Last year the baseball world was set on fire by Chris Davis’ power explosion, as he burst out of the gate hitting four homers in his first four games, and 54 total to take the home run crown. But towards the end of the season another Khris Davis started launching bombs himself, tacking on 11 in only 153 plate appearances with an Isolated Slugging of .316. No one quite expected Khris to hit 43 homers in 2014 (his 2013 totals extrapolated over 600 PAs) but in an era where pitching rules and power comes at a premium, he was an enticing player to follow, pegged by many as a potential breakout star.
As so many pre-season breakout stars go, Davis just didn’t impress. He only hit three homers through April, and had a wRC+ of just 86, a far cry from the 160 mark he showed off last year. He struck out 30.5% of the time, which is Adam Dunn and Mark Reynolds territory. He got there by chasing 39.8% of pitches outside of the strike zone, ninth highest rate in the NL. His struggles didn’t end there, as his 18.7% swinging strike rate was highest in the league.
Pitchers made sure to avoid giving him elevated pitches, where he did most of his damage last year. Instead they have been pounding him down and away, which helped lead to his over agressiveness in the early going.
Pitchers have kept the game plan, as they still are targeting him out of the zone most often. Davis picked up on this, and decided to change his game plan to be able to hit the ball the other way, to right field. He talked about his mechanical fixes and change in approach to Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
“I found something that just clicked within my swing,” he said. “It’s just night and day, going to the opposite field. I’ve worked oppo, oppo in BP my whole life and early in the year it looked like I was trying to pull and stuff. My swing just wasn’t there. Now I feel like I have something to fall back on as far as my balance and timing.
“I like looking at good video. I don’t like looking at bad video. I found something in my balance and load that allowed me to get to right field. It felt like I couldn’t trust my hands enough to go to right field.
“Now, it just happens.”
Only two of Davis’ homers from 2013 were hit out to right field, and his pull everything approach was exploited by pitchers not giving him anything to pull. So he took the approach and shoved it right back in the pitchers’ faces.
Davis has been red-hot over the past 30 days, hitting for a monstrous 175 wRC+. He’s helped catalyze this improvement not only by going the other way, but by also fixing his discipline issues. He’s cut down on his chase rate to only 28.5%, and has seen his contact rate go up from 65.4% in March and April to 75.2% since. He’s also striking out at a lower than league average rate, only 18.8%. Being more selective with better contact numbers has opened up a whole new can of worms for Khris Davis, and the opposite field mentality was the next step to pushing him back into his breakout star status.
He’s followed through on his promises, already hitting five oppo tacos and counting. He still crushed elevated pitches much more than any other location, but he’s seen significant improvement on pitches low and away.
Here on a June 13 at-bat against Homer Bailey, Davis shows how much improvement his adjustments have made:
This rocket left the bat at 101 mph and went 384 feet, a considerable distance for an opposite field blast. The pitch came in at 94 mph but Davis was still able to track it well enough to push it out.
Despite the early season struggles, Khris Davis has found his groove to reward everyone who believed in his power performance late last year. His ability to drive balls to all fields and hit any part of the strike zone has made him an invaluable part of the surprisingly successful Milwaukee Brewers team, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down. The Brewers are projected to win the NL Central, and the breakout of Khris Davis has played a huge role in helping them get here so far.
Buy Milwaukee Brewers tickets and see Davis try to launch more home runs in 2014!