At 6.1 fWAR on the season and having been capturing the imagination of the MLB world with his 45 home runs to date, you already know that Chris Davis is experiencing a classic age-27 breakout with, and that he’s put the whole package together from his days as a top prospect-turned-bust, etc.
What you might not know, however, is that he’s actually still kind of the same guy, and has been for a while now.
Well … as far as his penchant for whiffs is concerned, anyway. See, while the spike in his walk rate to 10.2 percent on the season is no doubt warranted and sustained by his incredible power display (why would you pitch anywhere near him, really?), the fact is that his early-season improvements to his strikeout rate (23 percent in April, 21.2 in May) have not had nearly the same kind of staying power.
It’s not necessarily easy to notice when all he seems to do is smash doubles and home runs, but when he’s not doing those things, Davis is actually still not far away from the same human air conditioner that Baltimore Orioles fans have now grown to love.
That was never more apparent than in July — otherwise known as “the first month in 2013 in which Davis did not put up a 1.000-plus OPS” — when he slugged seven home runs despite flailing away at an alarmingly-high 40.2 percent strikeout rate that would have made a 25-year-old version of himself jealous.
He has since gotten back on a tear in August that included a ridiculous four-hit display against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday, and his .316/.397/.772 slash through 53 at-bats (and seven home runs, which is really just perfunctory at this point, no?) has seen his whiff rate get chopped back to a much more playable 25 percent.
Yet, this is still a batter who has struck out a whopping 32.8 percent since the All-Star break, and who owns a team-leading 17.9 percent swinging strike rate since in that span. Even if you were to stick to a larger sample size with his 15.3 percent, that still leads the team’s regulars, and is only a mild improvement from his 15.5 from 2012.
Instead, his adjustments have been made in knowing exactly when to swing … while keeping in mind that he’s still going to miss most of the time.
Not only is he swinging less overall (51.9 percent to 54.9 last season), he’s swinging less at the outside pitches that he knows he’s probably going to whiff on (35.9 percent vs. 39.8 in 2012). Because of his ability to mitigate his biggest weakness, he has managed to continue posting incredible numbers despite a reduced contact rate at 68.9 compared to 71 percent last season.
In short, even though Chris Davis is still what you’d call a strikeout artist, he has learned live with that lifestyle at the plate and to pick his spots in spite of it.
And in minimizing his biggest vice and to maximize his biggest strength … well, the results speak for themselves, don’t they?