Throughout the season, Khris Davis has remained a steadily popular and dividing player among Brewers fans. One common phrase about Davis, uttered on Twitter and in comments sections, is that the left fielder’s arm apparently impacts the Brewers in a negative manner. The obvious defenses — and I’m guilty of these lines, too — manifest in Davis’s exceptional slugging and plate discipline. Khris Davis is one of the most disciplined bats in Milwaukee, and the payoff for that discipline is real, monstrous power.
For these reasons, the righty batter is a popular matter for debate among Brewers fans. One contingency believes that Davis’s contract, plus a packed 2016 outfield, means that the Brewers ought to trade their left-fielder. Another simply says live-and-let-live. Others still actually believe the Brewers should release their minimum salary reserve rights on Davis for 2016. What all these debates miss, it seems, is that Davis is quite a good ballplayer, all around, and that there need not be a false dichotomy that simply places his power/discipline against his arm in debate.
Khrush is a ballplayer.
(1) Working Counts
One of the auxiliary tools that accompanies Davis’s power and discipline is his ability to go deep into counts. Or, I should say, his walks (and strike outs) are an offshoot of his process at the plate.
One of the most interesting elements of Davis’s approach is that his home run power comes early in the count: he destroys first pitches as his best source for homers (7 of 20), and then uses a set of two pitch counts for another 6 homers (1-0, 2-0, 0-1, 1-1). After that, he homers most frequently in full counts (3), and 2-2 and 2-1 counts (2 a piece). Unlike homers, his doubles power occurs throughout his counts.
One of the benefits of consistently working deep into counts is that Davis sees many more pitches than the average NL player. Based on the NL average, Davis should have seen 1408 pitches during his 2015 plate appearances thus far; instead, he’s looked at or swung at 1514 pitches (good for a 7.5% increase against the league’s pitchers).
Davis’s discipline is the best kind: he punishes early count mistakes, while also finding a way to work deep into the count when he does not see that favorable early count pitch.
(2) Fielding Plays
If one reads Brewers fans’ defensive accounts of Davis — and believes them — it would seem plausible that the left fielder is a veritable sieve allowing countless runs to score thanks to his efforts. Not so. Even if his arm is not going to land a high number of assists, Davis is quite “certain” with his glove.
Based on Inside Edge statistics, which are collected via game tapes and categorized with the help of scouting methods, Davis not only makes the majority of plays he’s supposed to make, but he also makes a solid number of “unlikely” and “remote” plays. His fielding performance compares well to the group of 600 inning left fielders, especially in the category of “even” plays (40%-60%) and “likely” plays (60%-90%). Anyway, looking at the group of “regular” left fielders should give Brewers fans second thought to judging Davis for his defense (whatsoever).
This is not only a “2015 thing” for Davis. According to The Bill James Handbook, last year Davis’s arm was not nearly as “bad” as his fielding ability was “good.” In fact, Davis’s five runs saved ranked him 6th among 16 regular left fielders (James 331. Chicago: Acta Sports, 2014).
(3) Steady Baserunning
Brewers fans alternately praised and bemoaned Runnin’ Ron Roenicke‘s aggressive style throughout the years. The style itself was alternately successful, average, or dreadful, depending on the season (on the team level).
If you’re a critic of “RRR Ball,” Davis is your guy: he’s a “certain base stealer,” who keeps his attempts low and almost never gets caught. It’s almost as though Davis only steals when he knows he’s not going to get caught (12 / 14 attempts, career). Furthermore, Davis does not necessarily go for the extra bases regularly, but he also does not make a high number of outs on the basepaths. Given what we know about Davis’s plate approach, his baserunning seems to be a clear extension of that discipline: Davis knows what he wants to do, and uses a certain process to execute that approach. He’s (apparently) not a baserunner, so he runs the bases in an (arguably) effective manner.
(4) Situational Hitting
Chances are, if you’re a Brewers fan, you’ve probably complained about the club’s “inability” to effectively play situational baseball. This is one of the most false, misguided areas of fan criticism throughout the Roenicke/Counsell years: even this year, the tank-worthy Brewers are an average team scoring runners from third (with less than 2 outs), advancing runners from second base (with 0 outs), executing sacrifice bunts, and collecting productive outs.
(In fact, in each of these categories, the Brewers are better than, or comparable to, the St. Louis Cardinals, which leads one to believe that maybe these traits have absolutely no bearing on winning ballgames).
Anyway, Davis is fluctuating in these categories year-by-year, but his full career record is clear: Khrush can play some situational ball. Aside from bunting (which he pretty much never does), Davis collects productive outs and advances/scores runners. If you like situational baseball, over the last few years Davis has been your guy.
There is no reason to reduce debates about Khris Davis to the “arm” versus “power/walks” positions. Across the diamond, Davis is a particularly good baseball player. His approach and style exemplifies discipline: through his statistics, one gets the picture of a player who knows his strengths and limitations, and uses a playing process that favors his strengths while hiding limitations. As a result, Davis is a steady baserunner, solid fielder, good situational baseball player, and exceptional pitch/count worker.
The title says it all: Khrush. Ballplayer.