Oakland Athletics’ teammates congratulate designated hitter Khris Davis, center, after Davis hits a … [+]
Khris Davis, designated hitter for the Oakland A’s, used to be eerily consistent. Every season from 2016 to 2018, he hit 42-44 home runs, and batted exactly .247 those years and in 2015. That run of four years in a row with the exact same batting average was the most astounding streak in baseball until it ended last season, as Davis sputtered to a .220 average and 23 home runs. It’s the latter figure that is most worrying. In a season when scrappy middle infielders were managing 23 home runs, Davis, who is paid for little else, saw his standard output cut nearly in half.
With two years and $33.5 million remaining on his contract, the A’s would love to know which Davis they will get in 2020. Looking at his raw contact stats, it’s clear Davis wasn’t the same guy. He lost over two miles per hour on his average exit velocity, and had his lowest launch angle in three years. That led to his barrel rate dropping from over 17%, among the best in baseball from 2016-2018, down to a more pedestrian 10%. Davis just turned 32, so while he’s entering middle age for a ballplayer, we shouldn’t expect him to suddenly lose half his value as a hitter.
The stat wRC+, which measures how much better than league average a player is on offense, puts the picture in stark relief. In 2015, Davis had a wRC+ of 122, meaning he provided offense 22% better than an average pitcher. His next four seasons: 122, 130, 136, 81. One of these things is not like the other.
Throughout the season, A’s manager Bob Melvin insisted that they simply needed to get Davis going, and that there wasn’t an underlying health issue. He backed that up with his lineups, giving Davis only the occasional day off. However, the stat line suggests a different narrative. Of Davis’ 23 home runs, 10 came in March and April, putting him just above his standard pace. He knocked two more in May before going on the injured list for a short stint at the end of the month.
When he returned at the beginning of June, he was a different guy. His bat went quiet. While the rest of the league was watching their long flies get a little extra wind behind them and sail over the fence, Davis went from June 19th to July 28th without a longball. That’s a stretch 0f 117 plate appearances, in which Davis only managed 17 singles, a pair of doubles and 11 walks as a fulltime DH. For comparison, in his first 115 PAs of the season, he managed 23 hits and ten of them left the park. Home runs can appear in bunches that look like hot or cold streaks but aren’t distinguishable from random chance distribution. This is clearly not random chance.
While his performance was somewhat mixed against fastballs, he was especially weak against non-fastballs. Breaking balls especially ate him up — he batted .195 against them with a .322 slugging percentage.
The question of whether Davis can bounce back hinges on how much he was bothered by injury in 2019 and whether he will be healthy for 2020. Normal Khris Davis is a force in the middle of the A’s lineup. Last year Khris Davis, frankly, does not deserve a roster spot on any team. Davis does not play defense unless he absolutely has to. He doesn’t run fast, and doesn’t hit for a high batting average. The reason that he has the biggest contract of any Oakland A is that he hits home runs better than nearly anyone else in the game. To challenge the Houston Astros for the division, the A’s could really use their middle-of-the-order bat to come back at full strength.