Khris Davis has four career outfield assists. Have you ever been curious about how he got them? Of course you haven’t. You’re a grown person, with responsibilities. A person trying to answer the big questions, a person who reads books, a person wondering what a gravitational wave is. This has never really crossed your mind, but, now you’re here. Now you’re curious. This is obviously a setup and human nature will force you to see this all the way through. You’re not as in control of you as you think.
Davis is relevant right now because he was just traded. He debuted in 2013 and, since then, on a rate basis, he ranks fifth-worst among outfielders in the DRS version of the arm-value statistic. He ranks seventh-worst in the UZR version of the arm-value statistic. According to the Fan Scouting Report, he ranks fifth-worst in release. He ranks fourth-worst by arm strength, and he ranks eighth-worst by arm accuracy, and if you put all three components together, he ranks second-worst by arm overall. Khris Davis has a bad arm. It’s been that way for as long as you’ve known about him. We don’t get to say this kind of thing very often, but there might genuinely be some of you capable of out-throwing Khris Davis, who is a major-league baseball player.
And he’s a player with four assists. Bad arm, four assists. Which means he’s been involved in throwing people out. Time to walk through the assists, like we did with Ben Revere back whenever that was. For some reason, in this moment, it’s important to know what’s happened.
Assist No. 1
This takes us back to April 6, 2013. This was Davis’ fourth-ever game in the bigs, but it was just his second game playing the outfield. Keep that in mind and click on the MLB.com link, and then pay attention. I’ll quote from just after the half-minute mark:
Khris Davis has covered a lot of ground out there in left field, but one thing the Diamondbacks have discovered very quickly is he does not have a strong throwing arm. When that ball left his hand, it looked like it was going to airmail everybody.
By the fourth inning of Davis’ second game in the outfield, the opposition knew he could already be taken advantage of. It’s not like he’s a pitcher who bounced a breaking ball or two. It’s not like he’s a hitter who chased a pitch or two out of the zone. The Diamondbacks had already seen enough to know Davis could be run on, so they ran on him with an old Eric Chavez, who you see chop-stepping into third base. Davis was up with the ball as Chavez was still on the bag, but Chavez didn’t stop, and Davis’ effort to gun him down was unsuccessful. Davis’ throw home was cut off by the mound, and then Cliff Pennington was tagged out trying to run behind the play. Davis gets what you could call a secondary assist, as a consequence of his arm not being strong enough.
Assist No. 2
I can’t recommend enough that you watch the highlight complete with game audio. We’re now in July of 2014, and we’re watching baseball in Florida, and before Davis had even caught this fly ball, here’s the Tampa Bay broadcast:
Fly ball toward left — Davis does not have a good arm.
Announcers don’t want to be critical. They don’t like to be critical, and they work hard to find ways around things that might be interpreted as insults. When there’s a bad hitter at the plate, an announcer might say something about his bunting, or about how he’s due, or about how he busts it out of the box. When there’s a bad pitcher on the mound, an announcer might say something about a tweak, or about a recent run of good appearances, or about the quality of the raw stuff. Announcers almost always try to be polite, but the rules just don’t seem to apply to throwing arms. They get right to the god-damn point, because they don’t have time to pussyfoot around it when there’s a ball in play, and the Tampa Bay broadcast informed everyone rather matter-of-factly that Khris Davis’ throwing arm sucks.
But it was responsible for an out! Indirectly, again. Evan Longoria challenged Davis on a medium sac fly, and Longoria won that challenge, the ball never getting to the catcher. This time, James Loney played the role of Cliff Pennington. Once again, the throw was cut off — with a leap — and then Loney had no place to go. Loney’s mistake, if anything, was over-rating Davis’ arm. He thought the ball would get over the cutoff guy. He probably won’t think that again.
Assist No. 3
Another sac fly, and with the ball coming down:
Davis doesn’t throw very well!
One broadcaster interrupted the other, in his excitement to note that Davis has a terrible arm. And, oh, this throw. Davis tried to throw the ball out of your computer and through your ceiling. The runner going home didn’t even bother to slide, and you see how far up the line the catcher had to advance to trace the arc of the throw. But it still came down a little behind third base, and Devin Mesoraco got himself trapped, because he saw the ball out of Davis’ hand and he had no frame of reference, no experiential history to lean upon. Mesoraco, like the others above, thought the throw was more powerful. It turned out to be sufficiently weak that an infielder could grab it and initiate Mesoraco’s out-ness. It’s like in the same plays, Davis’ arm is getting too much respect and no respect at all.
Assist No. 4
Here’s a different sort of play, with Davis intentionally trying to help a relay. Davis had no chance of throwing a runner out on his own, with this ball in the corner; he was going to need help from Jean Segura, and he did get it. Jayson Werth was even out somewhat easily. For the benefit of this post, I ran a little math. Davis’ throw was in the air for about 1.57 seconds. Segura’s throw was in the air for about 1.47 seconds. Davis’ throw covered a little over 140 feet. Segura’s throw covered a little under 180 feet. Based on these very simple terms, Segura’s throw was something like 33% harder than Davis’ throw, and you can see that visually, with the ball exploding out of Segura’s hand even though he had to go up to receive Davis’ initial toss. Davis’ throw didn’t ruin the play, but Segura’s throw made it. Davis has another secondary assist.
To review: Khris Davis has four assists. During the course of all four plays, a run was scored by the opponent. The most recent assist cut down a second run, but that was in large part thanks to Jean Segura’s relay. In the other three assists, the opponent challenged Davis’ arm directly, and the opponent won all three challenges, with the outs coming as a result of cutoffs. Davis officially has four assists, but he has yet to gun a runner down. You have to think it’ll happen at some point, if only because opponents will keep trying until they go too far.
The good news is it doesn’t matter very much. Good players have had bad arms, and Davis’ range is just fine. Most of his value comes out of his power, and his power can conquer any ballpark. And wouldn’t you know it, but one of the only worse arms in baseball belongs to Coco Crisp, who Davis will be replacing. In that way, his arm is both awful and an improvement.
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