Valuing Chris Davis in 2010

After an outstanding half season in 2008, Texas Rangers first baseman Chris Davis generated quite a bit of buzz leading into fantasy drafts in 2009. Davis hit .285/.331/.549 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in 80 games during his rookie campaign in 2008, causing fantasy owners to salivate like Pavlov’s dog. Davis was so hyped, that his status as a sleeper disappeared quickly, and his ADP rose.

Davis was eligible at 1B and 3B in ’09, and was drafted an average of 76th overall, good enough for seventh among 3B and 10th among 1B. Owners, such as myself, saw his raw power dominating in a deadly Texas lineup, and expected his average to hover around the .285 mark he posted in 2008.

What we didn’t see coming, was a devastating start to the 2009 season for Davis. In the first half of the season, Davis hit .202/.256/.415 with 15 homers. The power was still there, but he struck out 114 times in 277 plate appearances. Davis had always been a high strikeout hitter, with his career minor league rate at 25%, and a 29.8% rate in the bigs during ’08. However a 41.2%┬árate for the first half was scary enough to force the Rangers to consider sending Davis to the minors to work out his problems.

Sure enough, a few days into July, Davis was optioned to Triple-A. He seemed to right the ship while he was there, hitting .327/.418/.521 in 44 games, striking out only 20% of the time and hitting 6 homers. The Rangers felt he was ready to give the bigs another shot, so they recalled him at the end of August. Upon returning, Davis hit .308/.338/.496 with 6 homers in a little over a month. He struck out 25.3% in the second half (36 in 142 PA), much more in line with his career averages. His power may have diminished, but he still drove in 26 runs in 36 games.

What helped bring Davis out of his funk was his ability to simply make contact with the ball. Before being sent down, he has a swing rate of 53.8% and a 22.6% whiff rate according to Trip Somers’ Pitch F/x tool. The same tool said he swung at 52.9% of his pitches after being recalled, with a 14% whiff rate. His opponents pitch selection remained constant in both cases, and after being recalled Davis put fastballs in play at twice the rate that he had before hand.

It all boils down to one question: What should I expect from Davis in 2010? I think that his second half numbers will transfer over into the start of 2010, with his home run rate rising closer to what it was in ’08. To make a quick prediction, I would guess he hits ~.280 with 31 homers if he holds on to the full time 1B job. He may not get to play every day, with the Rangers likely to call up Justin Smoak and looking for a big RH in free agency that could plug┬áthe DH role, but I bet they try to find a way to get his bat into the lineup

Davis will be eligible at first base in every league, with added 3B eligibility in others. Due to a scary showing early on last year, he should be falling into a nice ADP where you should feel comfortable snatching him up and playing him everyday.

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Zach is the creator and co-author of RotoGraphs' Roto Riteup series, and RotoGraphs' second-longest tenured writer. You can follow him on twitter.

12 Responses to “Valuing Chris Davis in 2010”

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  1. Bobby says:

    With a 29.6% strikeout rate, and a 20.5% HR/FB ratio, I put Chris Davis at needing a .347 BABIP to pull off a .285 average. Seems like a fairly risky proposition to me. So far in the Major’s he’s posted 8.2% IFH%, over a 3 year span…what kind of players have done that?: Matt Holliday, Corey Hart, Luis Castillo, Jason Barlett. Chris Davis is not a speedy player, so his IFH% thus far screams fluke to me, and he should be in line for a correction. Furthermore, He’s a flyball hitter, and flyballs (that don’t go over the fence) tend to record more outs: (See: Carlos Pena) and thus, post lower BABIP. The one thing Chris Davis has going for him, is that he seems to hit a lot of line drives (and his high minor league BABIP’s seem to support this). But using my projections of his other stats, I put him at needing to acheive a 23.9% line drive rate to have a .344 BABIP), and that seems pretty hard to sustain (only 4 players have done it over the last 3 year span).

    Long story short…I see Chris Davis as more of a .331 BABIP type of hitter, combined with his 29.6% Projected K%, (and taking into account his high number of home runs, I project him at 38 if he can manage 700 AB’s), that puts him at more of a .263 batting average (which is still an improvement over his current MLB career average). Can Chris Davis hit .285? Sure…if he trims his strikeouts quite a bit further, or if he’s sporting a lucky BABIP, but he could hit just as easily hit .241 with an unlucky BABIP. Projecting him for .285 seems like just about best case, unless he can significantly trim down the strikeouts.

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    • R M says:

      Where are you getting all these numbers?

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    • Bobby says:

      Sorry about that, it was a poorly formed argument the 29.6% K rate is based on the fangraph 2010 projections, the HR/FB is my own projection (maybe a little low). I formed the list of people posting similar IFH% numbers using fangraphs major league leaders, over the last 3 years, sorting by IFH%.

      As for determining what LD% he’d need to post a .285 average. I’m using a calculator that I’ve devised to calculate BABIP using LD%, GB%, FB%, HR/FB, IFFB%, and IFH% (it also determines BA using K’s, HR’s, and BABIP). I’ve played around with the hardball times xBABIP calculator, and I didn’t like having to put in a fixed numbers of HR’s, GB’s, FB’s, etc., so I developed another one. I’ve pondered putting the calculator out there, and explaining how I came up with it, but I don’t really know how to do that (get it out there, and get feedback).

      And the .331 BABIP that I project him for, comes from my calculator, when I use my projections for his LD%, GB%, FB%, HR/FB, IFFB%, and IFH% (which are highly subjective at this point, given his small sample size, but even using his career numbers, he comes in well under .347, or the .349 that bill james projects for him.

      BABIP does seem extremely difficult to project for young players, how much stock can we put in his minor league BABIP numbers? We don’t have the batted ball data, so it’s entirely possible that all of his minor league BABIP numbers were luck inflated, we don’t have any way (that I know of) to calcluate an xBABIP based on his minor league numbers, and his major league numbers are a fairly small sample size.

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  2. Abiding Dude says:

    Not that he would be confused with Borbon, but like Cruz he does have some wheels. He’s always maintained high BABIP and LD rate. I’m kinda more in Zach’s camp on the numbers.

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  3. Freshhops says:

    If during his entire major league career of 736 plate appearances, Chris Davis had never had a streak and instead had in every month hit .258/.304/.488, you’d draft Davis like a second or third tier 1B (depending on league depth). That’s what you should do.

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    • JoshShep says:

      Yeah except he did have the streak, and beyond that was rated a top 4 prospect in a loaded Rangers farm system going into 2008. He has off the charts power, and given his age has time to develop as a hitter (see the improving walk rate of Ryan Braun). So if you draft him as a .258/.304/.488 hitting 1B and completely ignore upside you won’t own him, and miss out on his potential. While he may not reach his potential, you won’t have to pay nearly as steep a price as last year, so he seems to be a reasonable gamble this year.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        Streaks are meaningless.

        Unless you get that potential for the price of a .258/.304/.488 1B, then you’re not really getting a deal, because you’re paying for the potential. The point of finding guys with potential is get the potential but not pay for it.

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      • R M says:

        Fresh Hops, it is rare that you get a player player like this drafting him based on his floor projection. If you find middle ground, you can still get the player AND get the value.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Streaks are meaningless. But minor league reputation and stats aren’t.

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  4. Adam Reynolds says:

    I expect to own him in every league again.

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