It didn't take long for Chris Davis to find success at the major league level. The Rangers first baseman burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2008 posting a .285/.330/.549 line with 17 home runs in his first 80 big league games. Expectations were high going into 2009, but Davis failed to live up to his rookie hype, sinking to a .238/.284/.442 line in 113 games while striking out 150 times. Through his first two Major League seasons, Davis is in rare air historically.
The Play Index tool on baseball-reference.com shows how historically high, or in this case low, Davis' career contact rate is. In the simplest terms, contact rate measures a hitter’s ability to put the ball in play. Davis’ contact rate is the lowest in Major League history for a player 23 or under over the course of his first two seasons played. To put it another way, nobody at Davis’ age and experience level has struck out at the rate he has. Ever. Still, despite his propensity to swing and miss, hope remains for the first baseman, especially when you compare him to some other sluggers with historically low contact rates at his age.
LOWEST CONTACT RATES, SINCE 1901
23 years of age or younger, over first two seasons.
Eight of the nine other players on the list became All-Stars during their careers, with some ranking among the greatest home run hitters of their generation. What Davis lacks, compared to this group, is plate discipline. Davis’ career walk-to-strikeout ratio is .18, the worst of the nine players. For reference, the MLB average in 2009 was .50. Players who struggle to make contact and have well-below-average plate discipline typically don’t last long in the big leagues.
However, many of the players on the previous list made improvements in their third seasons.
THIRD YEAR IMPROVEMENT?
How did notable poor contact hitters fare in their 3rd season?
Five of the players equaled or bettered their contact rate while four did the same for their walk-to-strikeout ratio. Only Reggie Jackson and Darryl Strawberry improved both. Davis has a long way to go to be compared to Jackson or Strawberry, but there are some positives to go on. After spending 44 games in Triple-A, Davis improved his contact rate by almost 20 percent, raising it from 56 percent in the first half to a respectable 73 percent after returning to the big leagues. His walk-to-strikeout ratio still sat at .19, however. With highly-regarded prospect Justin Smoak pushing for playing time at first base, 2010 may be a make or break season for Davis. Season-long improvements in his contact rate and plate discipline will go a long way in determining whether his career path rivals Pete Incaviglia or Reggie Jackson. This makes him One2Watch4.