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Khris Davis is selling out his plate discipline for power

The A's slugger is on pace to shatter his career high in home runs, but is he sacrificing too much in other areas?

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

'Right handed power' has become a popular term bandied about the baseball media in the past couple of years. It seems like every team is reported to be in search of players who fit that description. Whatever the reasons are for this trend (be it a creation of the media or a legitimate desire), it’s undeniable that Khris Davis is one of the premier right-handed power bats in the major leagues. In his first year with the Oakland A’s, Davis has 26 home runs in just 385 plate appearances. This all but guarantees he will eclipse the 27 home runs he hit in 2015, which marked his career high.

What’s striking about Davis’ 2016 campaign is not just the pace at which he is mashing the ball out of the ballpark, it’s that he appears to have thrown caution to the wind regarding plate discipline and has completely sold out for power.

Khris Davis Plate Discipline

Of the 157 hitters in baseball with enough plate appearances to qualify, Davis ranks 150th in walk rate at a paltry 3.6 percent, down dramatically from the 10 percent rate he carried in 2015. His strikeout rate is actually a bit improved this year from last but is still a robust 25.5 percent, high enough to place him 20th in baseball. The most noticeable difference is Davis’ swinging strike rate has jumped to 18.1 percent, up from 15.2 percent in 2015. Not only is he dead last in this category, he brings up the rear by a wide margin, with Melvin Upton Jr. second to last yet still a full 1.6 percentage points less than Davis at 16.5 percent.

Now let’s take a look at Davis’ plate discipline this year in relation to both his 2015 numbers and where league averages currently sit in 2016. These numbers are based on the data collected by PITCHf/x.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
Khris Davis - 2015 27.6% 70.2% 48.2% 48.6% 76.9% 68.5%
Khris Davis - 2016 34.2% 74.5% 54.3% 49.2% 75.2% 67.0%
League Average - 2016 30.4% 63.8% 46.4% 62.5% 86.5% 78.3%
2016 Rank - Out Of 157 Qualified Hitters 34th 7th 10th 149th 156th 153th

Most noteworthy is that Davis is swinging more than he did last year, both in and out of the zone. There’s nothing wrong with swinging more in the zone of course; that’s where damage is done. The biggest swing increase comes with pitches chased out of the zone, up an alarming 6.6 percentage points from 2015.

His contact rate is down 1.5 percentage points overall, but it hasn’t changed too seriously from his 2015 numbers, presenting both good and bad news. The positive is that Davis is 13.3 percentage points below league average making contact outside of the zone. This is fine, ideal even, because most contact outside of the zone is weak and leads to easy outs on balls in play. Sometimes it’s preferable to swing and miss on a bad ball and remain alive in a plate appearance. The negative comes when we observe that Davis continues to be one of the worst hitters in baseball when it comes to making contact inside the strike zone.

Here’s a zone representation of all of Davis’ contact in 2016 courtesy of FanGraphs. From a purely visual standpoint you’d hope to see much more red in the middle of the zone. The weakness is evident.

Khris Davis Contact Heatmap FanGraphs

With the high swing rate and low contact rate combined with a career low walk rate, Davis carries an unimpressive .291 on base percentage into August. The good news is that when he does make contact, he’s crushing the ball with an average exit velocity of 92.4 mph. It’s safe to say that power is the defining trait that makes up Davis’ solid 114 wRC+.

At 28 years old it’s hard to envision Khris Davis continuing to change who he is too drastically. While he embodies the prototypical swing-and-miss home run hitter, in the past he has shown more discipline than has been on display this year, giving us reason to think he possesses the capacity for more patience. If Davis can cut down on the swings outside the zone a little bit, perhaps he can recapture a little bit of his previous walk rate and become more effective than ever. That’s the thing about selling out for power though. Rarely can you have it both ways.

. . .

Chris Anders is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @MrChrisAnders.

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