Move Over, Howard and Reynolds

In 2007, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard set the single season record with 199 strikeouts. Last season, he matched his record breaking season with 199 more, but moved into second place on the all time list. Mark Reynolds, third baseman for the Diamondbacks, whiffed on 204 different occasions, “besting” Howard. Two months into the 2009 season and Reynolds, despite continuing to fan at a ridiculously high rate, actually has some competition for the throne of punchout king.

Chris Davis of the Rangers is only 23 years old and appears to combine slick glovework with raw power. When he connects with a pitch, the ball travels great distances. Already with 12 home runs, Davis has begun to establish himself as a significant slugging threat. Davis has, however, a huge weakness so far in that he is seemingly allergic to actually making contact with the ball. In 170 plate appearances and 158 at bats, Davis has struck out 71 times so far, a rate of 44.9 percent. 44.9 percent! Of his official at bats, Davis almost has a 50/50 shot of striking out.

Since 1999, only one player has finished a season with a strikeout percentage exceeding 40 percent: Jack Cust. In 2007, Cust struck out in 41.5 percent of his bats and shaved fifty basis points off of that rate last season, dropping to 41 percent. There have not even been that many different players to strikeout in at least 30 percent of their at bats over the last ten seasons. With Cust, there have been 40 player-seasons with a strikeout rate greater than or equal to 30 percent. That number is a tad deceiving though, since several players are repeat offenders.

Six of those seasons belong to Adam Dunn and another six to Jim Thome. Jose Hernandez and Ryan Howard each own three of those seasons with Cust, Preston Wilson, Jim Edmonds, Mark Bellhorn, Brad Wilkerson, Carlos Pena and Mike Cameron each owning two. In actuality, only 19 unique players have accomplished this feat, if we can call it one. Suffice it to say, Davis is currently performing in uncharted territory.

His plate discipline numbers are equally odd, straying heavily from the league average:

Davis O-Swing=   35.9%, League O-Swing=   24.3%
Davis O-Contact= 51.2%, League O-Contact= 62.5%
Davis Z-Swing=   76.1%, League Z-Swing=   65.7%
Davis Z-Contact= 60.9%, League Z-Contact= 87.6%
Davis Contact=   57.3%, League Contact=   80.6%

The standard deviations amongst qualifying players, and the number of SDs from the mean Davis has strayed are below:

Stat        SD     Davis-SDs
O-Swing     0.058     2.00
O-Contact   0.106     1.06
Z-Swing     0.064     1.63
Z-Contact   0.056     4.77
Contact     0.065     3.58

Other than contact made on pitches out of the zone, Davis has strayed substantially from the league average, numbers that will have to improve if he wants to hold down a major league starting job. A major league first baseman can succeed with a low batting average if he supplies ample amounts of power, but a .203/.259/.456 line isn’t getting it done, even with a league best glove to date. In spite of the fielding prowess and 12 long balls, Davis has been worth just 0.1 wins this year, essentially the definition of a replacement player.

Again, he is only 23 years old and should improve with more experience, but the strikeouts and plate discipline stats have certainly raised red flags. The news isn’t all bad for Reynolds, though, as Davis projects to improve with whiffs over the remainder of the season, finishing with 195. At 204, Reynolds’ record for single season strikeouts would be safe should this come to fruition, but Davis has certainly been fanning at an historic pace.



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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


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Slurve
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Slurve
7 years 1 month ago

HR or Strikeout… Two True Outcome player!

Donovan
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Donovan
7 years 1 month ago

Eric,

Thanks for this analysis. Davis is a fascinating player. As you said, he’s got three components teams would love to have: youth, tremendous power, and great defense. But those strikeout levels, and resulting OBA, are absurd.

What stood out to me from your piece is Davis’ Zone Contact ratio. That’s gotta be amongst the league worst, possibly all-time worst. Do we have any sense of whether that’s curable, or whether it’s a particular pitch which is eating him alive?

Davis appears to be a great case study; I wonder if there’s any historical comps.

Thanks again,

Donovan

Brent
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Brent
7 years 1 month ago

Shouldn’t Texas just flip this guy for pitcher somewhere already? I think they have an extremely good core of offense (especially with Smoak in the minors) already and if they were to land a Peavy (for example) that would set up a nice rotation of Peavy, Holland, Feliz and McCarthy down the road.

dbuff
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dbuff
7 years 1 month ago

A major league first baseman with a low batting average needs one thing other than power to succeed: He needs a respectable on-base percentage. In spite of his strikeouts and low batting average a hitter like Pena maintains a respectable OBP. Davis’ .259 OBP is a killer.

Kincaid
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7 years 1 month ago

I saw Mark Reynolds strike out 3 times and homer (Mark Reynolds in a nutshell) the other night to go over 60 Ks on the season, and we were talking at the game about whether anyone else in the game could put up totals like that. Apparently so.

I’m with Donovan. That Z-Contact% is absolutely brutal. Yikes.

Fresh Hops
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Fresh Hops
7 years 1 month ago

I recall reading somewhere that scout were pretty down on Davis’s defense. UZR is not a worthwhile stat in small samples like what we have of Davis, so I think it’s is premature to call him a slick glove.

Also, comparing Cust and Davis at the plate really reminds me of why I hate recording K% as K/AB instead of K/PA. On the latter, Cust and Davis aren’t comparable at all. Cust is a player who implicitly understands his merits and faults at the plate, i.e. he’s very selective about his pitches and tries to hit the ball hard, which compensates for his lack of ability to make contact. Cust is, consequently, a very good hitter. Davis, on the other hand, must learn to be more selective about pitches he swings at or he will never be a good major league hitter. His .304 wOBA coupled with an appropriate regression of his UZR, makes him the worst 1B in baseball.

Erin
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Erin
7 years 1 month ago

What might happen if Davis were moved up in the order? Would seeing better pitches help him hit the ball more often?

I thought at the beginning of the year that Texas should’ve been batting him 5th after Hamilton and Cruz, with Blalock batting 6th, giving Davis some protection.

Also, is there a reason why his BABIP is so much lower than expected? is it the FB%?

PhD Brian
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PhD Brian
7 years 1 month ago

David Wright is on pace for 170 Ks this season and 13 Home runs.

Jason B
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Jason B
7 years 1 month ago

Brent–

Good thought, but no way Peavy would accept a trade to Texas if he wouldn’t accept one to Chicago (AL).

Brian–

Hopefully the Mets don’t fall just short of the playoffs (again) and run a prospective franchise cornerstone outta town because of “all those damned K’s” (a/k/a the Dunn treatment). Will be interesting to see the park effects at Citi over the course of a full season or three.

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