Chris Davis Had a Hard Time Making Contact

On Sunday the Rangers sent Chris Davis down to AAA. After a good rookie season last year Davis’ performance took a step back this year. His power is still there (23% HR/FB), but his already poor strikeout rate has ballooned up to an unacceptable 44.2% K/AB. At the same time his walk rate is still below average. It is very hard any player to succeed with that many strikeouts, and impossible if he doesn’t walk a ton. His wOBA is a paltry 0.288, not acceptable for a 1st baseman (although he was probably due for a bump with his BABIP of .287).

The main cause of the all those strikeouts was his historically bad contact rate. Here is a histogram of the contact rates of all major league regulars from 2008 to 2003, with Davis’ 2009 58% contact rate indicated.
contact_hist
The average contact rate is just under 82%, out of over 900 regulars over six years only 17 finished with a contact rate below 70% and none under 60%. Davis’ rate over a full year would have been a major outlier. Major League players just don’t keep full time jobs missing the ball that much, no matter how much power they have.

I was additionally interested in where in the strike zone and which pitches Davis was missing. Here I plot how many times higher Davis’ whiff rate (missed pitches divided by swings) is than the average lefty by pitch location.

davis_whiff

Davis has the biggest problem up and in, whiffing four times the lefty average. Additionally, through most of the zone he whiffs at least twice as much as the average lefty. Here is the whiff rate by pitch type for Davis in 2009 and for all lefties averaged.

+------------+-------+-------+
| Whiff Rate | Davis |   LHB |
+------------+-------+-------+
| Fastball   |  0.44 |  0.13 |
| Cutter     |  0.40 |  0.15 |
| Changeup   |  0.44 |  0.26 |
| Curveball  |  0.50 |  0.28 |
| Slider     |  0.37 |  0.27 |
+------------+-------+-------+

Davis is getting eaten alive by fastballs (against changeups, curveballs and sliders he is worse than average but probably in line with other power hitters). Hopefully he can work things out in the minors and get his contact rate, and as a result strike out rate, back to his 2008 level.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


21 Responses to “Chris Davis Had a Hard Time Making Contact”

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  1. twinsfan says:

    Well done.

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  2. philosofool says:

    Great work. I actually think Davis’s problems are deeper than just contact. He doesn’t select pitches well and is very happy to lunge at balls out of the zone. While some hitters (Vlad) approach the plate this way, most, I suspect, are simply fooled by the pitch. While I’m sure that Davis’s swing for the fence approach makes it harder for him to connect (power hitters almost universally have lower contact rates than others), I also suspect he often swings at a pitch that ends up somewhere besides where he was expecting. Anyway, I know his rookie season was stellar and every one wants Davis to be a start someday, but he wasn’t a 35th round draft pick for nothing.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Philosofool,

      that is a good point I should have mentioned. Only five players have swung at a higher percentage of pitches out of the zone than he.

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    • Alireza says:

      Davis’ problem is that he has the tendency to chase without the ability to square up the balls he chases. Guys like Vlad and Sandoval can chase and murder pitchers, because they have amazing eye hand coordination and know how to square up balls on their shoe tops. Davis doesn’t.

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    • Trip Somers says:

      Davis was a 5th round pick, not a 35th round pick.

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  3. theraysparty says:

    someone needs to check his mechanics. I remember the Rays color commentator talking about his stiff right arm when he swings the bat through the zone. The back arm (right for a LH) sould be bent around a 90 degree angle.Davis appear to have his at least 140 degrees or more. This produces a long swing and the swing path is very limited, especially if a hitters wants to reach a high pitch. Which Mr. Allen has clearly shown through the chart.

    I only had a brief look at him so I may be wrong.

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Thanks for this good insight. It is too bad there is not someone out there in the publicly-available-blogosphere who did swing analysis (maybe Kyle Boddy does sometimes, I am not sure) like Jeff Albert used to at Baseball Analysts.

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      • Jason Tucker says:

        My uncle is a hitting instructor here in CO. He’s got a bunch of students playing in the minors and major college ball this season. Anyway, he’s got this wicked camera/super slow-mo system for swing analysis. We’ll see if we can catch a peek at what Davis is doing wrong when I’m over at his place next time.

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    • Trip Somers says:

      Davis has always had that long swing. He locks out his front arm and twists through the zone. That said, he’s always done, and he’s had success with it through the minors and into last season in the majors.

      When he got into funks in the past, it was because his twisting got out of sync. He’s dying against fastballs because he’s swinging “too hard” at them. He’s been pulling his head and front shoulder off the ball and whiffing.

      On off-speed pitches, he keeps his head and front shoulder on the ball for a longer amount of time, and it allows his hands to come through while he can still see the baseball.

      All of that said, when I last checked, Davis’s plate discipline numbers aren’t too terribly different from last year to this year. The only major difference is contact.

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  4. Fett42 says:

    That second chart is outstanding.

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  5. Big Oil says:

    As others have mentioned, great work using graphs to illustrate the data. I recall posting over on the rotographs section this trend earlier in the year when mulling a possible trade for Davis (http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/be-excited-about-chris-davis).

    Random guesses as to the extreme contact hitters: Ichiro, Scutaro, Pujols perhaps?

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Over the past three calendar years Scutaro and Ichiro are both in the top ten, and Pujols is in the top twenty. Pujols is the only power hitter in the top twenty (unless you think Mauer’s recent outburst qualifies him), which is just another indication that he is playing on a different level than everyone else.

      Juan Pierre, Luis Castillo, Placido Polanco, Dustin Pedroia and Scutaro are the top five over the past three calendar year in contact percentage.

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      • Big Oil says:

        Thanks Dave — I jumped over to the leadboard for this year and many of those same names came up. I can’t tell you how excited I am for Hit F/X and possible analysis of contact rate vs. velocity/trajectory off the bat. Keep up the good work.

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  6. Alex C says:

    I wonder what that last chart would look like last year. His out of the zone contact numbers are the same this year and last (when he was crushing the ball), but this year he has been missing balls in the zone at a staggering rate, whereas last year those numbers were in an acceptable range. The above would make it seem that pitchers found a hole in his swing up and in to which he has been unable to adjust.

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  7. He’s just not ready for The Show.

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  8. Eyin says:

    At least he was a superb defender… His day will come, but yes, he needs to rediscover how to make contact with those fastballs… good luck at AAA Crush.

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  9. Mark says:

    That was outstanding analysis. Incredible to know that out of 900 players he was swinging and missing more than anyone.

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  10. Mark says:

    By the way he has totally cut down his K rate in his short stint so far with the Red Hawks…could be soon that they call him back up.

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