Orioles fans have shown relative restraint in not breaking the emergency glass and hitting the panic button regarding Chris Davis’ lack of power early in the season, mostly thanks to what they see from him on a nightly basis. Davis has hit rockets that would be home runs in warmer months, has made consistently solid contact, and frankly, earned a lot of rope with last year’s 53-home run performance.
Davis said after Monday’s win over the Boston Red Sox that teams are pitching him differently, which makes sense given the damage he did last year. We’re dealing with a small sample size — 82 plate appearances, roughly 12 percent of last year’s total — but Davis’ peripheral stats this season show he’s still hitting the ball in a way that indicates production like last year's is coming. He’s just not getting the results yet.
For starters, Davis’ contact rate stats in this young season don’t deviate much from either his pre-2013 statistics or his 2013 numbers. (Note: all stats are courtesy of Fangraphs.) To only compare against his 2013 stats would assume such an output — 53 home runs, 138 RBIs, a 1.004 OPS, etc. — is the norm, but factoring those into his career numbers provides a fuller picture of Davis’ track record.
Davis’ ground ball-to-fly ball ratio (GB/FB) for 2014, .83, is just below his pre-2014 career rate of .88. A lower GB/FB rate indicates a player hits more fly balls, which translates to extra-base hits. Davis’ GB/FB in 2013, .71, was third-lowest in the majors. So while he’s nowhere near that rate yet, Davis’ 2014 rate still places him sixth-lowest in the majors and indicates he’s still making similar contact.
Davis’ line drive and fly ball rates also indicate he’s keeping the ball in the air — which is the only way to have it land in the seats. His combined fly ball and line drive percentage is 65.9 percent this year, down from 67.6 percent last year but above his pre-2014 average of 64 percent.
Some of the statistical categories Davis is under-performing in thus far also suggest an improvement is coming for Davis. An average major leaguer’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is around .300, but Davis’s BABIP of .336 in 2013 was almost identical to his career .335 BABIP. Davis’ career BABIP is well above average because of his line drive swing, and his .326 BABIP so far this year suggests more hits will begin to fall for him before long. Knowing Davis’ swing, they’ll likely go for extra bases (though BABIP does not count home runs).
What’s missing, of course, is the power. With just one home run, Davis’ home run to fly ball rate is just 5.6 percent, down from a 29.6 percent clip the year before and his career rate entering this year of 19.3 percent. His 2014 fly ball rate of 40.9 percent is, again, above his career rate of 39.3 percent entering this year, but below last year’s 45.7 percent. So if Davis continues to hit the same amount of fly balls as he has in the past, his home run rate is bound to normalize and rise.
If you’re noticing a pattern emerging, there is one. Davis is lagging slightly behind his 2013 rates in many categories, but ahead of his career rates entering this year. That suggests he could improve on his 162-game averages of .266/.327/.512 with 36 home runs and 98 RBIs per full season without reaching last year’s high water mark.
Even taking into account his slow start, Davis’ ZiPS projections for the rest of the season on Fangraphs indicate he’ll lead the league from now until the end of the season with 34 home runs and drive in 92 runs — which would put him right around his career 162-game averages.
Whether that’s the Davis you were expecting is up to you. But in an Orioles lineup that will, by the time he heats up, likely have Manny Machado and J.J. Hardy healthy, and has added Nelson Cruz, Davis may not need to put up 2013 numbers for the Orioles to make the playoffs.