Chris Davis’ Big Year
Chris Davis is having such a phenomenal year that I feel I should say something about it. While it is certainly surprising that Davis has joined Miguel Cabrera as the very best hitters in baseball, it’s not that surprising.
Every year somebody has a career year that no one saw coming. This year, that player is Chris Davis. Davis has always had a great deal of talent, and at age 27, the age at which baseball players as a group reach their peak performance, Davis has finally put it all together and then some.
The most likely reasons for Davis’ success this year are his apparent greater control over the strike zone and dumb luck. First, Davis, after never walking much in his career, is finally willing to take a walk this year.
Davis never drew many walks in the past, walking at a rate of 6.5% of his plate appearances through the 2012 season. He didn’t walk much in the minors either (7.9% in more than 2,000 plate appearances).
This year, however, he’s walked 36 times in 350 plate appearances so far, a rate of 10.2%. It seems clear that at least through the first half of 2013, he’s being more selective than he’s ever been before.
Davis still strikes out a tremendous amount — he’s on a pace to strike out 173 times this year — which is where the lucky part of his big 2013 campaign comes in. Davis is currently batting .373 on balls he puts in play, i.e., when he’s not striking out or hitting a home run.
Davis’ BABIP is extremely high for a player who doesn’t run well. Last year, when Davis had his break out season, batting .270 and belting 33 HRs, his BABIP was .335. For his career through 2012, his BABIP was the same .335. In short, Davis is not only smoking the ball this year, but his balls in play are finding all the holes in the defenses arrayed against him. This is unlikely to continue indefinitely.
The upshot is that I don’t expect Davis to be batting .330 or even .320 come the end of the 2013 season. I also don’t expect him to hit 60 HRs, the pace he’s currently on, because the American League’s pitchers are eventually going to stop throwing him strikes to find out whether he’s really developed the patience to lay off pitches out of the strike zone. While his willingness to take a walk has improved significantly in the first half, he’s still no Miguel Cabrera or Jose Bautista in this regard.
One thing that may help Davis to finish 2013 strong, however, is the fact that the Orioles as a team are hitting well this year. They are currently third in the Junior Circuit in runs scored per game and in OPS. As long as the rest of the Orioles’ line up continues to hit, it will be difficult for opposing pitchers to pitch around Davis, particularly with men on base.