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Collette Calls: What Happened to Chris Davis?

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

A player entered play Monday with a .201/.319/.386 slash line. That player was not Justin Smoak, Lyle Overbay, Gaby Sanchez, or Chris Carter. That line belonged to first-round selection Chris Davis.

Just one season after Davis posted a 1.004 OPS and slugged 53 home runs while driving in 138, he has hit 40 fewer home runs and driven in 96 fewer runs. In the history of fantasy busts, Davis' performance to date is on pace to be one for the ages. Last season, Davis was worth $43 in a 15-team 5x5 mixed league. This season, Davis' value to date is just $5. On the plus side, he has been worth as much as Carlos Gonzalez this season. On the downside, he has the same value as B.J. Upton does, and he has been worth less than the likes of Allen Craig, Juan Francisco, and Chris Owings.

After a four-season run of year-to-year improvement, Davis has taken a fall back into the abyss that eventually had him traded from Texas to Baltimore and has left fantasy owners, and analysts, scratching their heads wondering what to do with the big slugger. Rarely do we see a player at age 28 have such a fall-off from a breakout season. While many thought Davis would have some regression this season, not even the biggest internet troll would have gone on record predicting that Davis would go on to repeat the type of season Mark McGwire had in 1991. That season, McGwire hit 22 homers and drove in 75 while batting .201/.330/.383.

If you are a Davis owner in a keeper league, you have to hope that Davis has the type of follow-up season that McGwire, as the retired slugger hit 42 homers, drove in 104, and hit .268/.385/.585 the following season in 1992. In order to decide whether that kind of rebound is possible for Davis, we need to see what is not working for him this season.


When looking at Davis' slash line, people may assume that the slugger is striking out more frequently than he did last season. Technically, they are right as his rate is up just a tad, but it is essentially right in line with the previous four seasons. The issue for Davis in terms of swings and misses are the pitches he is whiffing on within the strike zone. His Z-Contact% (contact in the zone) this season is 76%, which is his lowest effort since 2009. The following table shows Davis' swing-and-miss rate, by pitch type, on pitches within the strike zone:

PITCH TYPE20132014

Last season, Davis hit .308 and slugged .652 against hard stuff (all varieties of fastballs) in the strike zone. On soft stuff in the zone, Davis batted .442 while slugging 1.058. This season, Davis has hit .297 and has slugged .550 on hard stuff in the zone, but the soft stuff has eaten him alive as Davis is hitting just .136 and slugging .333 on non-fastballs in the strike zone.

Pitchers try to get ahead of batters to get them to expand their strike zones, which ultimately causes hitters to get themselves out. In Davis' case, pitchers don't even need to get him to expand the zone as much as they just need to pitch backwards to get him out. The cruelty of the off-speed pitch is that if the batter is cheating on the fastball and does make contact with a breaking ball on the outer half or a changeup, they're likely to roll over onto it. Davis does plenty of this.

Teams employ the shift on Davis every time he is up because Davis is mostly a pull hitter. While he has power to all parts of the park, when he does hit the ball on the ground, it is nearly always to his pull side. Since Davis typically makes very hard contact, he has been able to defy the shift by smoking hard hit balls over, under, and through the shift in recent seasons. Davis' batting average on balls in play the past three season has been .366, .335, and .336. This season, his BABIP has fallen all of the way down to .255 with his struggles rolling over off-speed pitches and hitting softer balls right into the teeth of the shift.

Last season, Davis hit some balls the other way and back up the middle. This season, he has shown more extreme pull tendencies with his groundballs, and he has not been able to break through the anaconda blockade opposing defenses have set up on the right side of the infield.

Keep mind that Davis missed some time this season with an oblique injury, which certainly does deserve some blame to his issues this season as missing time on the disabled list can disrupt timing for even the best hitters once they come back from the injury. That's also an injury that can resurface so perhaps there is some hesitancy in the back of Davis' mind to really let it fly. Davis was hitting .250/.372/.382 when he went to the disabled list in late April and has hit just .180/.296/.388 since returning on Mother's Day in early May.

While Davis has hit 11 of his 13 homers since returning from the disabled list, he has been extremely pull happy. When he was using all fields more frequently before the injury, he had a .340 BABIP; since he's returned from injury with pull tendencies, his BABIP has fallen to .216. His pull tendencies have been complicated by an increased groundball rate as he rolls over on the off-speed pitches.

Chris Davis' poor season comes in a year in which he has had to deal with an injury, contract negotiations, and becoming a first-time father a couple of months ago. Human elements can affect a player's performance and those issues cannot be dismissed as folly as we look to figure out why Davis is struggling so badly in situations where he flourished last season. In keeper leagues, Davis is primed to be poached from any team that is in contention that is running out of patience with the slugger. Like McGwire 22 years ago, Crush could come surging back with another 40/100 season.