With the MLB Winter Meetings looming next week, there has been plenty of Hot Stove talk centered on the Brewers here in Milwaukee. There is a large faction of fans and several sports radio hosts in the area that are convinced the Brewers need a big name acquisition; one of the ideas most bandied around is making a deal for Matt Kemp to replace Khris Davis in left field. While Matt Kemp in Milwaukee is ludicrous on many levels (a 35 year old Ryan Braun and a 34 year old Kemp making a combined $40.5 mil in 2019 for starters), the thought itself begs this question: is Khris Davis the answer in 2015?
Khris Davis burst on to the scene with a big Spring Training in 2013. After struggling off the bench in the early part of the season, Davis became the starter in left field after Ryan Braun’s suspension in connection to Biogenesis. All told, Davis hit .279/.353/.596 in 153 at bats with 11 home runs and a .316 ISO. This was enough to convince management to trade leadoff hitter Nori Aoki, shift former a former MVP across the outfield, and give Davis an everyday spot.
Davis was less impressive in 2014, but overall put together a solid first full season. His slash line .244/.299/.457 was good enough for an OPS+ of 107, and he added 22 home runs. Khris, however, walked only 5.8% of the time while striking out 22.2%. He struggled in the second half to the tune of a .229/.294/.429 line while losing starts to Gerardo Parra as the Brewers faded down the stretch. Coming off the bench wasn’t much suited for Davis, either; he was 0-11 as a pinch hitter in 2014. Some of the struggles Khris experienced can be attributed to pitchers learning Davis’s game and making adjustments; he was particularly awful against changeups with a .131 average in 2014 and a -5.0 wCH (runs above average against changeups). Still, Davis was worth 2.1 wins above replacement in 2014 (Matt Kemp was valued at 1.1 WAR).
With his first full season behind him, there is a lot of reason for optimism for Khris heading into 2015. Though pitchers were able to figure him out to a degree in 2014, there are several encouraging statistics that show Davis should be able to take the next step. First, Khris is not a player with a significant platoon split. A triple slash of wRC+/ISO/OPS shows a 111/.218/.777 line verse lefties was comparable to his 106/.212/.749 line against righties, proving Khris can be an above average offensive producer against both. While his walk rate overall was poor, it was skewed by a bad September (when the whole team was struggling) and an abysmal April. In between, he managed marks of 7.2%, 7.1%, 7.1%, and 9.9%. Across his five minor league seasons, Davis walked at a 12.7% rate, so we should expect Khris to show improved patience next year. Davis’s isolated power mark of .214 was the 15th highest in baseball last season. With scoring down dramatically over the last five seasons, someone with Davis’s ability to hit the ball far is becoming a more and more valuable commodity. Though Davis only managed a .244 average last season, it could be contributed in part to bad luck, as his .273 BABIP was 27 points lower than league average (his minor league career BABIP is an astonishing .332). One could easily expect more hits to fall for Khris next year. Finally, perhaps the most surprising fact was that Khris Davis was rated among the league’s better left fielders last season. Khris has always been considered a poor defender, but his UZR of 3.1 and DRS of 5 both ranked sixth among left fielders in 2014. While his arm is still rated as rather weak, Davis has proven he can at least be a serviceable major league outfielder.
Many fans have fallen into the trap of “big name” players. They have a recognizable name, play in a big market, and make a lot of money, so they have to be good, right? The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and while Khris Davis had a flawed year in his first full season in the show, giving up on him would be foolish at this point. Acquiring an overpaid, overvalued “superstar” would require a large commitment both prospect wise and dollar wise. Putting Gerardo Parra in left would be giving the majority of at bats to a defense first player whose OPS has declined each year since 2011. Khris Davis is a young player on the rise and he has a full offseason to adjust to the ways pitchers attacked him last year. Davis is primed for a big 2015, and he will be ‘Khrushing’ balls as the right man in left field for Milwaukee.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Reference, and the Baseball Cube