One would have a hard time finding three pitchers more difficult for Khris Davis to face to start the season than Chris Sale, Nate Jones, and Jose Quintana. Sale and Jones were both throwing fastballs at 96 and above while Quintana was showing a little extra zip himself in his first start.
Let's start with something that might be unfamiliar to you if you're not frequently on FanGraphs, "Pitch Values" or "Pitch Type Linear Weights:
The Pitch Type Linear Weights ("Pitch Values") section on FanGraphs attempts to answer the question, "How well has a batter/pitcher performed against/using a certain pitch?" Pitch values make use of the changes in average run expectancy from one count to another and while the changes in run expectancy between an 0-0 count and a 0-1 or 1-0 count are obviously very small, when added up over the course of the season, you can get an idea of which pitch a hitter was best against. If they hit one pitch especially hard or they are less likely to chase on sliders, these successes will show up using Pitch Type Linear Weights. Also, if a hitter swings and misses on a specific pitch frequently, this problem will show up as well.
Because the stat has limited year-to-year predictive power (That glossary says the correlation is 0.25), I'll draw three-year comparisons using 2013-15 data per 100 pitches. Let's look at each matchup in turn:
Khris Davis vs Chris Sale (Opening Night)
You wouldn't expect, looking at the linear weights for Chris Sale's pitches, that Khris Davis would struggle particularly with Chris Sale's fastball:
|2013-15, Pitch Type Linear Weights (BIS) (rankings out of qualified hitters/pitchers)|
|Khris Davis||Chris Sale|
|wFB/C (fastball)||0.98 (46/233)||0.37 (30/132)|
|wSL/C (slider)||0.37 (70/233)||1.12 (15/93)|
|wCT/C (cutter)||1.22 (43/233)|
|wCB/C (curve)||2.84 (4/233)|
|wCH/C (change)||-1.95 (228/233)||1.42 (14/121)|
|K%||24.3% (32/233)||29.4% (3/132)|
|BB%||7.6% (46/233)||5.3% (19/132)|
But as we'll see, Sale was able to get by using just his fastball for awhile before revealing his slider and changeup to Davis later in the game.
The first at bat was all fastballs, and pay attention to the velocity on them:
|PA1 vs Sale||FB97||FB97||FB96||FB96||FB95||Strikeout swinging|
After two good takes and a borderline belt-high pitch called for a strike, he just misses a meatball of a 2-1 pitch:
And again just missed on what was ultimately a poorly framed 2-2 that was on the inside edge:
The velocity on those fastballs is important, because 95-97 MPH gets into a velocity category on fastballs in the strike zone where Davis has a harder time making contact. Here are some buckets of fastball velocity over the last three years, with the king of fastball destruction, Bryce Harper, for comparison:
The second at bat for Khris Davis went eight pitches like this:
|PA2 vs Sale||FB96||SL81||FB96||FB96||SL82||SL79||FB97||CH89||Strikeout swinging|
Now Sale was throwing 96 and 97 on his fastball. While Davis isn't bad against sliders generally, Sale has one of the top 15 sliders in the game over the last three years. The second pitch of the at bat was set up by the six fastballs Davis had already seen. After Sale missed way high for ball one, Davis fouled off the fourth and fifth pitches, a fastball at 96 and then a slider coming in. Those were the first two pieces of contact Davis made. The seventh pitch missed way high to make the count 3-2.
Oh that eighth pitch. You can almost see the wheels within wheels competition between the Sale/Navarro battery and Davis. Sale just showed Davis his slider twice, once to the outside and once to the inside. So what does Sale do? Show Davis his changeup for the first time, another top 15 pitch Sale owns. Not only that, but Khris Davis is also one of the worst hitters against changeups over the last three years. It was a beautiful sequence for the visitors.
See that? He's got the timing pretty much right if that was Sale's slider, but because it doesn't break back toward the plate, he ends up whiffing on ball four.
Now Davis has seen all three of Sale's pitches, and Sale is starting to tire:
|PA3 vs Sale||CH88||SL79||FB92||Lineout to CF|
He takes the first pitch changeup on the outside half best high. Maybe he's still trying to figure out what's going on with it? Then he puts Sale's fastball in play, having been delivered at only 92 MPH and closer to the middle of the plate. It's a pretty good drive, with Statcast clocking the exit velocity at 104.5 MPH, but it ends up in Austin Jackson's vicinity for the second out.
Khris Davis vs. Nate Jones (Opening Night 8th inning)
I'm not going to bother with reliever Nate Jones' linear weights as he's only pitched 19 innings in the last two years after dealing with injuries. You'll see everything you need to know in this pitch sequence:
|PA vs Jones||FB98||FB99||FB99||SL92||Strikeout swinging|
98, 99, and 99 up the ladder? Woof. Davis at least had the discipline to take a close ball 1 on the third pitch. He isn't bad against the slider, but Davis had little chance to protect against a 92 MPH one from Jones (92!) in a two-strike situation.
Khris Davis vs. Jose Quintana (Tuesday)
Davis may have been pressing a little bit on Tuesday, because while Jose Quintana has some plus pitches, they all play into Davis' strengths:
|2013-15, Pitch Type Linear Weights (BIS) (rankings out of qualified hitters/pitchers)|
|Khris Davis||Jose Quintana|
|wFB/C||0.98 (46/233)||0.32 (36/132)|
|wCT/C||1.22 (43/233)||0.29 (23/62)|
|wCB/C||2.84 (4/233)||0.59 (23/120)|
|wCH/C||-1.95 (228/233)||-1.88 (105/121)|
|K%||24.3% (32/233)||20.6% (55/132)|
|BB%||7.6% (46/233)||6.0% (37/132)|
Quintana stays fastball/changeup with Davis to start things off:
|PA1 vs Quintana||CH84||CH86||FB92||FB93||FB93||Strikeout swinging (tipped)|
Davis lays off two changeups, one on the outside edge and the other well outside, then takes a fastball that's no where close. Davis then swings and misses at a fastball in the heart of the plate recorded at 93. Quintana sits 93-94 for the first three innings on Tuesday, after which it lose a tick or two and he starts relying on his curveball more. Quintana then offers another dangerous fastball belt-high inside, but all Davis does is tip it into Alex Avila's glove for strike three.
There are some interesting things that happen in this plate appearance that perhaps give us some more insight into how Khris Davis approaches a plate appearance when he knows he's going to see a curveball for the first time.
|PA2 vs Quintana||FB90||CH85||FB91||CB76||CB75||Strikeout swinging|
Davis takes the first pitch all the way, and it ends up being a 90 mph fastball that was the best available pitch of the at bat, and watching on replay, it looks like Davis is a little unhappy with himself for doing so. I can guess the reason why he took all the way: Danny Valencia put the first pitch in play in the at bat prior, so he didn't have a chance to get his timing right in the on deck circle.
Davis sees a 91 MPH fastball on the third pitch, which could have been a borderline strike call if taken but ends up being popped up near the camera well, where Jose Abreu fails to make the play.
The fourth pitch is the first curveball Davis sees, and it's placed perfectly on the low-and-outside corner, Davis' main weak spot. There's two strikes on Davis, so he doesn't have much choice but to go after it.
Finally, another curveball comes in and falls out of the zone as Davis tries and fails to put wood on it. Quintana wins this battle, but now Davis has seen everything Quintana has to offer.
Jose Quintana's changeup isn't doing anything for him tonight, his fastball is slowing as the game drags on, and the only other pitch Quintana has available is Davis' favorite pitch to hit. Davis has seen it all.
|PA3 vs Quintana||FB91||CH85||CB77||Double to CF wall|
Telling Austin Jackson "Not this time," Davis smokes Quintana's belt-high curveball over the head of Austin Jackson to the center field wall for a double to get his first hit as an Oakland Athletic.
Batting 2nd Wednesday night, Khris Davis vs. Carlos Rodon
Davis jumps to second in the batting order against left-hander Carlos Rodon, who made his debut in 2015 with a 3.75 ERA with a 9.0 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. With those smaller sample caveats in mind, here are Rodon's pitch values up against Khris Davis:
|2013-15, Pitch Type Linear Weights (BIS) (ranking out of qualified hitters)|
|Khris Davis||Carlos Rodon (2015)|
The big question of the night for Khris Davis will be whether Rodon will be throwing the 94-96 he managed from April to June of 2015 or sitting the 93-94 he tossed from July through September. If it's the former, we'll see if Rodon has the control to force Davis to try to catch up to those pitches, or else he'll just walk his way aboard. If it's the latter, Davis could be in for a big night tonight.