J.D. Davis Struggles Aren’t A Small Sample Size
As is normally the case a week into the baseball season, you will see some players perform above their talent level and some below theirs. When it comes to the slow starts, people typically take more notice and begin to look for reasons and question what is wrong.
When you see Robinson Cano hitting .188 and Brandon Nimmo hitting .087, the prudent course of action is to take a wait and see approach. These are two hitters with a track record, especially Cano, and it is very possible they emerge from these struggles and return to their career norms.
While you are inclined to give Cano and Nimmo the benefit of the doubt, J.D. Davis is a different case. When you look at his hitting .150/.227/.250, it is actually fair to ask if this is what he really is as a hitter.
Certainly, it is fair to point out his 22 plate appearances is an extremely small sample size. If you want to extrapolate it further, his 203 career plate appearances, especially since they are split up over parts of three seasons, are a small sample size as well. That said, it is somewhat troubling that with his receiving more and more opportunities, his OPS+ continues to drop.
At some point, we need to investigate why and if there is more at-hand than the variations associated with a small sample size.
Davis’ biggest proponents will point out how he led the Pacific Coast League in batting average last year. Hitters league or not, Davis put together a solid season hitting .342/.406/.583 with 25 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, and 81 RBI. The disparity between those numbers and his Major League numbers do require closer analysis.
In Triple-A last year, Davis had a 9.5% walk rate and a 18.3% strikeout rate. When Davis made contact, he hit it on the ground 40.6% of the time, and he pulled it 47.2% of the time. By and large, these numbers held true throughout Davis’ minor league career, but it should be noted the strikeout rate was a career low for him. Since he started playing for full season affiliates, Davis had struck out between 23.2% – 28.4% of the time.
Putting aside his results in the majors, his offensive profile looks similar to the type of hitter he was in the minors. In his 203 Major League plate appearances, he has walked 7.9% of the time, and he has struck out 27.1% of the time. He has a 54.2% ground ball rate, and he pulls the ball 45.8% of the time.
When looking at scouting reports, Baseball America said, “It will always come with a significant number of strikeouts and he’s unlikely to hit better than .230-.240 albeit with decent on-base percentages because he draws some walks. While many Astros have embraced hitting more fly balls, Davis’ swing leads to a lot of screaming ground balls.”
Really, when you break it down, this is what Davis is. He’s a hitter who is going to hit the ball very hard on the ground. At a time in baseball history where teams shift and even over-shift, the balls Davis hit for singles and even doubles at the Triple-A level are going to go for ground outs.
Moreover, in an area with advanced data, Major League pitchers are going to be able to pitch Davis much better than a Triple-A pitcher would. They have the scouting reports and ability to pitch it in areas not only where Davis is prone to swing-and-miss, but they are also able to locate it in areas where they know Davis will just pull a grounder into the shift.”
Unfortunately, when you break it down, even though Davis’ raw power rivals that of Pete Alonso, his production is more akin to Eric Campbell, another player who hit the ball very hard on the ground to the left side of the infield. As such, until Davis makes significant adjustments, his career is not going to “launch” the way the Mets anticipated, and sooner or later, he’s going to have be “grounded.”