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So glad you asked or "Chris Davis: Take 3"

To change my mind, you could point to me a reliable study that shows that players of his minor league profile rarely succeed. You could point me to some comparable players of that profile, and explain how their k-rates led to their downfall. You could show me that their have been no successful players with his profile (though that wouldn’t be as copacetic, it would at least be something).

Anything really. All you’ve buttressed your argument was “history shows….” without any supporting detail.

 

The burden of proof is now upon me.  We're cutting through the strawmen arguments and finally getting to the nitty gritty:  what would allow aCone419 to change his / her mind.  Frankly, I'm glad we're at this juncture.  Now we can put this baby to bed.

 

The first thing we need to understand is the argument.

Mine: Chris Davis contact rates, strike out rates, and plate discipline will retard his reaching his max potential.  The arguments that his numbers improved at every level of the minor leagues is unsubstantiated opinion.  His major league numbers were the most relevant to determining Chris Davis' skill sets going forward and playing at the highest level of competition will make it harder for Davis to overcome his weaknesses.  The league will figure him out and exploit his weaknesses.

Perhaps some people just didn't understand my argument.  I am not saying, anywhere, that Davis will NOT improve or CAN'T improve.  I have said all along that it will be DIFFICULT for him to improve, especially at the major league level.  Those who believe he has improved at every stage of the minors are basing this off the idea that because Davis remained relatively consistant, that meant he improved.  I don't really see how you can make that judgment.  If anything, improvement would be more obviously reflected in his numbers.  So let us take a look:

(But first, a disclaimer.  Minor league numbers are not necessarily a reflection of major league performance.  Talent, on the other hand, is.  A talented player will naturally have his numbers reflect said talent.  However, a spray of good stats can be misleading.  The "Quad A" player, for example, may hit extremely well at all levels of the minors, but in no way would he be considered of major league talent quality.  Let me stress that I do not believe Chris Davis is NOT major league talent quality.  This comment is merely to point out that minor league stats, in a vacuum, mean little.  They certainly mean less than major league level stats, especially since the major league level stats are more accurate and detailed.)

(Also note, strikeout percentage is erroneously portrayed as strikeouts per at bat on Fangraphs.  I prefer strikeouts per plate appearances, so my SO% numbers will be different)

2006 A- ball - .277 / .343 / .534 - BB% - 8.3, SO% -23.2 - BB/K ratio: 0.35 - 280 PA

2007 A+ ball - .298 / .340 / .573 - BB% - 5.4, SO% -29.4 - BB/K ratio: 0.18 - 418 PA

2007 AA ball - .294 / .371 / .688 - BB% - 10.7, SO% - 21.8 - BB/K ratio: 0.48 - 124 PA

Let's pause here a second.  In the first round of arguments back before the season began, some folks were pointing to his first AA numbers as an indication he'd improved.  I don't know what kind of statistical analysis would allow you to weigh 109 PAs as meaningful (and before you say anything about my examining his current season stats, hold that thought, I'll get to that), but it's certainly not the level required for prospect talent evaluation.  Epsecially since...:

2008 AA ball - .333 / .376 / .618 - BB% - 6.5, SO% - 21.7 - BB/K ratio: 0.30 - 202 PA

he basically reverts back to his normal walk rate the next season with a slightly larger sample size.  Okay, last but not least (well almost, 127 PAs, second least):

2008 AAA ball - .333 / .402 / .685 - BB% - 10.5, SO% - 22.8 - BB/K ratio: 0.45 - 127 PA

Another small sample size, another increase of walk rate.  What does it mean?  Nothing.  All it shows is that in short bursts Davis can take a few pitches.  The context of everything is missing.  We know next to nothing about why his walk rate increased.  What we can say is that it didn't last, just as it didn't before.

So what meaning can we take from these stats?  Here's my interpretations and explanations:

  • Davis has demonstrated good power.  I don't think there's any way to deny that; 48.4% of his hits went for extra bases.
  • Davis has struck out a lot.  25.2% of his plate appearances in the minors resulted in a strikeout.  That's a combined total of his strikeouts vs. a combined total of his plate appearances.  Combining numbers across minor league levels is not a wise idea, but for this instance, we are establishing patterns of behavior.  Since his major league first year percentage was 27.8%, it's not unreasonable at all to assume that he's just going to wiff a ton.  2009's numbers are just salt in the wound, but we'll get to that.
  • Davis has not walked much.  If you combine all his minor league stats (again, don't do this, it's not useful), he walked 7.4% of the time.  Since his walk rate is 6.2% so far in the majors, I think we can safely assume that Davis just isn't a high walk guy.  Modern year major league average, by the way, is around 9%.
  • Career minor league walk to strikeout ratio:  ~0.29

(Note:  I'm ignoring some other stats for the sake of keeping this simple and focusing on what I saw that led me to my conclusions.  Batting average really means nothing to me and is irrelevant to this discussion.  Stolen Bases are irrelevant.  Etc.)

Rationalities:  A poor walk rate can be an indicator of many things.  As another poster pointed out in the original Davis thread (and I apologize for not crediting you, whomever you were), those who demonstrate more plate patience and watch more close pitches are also going to strike out more looking.  That makes sense.  If you're disicplined enough to lay off a borderline pitch, sometimes it's going to go against you.  The easiest piece of evidence for this observation is the Oakland Athletics.  Lots of patient, disciplined hitters, and lots of strikeouts.  But Davis is not a huge walk guy, and still strikes out.  So we can't assume that he's a disciplined or patient hitter or that his strike outs are the result of patience or discipline.

Batters with low alk rates can also indicate that they have high contact rates; guys like Ichiro or Placido Polanco.  But neither of these guys strike out a lot.  In fact, looking down the list of all major leaguers with low walk rates and high contact rates, I can't find one that strikes out at or above the major league average rate (20%).  So we can reasonably assume that high contact rates indicate a low strike out rate.  Davis certainly doesn't have that.

Okay okay, so let's stop assuming his low walk rate means anything and get right to the crux of the problem:  the strike outs.  Looking down the list of other major leaguers (active, this season) who have struck out more than the major league average (20%), you see several correlations.  The first is power numbers.  An article by Phil Binbaum should explain that nicely.  The second is contact rates.

But there's an extra added bonus if you're paying attention.  Look at the guys who show an above average strike out rate and a below average walk rate.  Josh Fields and his career .723 OPS?  Ugh.  Chris Young and his career .728 OPS?  Gah.  Wait a tick!

Low walk rate, high strike out rate... a bad BB/K ratio?  Eureka!  We're on to something now!

BB/K < 0.30 and OPS, historical data, caeer, minimum of 3000 PAs:

Jake Stahl - 0.00 - .706

Nixey Callahan - 0.00 - .663

Billy Sullivan - 0.00 - .535

Pop Snyder - 0.20 - .552

Shawn Dunston - 0.20 - .712

Bill Phillips - 0.21 - .673

Tony Armas - 0.21 - .740

Corey Patterson - 0.22 - .698

Mariano Duncan - 0.22 - .688

Cory Snyder - 0.23 - .716

Joe Homung - 0.24 - .627

Jim Presley - 0.24 - .710

Bill Bergen - 0.25 - .395

Pat Meares - 0.26 - .673

Cy Young - 0.26 - .516

Alex Gonzalez - 0.26 - .691

Cito Gaston - 0.27 - .695

John Shelby - 0.27 - .645

Don Demeter - 0.27 - .766

Luis Salazar - 0.27 - .673

Joe Hernandez - 0.28 - .729

Bob Oliver - 0.28 - .696

Pat Borders - 0.28 - .663

Alfonso Soriano - 0.28 - .844

Pete Incaviglia - 0.28 - .758

John Bateman - 0.28 - .621

Frank Hankinson - 0.28 - .568

Hick Carpenter - 0.29 - .603

Jerry Denny - 0.29 - .671

Juan Uribe - 0.29 - .718

Andres Gallaraga - 0.29 - .846

Jose Guillen - 0.30 - .769

Shea Hillenbrand - 0.30 - .760

Mike Marshall - 0.30 - .768

There are NOT a lot of positive OPSes sitting there amongst those low BB/K rates are there?  In fact, only two are north of and .800 OPS; Alfonso Soriano and Andres Galaraga.  Of those two, Soriano doesn't quite fit because he keeps his strike out rate right at league average and his contact rates are significantly higher than Davis'.  But... the Big Cat.  Now that's an interesting comp I hadn't seen before.  Sadly, we don't have contact rates dating back for all of Galarraga's career (only 2002-2004's, which hovered around 67%), but otherwise he fits right in with Davis' mold.  Low walks (highest rate ever was 10.2%, 1998, at age 37, lowest was 3.3%), high strike outs (highest 29.3%, i'm not counting his last season and it's 11 PAs, lowest 15.5%, 1992, not coincidentally his best season by wOBA), decent power (.211 ISO, career).  And he had a good career.  Bravo to the Big Cat.

But look at these numbers;  they don't lie.  Going even a little beyond the 0.30 BB/K ratio, and sticking with the low walks and high strikeouts mold, you can find some other interesting names like Dave Kingman, Henry Rodriguez, Geoff Jenkins, and Dean Palmer.  After that, you start running into too many guys with higher walk rates, better contact rates (lower strikeouts), or what have you.  Basically the comps get too different.  So what we're left with is basically one guy who manages to fit into Davis' mold that had a decent career.  Decent enough to reach 3000 PAs anyway.  That's it.  One.

In fact, the highest OPS I can find in history of players with high strikeout rates and a low walk rate is Sammy Sosa (0.40 BB/K, .878 OPS), but he kept his walk rate average and.... well, let's just not go there, huh?  Sammy doesn't want to address those things, so we wont either.

I have met or exceeded your criteria.  I have laid my case for why the red flags of Chris Davis' minor league career set off alarms in my head.  I have provided historical precedent says that players with Chris Davis' skill set just don't succeed.  I have given you comparable players, only one of which was considered a major league success.  Their strike out rates, coupled with their poor walk rates, made them mediocre players at best, horrible black holes at worst.  And this isn't even taking into context positional considerations like how a first baseman is supposed to be the best offensive player on the field other than a DH.

The onus is now on you to change your beliefs.  Either way, I'm done with this damned conversation.  Good luck.

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