During our rousing Khris Davis debates over the last few weeks, it occurred to me that these disagreements are rather similar to those involving Rickie Weeks. Both players exhibited true strengths around the peripheries of the game (including plate discipline / walking, power, and speed (for Weeks)), but found those strengths under-appreciated by fans that preferred to criticize more noticeable shortcomings. Weeks’s defensive performance infamously placed him in critical targets of many fans, just as Davis’s throwing arm somehow overtakes Davis’s power, discipline, and other positive attributes.
Both debates reduce both players to one or two traits for either side, which is a mistake: most regular MLB players only have a couple of true tools, and a couple of shortcomings, that define their game. If a player earns regular playing time in the MLB, there is a good chance that that player is not a 5-tool star, nor an “evenly-rounded,” “do everything moderately well” type. It is almost as though every player is judged against the greatest stars, without any acknowledgment that what makes those stars special is that there are many five of them in the game (Yovani Gallardo fell into this camp, too, even (inexplicably) during an amazing stretch of four consistently above average seasons from 2009-2012: “Gallardo is not an ace” rang out everywhere, which is silly given that Gallardo is about as good as a “non-ace” pitcher can be. It’s rather like saying, “Madison Bumgarner is not an ace”).
|Brewers Draft||Most Valuable Players||WAR Ranking||Draft Note|
|2009||M. Fiers (676) / K. Davis (226) / S. Gennett (496)||Approximately 33rd / 34th pick with 3.8 WAR||16 comparable players drafted in first 2 rounds / 11 from rounds 3-10|
|2003||R. Weeks (2) / T Gwynn Jr. (39)||Approximately 40th-44th picks with 5.8 WAR||Weeks ranked 7th in first round WAR / ~17th within first 10 rounds|
What separates Davis and Weeks, however, is their relative draft position, and for this reason I find the critical eye against Davis even more shocking (and ill-advised). Even if fans had the mistaken view that “Weeks was a bust,” the fact remains that being selected second overall, and being a highly ranked prospect, will result in more scrutiny. Davis doesn’t have that issue; he was selected 226th overall, and is thus far one of the Top 30 most valuable players drafted in 2009. Which raises the question, why don’t fans simply praise Davis as a regular player, a true draft bargain?
In fact, Davis is worthy for praise precisely because he is the exact opposite of Weeks in one sense: Davis is a “true under the radar” player. Prospect expert John Sickels ranked Davis under the “Others” category prior to 2012, and #13 prior to Davis’s breakout debut in 2013; Davis did not crack BaseballAmerica‘s Top 10 in 2011, 2012, or 2013; Davis did not crack the official MLB Top 20 for Milwaukee prior to 2013; Miller Park Prospects ranked Davis #13; Disciples of Uecker ranked Davis #20 entering 2013:
This ranking may raise the eyebrows of anyone paying attention to statistics this spring, but we didn’t feel comfortable going higher than this. Yes, Davis has put up some really good numbers, especially last year at Double-A and Triple-A. And yes, his career line in the minors is .294/.400/.513, which is pretty darn good. The problem is two-fold. First, he’s limited defensively, at least at this point, to left field and DH. His range isn’t big enough to patrol center, and his arm isn’t strong enough for right field. Some fans have talked about him moving to first base, but Adam McCalvy noted this spring that Davis tried first base in instructionals. It didn’t go well. That leads to the second issue, which is his bat will have to be truly outstanding to carry that left field or DH profile, and scouts have had persistent, if somewhat lessening, doubts as to whether or not it can stand up to major-league pitching. That being said, he has made a habit of proving people wrong all the way up the ladder. At some point, he may just outlast all the doubters. The bar to do that is pretty high, though.
So, what gives? I suppose this question digs deeper into fandom than it does into prospect rankings and analysis. Why is it that fans maintain critical stances against players that exceed all odds, or reach their highest possible prospect outlook, and become valuable draft picks and organizational players? I ask this because we watch baseball to be entertained, and there is nothing more entertaining than a bigtime slugger who flashes power in games; I ask this because we watch baseball to analyze roster construction and value, and there is true value in a 4.0+ career WAR player drafted 226th overall (21% make the MLB at 3.2 WAR per MLB’er; in fact, Davis is already the third most valuable player drafted in his slot in the history of the amateur draft).
In terms of prospect analysis, Davis is a great reminder to constantly check our blindspots, and dig deeper into organizational systems to find players that consistently disprove all doubters and exceed expectations (we might ask ourselves, “Who is Khris Davis among the current Brewers prospects?”). In terms of MLB performance, he is a solid regular that does many things well, and diminishes his shortcomings (or, “limits the damage”). So, I should say that I am not only defending Davis because he is one of my favorite players, but also because I wonder, “Why are we having this debate whatsoever?” In a sense, Davis “is who he is,” and in terms of MLB performance, draft, and prospect analysis, that’s quite a valuable overall profile.