A League of Chris Davis’ Own

In the past I’ve written on a handful of occasions about how sometimes I like to just get lost playing with Barry Bonds‘ statistics. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate Bonds’ performances at the time — it’s that I think it can take years to appreciate what he did fully. One could make it his life’s pursuit to arrive at a true understanding and appreciation of Bonds’ statistical record. There were good players, and there were great players, and then there was Barry Bonds, who occupied his own level. Sure, maybe he only got up there with the help of a biochemical jetpack, but lots of people were using the machinery and couldn’t get far off the ground. If you just want to look at numbers, Bonds’ are the best to look at, because they’re straight-up absurd.

Given what Bonds accomplished, then, one has to be careful not to be too casual about drawing comparisons. There is no more flattering offensive comp, so few will ever exceed the threshold of acceptability. But Chris Davis is, if nothing else, giving it his best try. What follows is a comparison between Davis and Bonds, and the frightening thing is I don’t think it’s a stretch. This isn’t a thing one notes lightly.

Generally, the top of any leaderboard will feature a competition between a handful of players. Players who are the best at that particular skill. For example, right now, Carlos Gomez has nine triples. But Jean Segura and Starling Marte have eight triples, and Jacoby Ellsbury and Denard Span have seven. These are some of baseball’s premier triples-hitters, and while they’re all probably great at hitting triples, they’re not exceptionally great. They’re similarly great, which I don’t mean as a slight; it’s just the reality.

It’s hard to be similarly great at something. Manny Machado and Nolan Arenado are similarly great defensive third basemen. They’re both incredible. Of course, it’s harder still to be exceptionally great at something, because this is a league of the world’s best baseball players. You have to have standout skills to be eligible for participation in the first place. Major League Baseball is selective for the best. The players who’re great at something are the best of the best. The players who’re exceptionally great are the best of the best of the best, and this is where we can find Chris Davis, at least in one category.

Isolated slugging is a simple statistic, because its two components — slugging percentage and batting average — are simple statistics. ISO is just SLG – BA, and right now, Chris Davis leads baseball at .396. The league average is .148. Among qualified players, Carlos Gonzalez is in second at .308, and Miguel Cabrera is in third at .307. In other words, Davis presently has a lead of 88 points.

For the sake of comparison, last year Josh Hamilton finished as the league leader, at .292. He beat Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion by 15 points. The year before, Jose Bautista was the league leader, at .306. He beat Curtis Granderson by 16 points. Usually, the top of the ISO leaderboard is competitive between elite-level sluggers, but right now Davis is by himself. For Davis’ ISO to drop from .396 to .308, he’d have to go hitless in his next 85 at-bats. Not only is Davis, right now, baseball’s best power hitter — it isn’t even arguable.

I looked at the window between 1950-2013, and identified the biggest single-season differences between first and second place in ISO among qualified hitters. Understanding that 2013 is only half over, here’s the top ten:

Season Player ISO Lead
2001 Barry Bonds 0.536 0.127
1998 Mark McGwire 0.454 0.115
2004 Barry Bonds 0.450 0.109
2013 Chris Davis 0.396 0.088
1996 Mark McGwire 0.418 0.078
1981 Mike Schmidt 0.328 0.077
1989 Kevin Mitchell 0.344 0.073
1999 Mark McGwire 0.418 0.071
1973 Willie Stargell 0.347 0.071
1995 Albert Belle 0.374 0.070

Davis’ 88-point lead would rank fourth-biggest in what one might consider recent baseball history. Just ahead of him is Barry Bonds, and just behind him is Mark McGwire. McGwire was an exceptional player before Bonds was an exceptional player in the same category, and now Davis is wedging himself in, as a less-recognizable but equally-effective slugger of baseballs. Right now, in terms of isolated slugging, Chris Davis is the best of the best of the best.

He’s so consistently doing so much good for the Orioles that Orioles relievers have to pay vigilant attention, lest they be broken:

davishrbullpen

Because the season’s half over, and not all the way over, we have to consider what could happen from this point forward. When dealing with rate statistics, it doesn’t make sense to say a guy is on pace for X — he’ll be on pace for the same rate he has today. Instead of figuring out what a guy’s on pace for, it’s smarter to examine the projections. Here, we have both ZiPS and Steamer projections of end-of-season numbers. ZiPS thinks Davis will end up with a 44-point ISO lead over Cabrera. Steamer thinks the difference will be 51 points. Big gaps, both of them, but smaller gaps. It’s perfectly reasonable of the systems, because Davis has blown away his track record.

Yet, last September, Davis’ ISO was .340. He’s projected the rest of the way in the mid-.200s, and if you think Davis has just reached a new level of contact consistency, then the track record means less and the recent performance means more. The recent performance is exceptional, as Davis owns the ISO of Justin Upton and Prince Fielder, summed together. Davis has shown no hint of slowing down as he’s already two away from matching last year’s home-run total. He’s maybe the biggest reason the Orioles are where they are.

From the start of his professional career, Chris Davis had the potential to be maybe the greatest power hitter in baseball. Lots of players have that kind of potential, and almost every time, they end up with too many holes and they fall well short of their ceilings. Davis is reaching his ceiling, and he’s been up there long enough to paint a pretty picture. This season is looking a lot like Chris Davis’ Sistine Chapel.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Kevenoitch
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Kevenoitch
3 years 23 days ago

Someone put this monster down.

s's
Guest
s's
3 years 23 days ago

The headline is awkward, as is “Chris Davis’ Sistine Chapel.” I know the rule about non-plurals ending in “s” has become … interpretable? or whatever, but if it reads bad, it’s probably wrong.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 23 days ago

Ah, but it doesn’t read bad! So actually, it’s right.

KJ
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KJ
3 years 23 days ago

I guess I can’t see how “s’s S” reads any better.

Dauber
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Dauber
3 years 22 days ago

Indeed. As a English teacher, this grates my Romano, but so does the use of apostrophe’s in general.

skeptic
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skeptic
3 years 21 days ago

apostrophes* (not apostrophe’s) — usually I wouldn’t be a grammar troll, but an English teacher should probably know that

Daniel
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Daniel
3 years 19 days ago

someone does not understand. I’m pretty sure that apostrophe was intentional as the comment was about the misuse of apostrophe’s.

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 23 days ago

.536 ISO in a full season

ha ha ha Barry Bonds what?

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 23 days ago

Sadly, the .063 ISO advantage Bonds’ 2001 holds over the second-best single-season ISO (Ruth’s 1920) in the history of baseball wouldn’t quite make the list of top 10 ISO leaders relative to in-season competition.

…But it’s pretty close.

ha ha ha

DavidCEisen
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DavidCEisen
3 years 22 days ago

In 2001, Barry Bonds had 5.5 more WAR than all of the hitters on the Expos and Devil Rays combined. He also had more WAR than a total of eight separate teams.

KJ
Guest
KJ
3 years 23 days ago

Wow haven’t looked at Barry’s #s in a long while, what a career. What would his WAR be if you took his 37.0 Fld from ’89 and put it with his 2001 power?

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
3 years 23 days ago

I think he’d have had about 34 WAR that year.

Matt
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Matt
3 years 23 days ago

15.9 fWAR… Wow

Andrew
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Andrew
3 years 22 days ago

ALL THE LULZ!

ned
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ned
3 years 23 days ago

(37-(-5))/10 + 12.5

Dirck
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Dirck
3 years 22 days ago

Imagine if Bonds had discovered the happy juice about 15 years earlier and had played his entire career at Yankee Stadium . Those numbers would never even be approached ,much less broken .

elkabong
Member
Member
elkabong
3 years 23 days ago

I think a more impressive way to drop his ISO to .308 over the next 85 AB would be to hit 85 singles.

Professor Ross Eforp
Member
Professor Ross Eforp
3 years 23 days ago

LOL I am crying laughing. Exceptionally well played.

Is this like how Ty Cobb and Ichiro both posessed the power to hit HR, but they chose not to?

Chris Davis COULD hit a single every time, but he chooses to hit blasts.

Rob
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Rob
3 years 23 days ago

Ty Cobb once went 9 for 9 with 5 (out of the park) home runs. He chose not to.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 22 days ago

First, he went 9-12 in those two games, and his first homer was in the first inning of the first game and his last homer was in the ninth inning of the second game, so it was actually over the course of 12 ABs.

Second, Tony Lazzeri, Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin and most hilarious and condemning to this point of all Don Mueller all also hit 5 homers over 2 games, so I guess they all chose not to hit a ton of homers, too?

Bryan Cole
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Bryan Cole
3 years 22 days ago

I originally read this as “Ty Cobb went 9 for 5” and I thought, you know what? He probably did.

Joelskil
Member
Joelskil
3 years 22 days ago

That wouldn’t work since it would raise his BA. In fact, hitting 85 straight singles would drop his ISO even faster than going hitless over the same stretch.

Jeff "Degree in" Mathis
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Jeff "Degree in" Mathis
3 years 22 days ago

It would drop just as fast whether he were making outs or singles. Denominator is the same for slg and avg so you can ignore everything but the numerator (hits – total bases) when checking which decreases faster. It’s basically comparing 0 – 0 with 85 – 85. Both equal 0.

Parlay
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Parlay
3 years 23 days ago

It’s just frustrating. He could be so much more.

Roto Wizard
Member
Roto Wizard
3 years 23 days ago

Yea I know what you mean. I only won 5 million dollars during last nights lottery, it could have been a lot more, but alas, I was one number off.

kdm628496
Member
kdm628496
3 years 23 days ago

would it be more appropriate to look at ISO+ (if that’s even a thing)?

just doing a quick search, league average ISO was .113 for schmidt’s 1981 season, which is significantly smaller than .162 in 2004 for bonds. so schmidt’s 0.077 lead would be relatively better than bonds’ .109.

just a thought. still a good read, jeff.

libre
Member
Member
3 years 23 days ago

Agreed. While still completely awesome, this is a flawed comparison, and as such becomes less interesting.

Try to make sense of Pedro’s 2000 ERA+ differential (110) instead of the ERA difference (.84) for example. WAY cooler to me that he was literally an entire league better than the next guy.

Rob
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Rob
3 years 23 days ago

Question, does anyone else doubt that given all relevant characteristics, Chris Davis is the new Machine?

A Different matt
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A Different matt
3 years 23 days ago

Part of what gave Pujols that nickname was his ridiculous consistency over multiple years. Right now Davis is just having a career year, and at this point in Pujols career he already had five 7+ WAR seasons. Chris Davis has 5.5 career WAR. So no, not a machine at least not the same kind Pujols was.

Rob
Guest
Rob
3 years 22 days ago

One other element I thought underlying that nickname was his consistency over the season, though, and the fact that he didn’t often have hot streaks or slumps.

killerweaksweet
Member
Member
killerweaksweet
3 years 22 days ago

I not a machine

AR
Guest
AR
3 years 22 days ago

You’re just Albert.

Nivra
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Nivra
3 years 22 days ago

The machine?

http://tinyurl.com/n5jrw8u

You mean Pat the Bat?

cletus yokel
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cletus yokel
3 years 23 days ago

Babe Ruth’s 1921 season: 0.469 iso, 0.227 ahead of the second highest (Hornsby). The man revolutionized hitting.

Scraps
Member
Scraps
3 years 22 days ago

I never knew that!

Rogers Hornsby
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Rogers Hornsby
3 years 22 days ago

Fuck that piece of trash.

jacob glick
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jacob glick
3 years 23 days ago

“Davis presently has a lead of 88 points.”

“Presently” means “soon,” not “at present.”

Anon21
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Anon21
3 years 23 days ago

No, it means both.

steex
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steex
3 years 23 days ago

“Presently” can vary in meaning by context, with one of those meanings being “at the present time; now.” The use is correct.

what...?
Guest
what...?
3 years 23 days ago

Merriam-Webster disagrees.

And, really???

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 23 days ago

From Garner’s American Usage, Third Edition, Oxford University Press, 2009:

Presently contains an ambiguity. In the days of Shakespeare, it meant, ‘immediately.’ Soon its meaning evolved into ‘after a short time’ (perhaps because people exaggerated about their promptitude). This sense is still current. Then, chiefly in American English, it took on the additional sense ‘at present; currently.’ This use is poor, however, because it both causes the ambiguity and displaces a simpler word (now or, if more syllables are necessary, at present or currently).”

Well, damn. I guess you’re right.

(to user what…?: Webster’s is a famously inclusive dictionary. See David Foster Wallace, “Authority and American Usage,” reprinted in Consider the Lobster.)

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 23 days ago

P.S. I need a drink.

Eric
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Eric
3 years 22 days ago

So if I understand the situation correctly, at present you are not Well-Beered Englishman, but presently you will be?

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 22 days ago

That is indeed flawless usage, Eric, unless I pop open a bottle of wine.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 22 days ago

Webster’s is correct to be inclusive. Dictionary writers who think they are capable of shaping a language are fools; dictionary writers who merely seek to describe a language have at least set themselves an attainable goal. Prescriptivism is worthless.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 22 days ago

Again an urgent recommendation for David Foster Wallace, “Authority and American Usage,” re: the idea that there is a compromise position for the prescriptivist who, say, does not wish to shape a language in ways which are objectively “correct”, but does wish to use a language to communicate most effectively, and to most successfully portray him/herself as an author of skill and value, and who does so by adhering to some, though not all, of the prescriptivists’ rules.

All of which is a long way of saying that in my professional writing, I don’t dangle modifiers, but prepositions are great words to end sentences with.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
3 years 22 days ago

I have no objection to striving to adhere to prescriptivist rules in professional writing when doing so doesn’t impede clarity and may avoid alienating persnickety readers. I do have an objection to prescriptivist fools like jason glick barging into perfectly good threads and pompously informing everyone that an entirely common and comprehensible usage is incorrect.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
3 years 22 days ago

We can agree for the most part, Anon, with two exceptions;

(1) though the usage is not incorrect, it’s not one I’d have used, personally;
(2) that’s jacob, not jason, glick.

Alright, I’m home from work. Where’s my drink.

Scraps
Member
Scraps
3 years 22 days ago

Also, M-W is not famously inclusive; mostly, M-W looks at histories of words, and if the history as reported by pedants and teachers is wrong, M-W is not afraid to say so.

As for “presently”, it has (of course) a usage note, somewhat at variance with Garner:

“Both senses 1b and 2 are flourishing in current English, but many commentators have objected to sense 2. Since this sense has been in continuous use since the 15th century, it is not clear why it is objectionable. Perhaps a note in the Oxford English Dictionary (1909) that the sense has been obsolete since the 17th century in literary English is to blame, but the note goes on to observe that the sense is in regular use in most English dialects. The last citation in that dictionary is from a 1901 Leeds newspaper, written in Standard English. Sense 2 is most common in contexts relating to business and politics ”

I could go on and dispute Garner’s “this use is poor” argument, but he’s not here and I’m already risking several thumbs-down.

Hank
Guest
Hank
3 years 22 days ago

oh my god i love fangraphs so much
where else can i talk about baseball AND consider the lobster ON THE SAME PAGE

Dave
Guest
Dave
3 years 22 days ago

“Davis is reaching his ceiling, and he’s been up there long enough to paint a pretty picture. This season is looking a lot like Chris Davis’ Sistine Chapel.”

Beautifully put.

vivaelpujols
Guest
vivaelpujols
3 years 22 days ago

a little flowery for my taste

MonkeyEpoxy
Guest
MonkeyEpoxy
3 years 22 days ago

All of the condescending attempts to point out grammar foibles are just adorable.

MDL
Member
MDL
3 years 22 days ago

This seems like as good a place as any to point out that Manny Machado is on pace to annihilate the single-season doubles record. The record is 67; he has 38 halfway through the season.

Travis L
Guest
Travis L
3 years 22 days ago

While Machado has had a great start to the season, I think it’s worth adding context for what remains ahead of him.

In order to break the record, he needs 32 doubles in a half season. That’s 64 doubles over a full season. There have only been 5 seasons where a hitter had more than 62 doubles; all we pre-WW2. The recent era record is Helton with 59 in 2000.

So to break the record, all Manny Machado needs to do is to break the modern era record for doubles in a season.

Even after his hot start, it’s still an incredibly long shot for him to break it.

Birdlander
Guest
Birdlander
3 years 22 days ago

It should also be put in context that all the previous players who attempted to break this record were not Manny Machado.

TKDC
Guest
TKDC
3 years 22 days ago

Your comment should be put into the context that it is pointless.

Aj Grands
Guest
Aj Grands
3 years 21 days ago

It’s too bad we have no precedent for Manny Machado hitting more than 32 doubles in a half season.
Oh wait.

65Kyle08
Member
65Kyle08
3 years 22 days ago

Anyone else like watching Asian chicks getting Doug Fistered?

vivaelpujols
Guest
vivaelpujols
3 years 22 days ago

“Yet, last September, Davis’ ISO was .340. He’s projected the rest of the way in the mid-.200s, and if you think Davis has just reached a new level of contact consistency, then the track record means less and the recent performance means more.”

I’m fairly certain this is not true.

PillsburyFlowboy
Member
PillsburyFlowboy
3 years 22 days ago

As in player development is not true?

vivaelpujols
Guest
vivaelpujols
3 years 21 days ago

Player development is certainly true, but that’s a different issue from statistical significance I think. You’d still regress the same amount to the mean, but the mean would be higher. Either way using his ISO in September last year to validate the idea that he’s found new “contact consistency” and therefore is likely to beat his projections is circular reasoning. The projections already take into account stats. What you have to do is show that something changed mechanically or otherwise which would raise his mean.

philkid3
Guest
philkid3
3 years 22 days ago

This was really just a passive-aggressive dig at Rangers fans, wasn’t it.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
3 years 22 days ago

This reminds me of the Joey Bats hyperbole, another coming of the greatest hitter ever. Do it for ten years first.

Dan Greer
Member
Dan Greer
3 years 22 days ago

I don’t recall anyone saying that, but Joey Bats has been pretty damn good for the last several seasons. His power certainly did not turn out to be a fluke.

Jason B
Guest
Jason B
3 years 22 days ago

“another coming of the greatest hitter ever”

Can you point to any specific FanGraphs articles that explicitly stated or implied such?

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