to score, the data is somewhat misleading. All four runs scored as a result of a pair of two-run homers from Kevin Youkilis (4/27) and Johnny Damon (5/6). With runners on base, batters are 6-for-52 with 3 walks and 20 strikeouts. He has not given up an extra-base hit with a runner on base since Damon in early May, covering 32 appearances. Overall, batters are hitting .115, righties hitting .227, lefties .033. Lefties are 1-for-30 with runners on base against him and that's the Damon homer. 

As Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News points out:

"The Rangers will, in all likelihood, control Uehara, 36, for 2012. He has a vesting option in his contract that kicks in at 55 appearances. He is currently at 43. The vesting option is for $4 million. The Rangers will also receive "significant" cash from Baltimore."

If Uehara can come close to the same success with Texas as he has with the Orioles, the deal sending to Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to Baltimore, may prove to be both a bridge to the closer and a bridge back to the World Series.