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Khris Davis’ Own Flyball Revolution

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Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
Davis hit this 406 ft.home run off Gerrit Cole at 106 MPH and and angle of 26.8 deg.
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As hard as it is to believe that Khris Davis is having his most powerful season, it’s true. Yes, the man who leads baseball in home runs hit in the past three calendar years has managed to improve in that regard. In the past three years Davis has hit three more home runs than the next best hitter (Nelson Cruz), despite playing in 20 fewer games. Among MLB hitters with at least 900 PAs the past three years Davis’ .287 ISO is 6th best. There is simply no denying that Davis is among the most prolific power hitters in the game.

Statcast Says

In 2016 Davis’ 91.8 MPH average exit velocity was good for 3rd among hitters with at least 190 batted-balls. Last season his 92.2 MPH was 5th in baseball, and so far this year his 93.6 MPH is 4th highest. This season he owns the 10th highest hard-hit rate with 48.8% of his batted-balls coming off the bat at 95 MPH or higher. Last season his hard-hit rate was 52.1% and in 2016 it was 48.2%. In each of 2016 and 2017 Davis recorded 67 barreled-balls and he has barreled 27 baseballs so far in 2018. He hits the ball very hard very often.

Many sluggers use their power to pull the ball. Not Davis, though. 14 of Davis’ home runs have gone to straightaway center or the opposite field, trailing only JD martinez’s 16. Davis, however, leads baseball in home runs to dead center with 9. He led baseball with 21 such long balls last season as well. Take a look at each of Davis’ home runs since 2016. he hits them to every park of the park.

Davis’ home run spray chart 2016-2018.
BaseballSavant.com

There isn’t a metric available that could tell you that Davis is not an elite power hitter. However, he has never been this good. As noted above his average exit velocity has increased slightly each of the past three seasons and he is hitting the ball “hard” with the same regularity. What’s different about Davis’ performance this season?

We Have Lift-Off

Davis is barreling the baseball and making hard contact at the same rate as each of the previous two seasons, give or take. However he is simply getting airborne far more often than any previous season.

As Davis’ flyball rate has increased, so has his power.
Fangraphs.com


Davis’ Batted-Ball Profile

Year GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH%
Year GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH%
2016 1.06 17.0 % 42.7 % 40.2 % 5.1 % 26.6 % 6.5 %
2017 0.91 19.3 % 38.4 % 42.3 % 6.3 % 26.9 % 6.2 %
2018 0.8 13.4 % 38.4 % 48.2 % 8.9 % 25.3 % 1.6 %
Fangraphs.com

Davis has kept his groundball rate where it was in 2017, which is lower than his 2016 GB%, but he’s traded line drives for flyballs. His 48.2% flyball rate is easily the highest of his career and is currently 7th highest in baseball. His launch angle remained stable from 2015 to 2016, but saw an uptick of 2 degrees in 2017. This year he again has increased his launch angle 2 degrees to 16.4.

Davis’ Statcast profile

Season Barrels Barrel % Exit Velocity Launch Angle XBA XSLG XWOBA WOBA Hard Hit %
Season Barrels Barrel % Exit Velocity Launch Angle XBA XSLG XWOBA WOBA Hard Hit %
2015 40 14.7 89.6 12.6 0.23 0.491 0.34 0.353 43.2
2016 67 17 91.7 12.9 0.254 0.561 0.368 0.349 48.2
2017 67 17.7 92.2 14.2 0.264 0.583 0.394 0.361 52.1
2018 28 17.1 93.7 16.4 0.266 0.631 0.408 0.371 48.8
BaseballSavant.com

Additionally, Davis hits the ball in the 25-30 degrees range more often than any other angle, as opposed to last year when his launch angle was most often 20-25 degrees.

Davis’ launch angle distribution in 2017.
BaseballSavant.com
Davis’ launch angle distribution in 2018.
BaseballSavant.com

His increase in launch angle and increase in fly balls line up with Statcast’s expected batted-ball type based on launch angle.

Statcast’s Batted-Ball Types

Batted-Ball Type Ideal Angle
Batted-Ball Type Ideal Angle
Ground ball < 10 deg.
Line drive 10-25 deg.
Fly ball 25-50 deg.
BaseballSavant.com

On Pace to be an All-Time Great

To put it simply, Davis is hitting the ball with the same authority as he always has, only he’s put the ball in the air much more often and this is leading to better results. Much has been made of the launch angle revolution across baseball and how it’s turned ordinary hitters such as Yonder Alonso and Justin Turner into power threats. Davis has been making his own transition, except that it’s been less noticeable. Seeing Davis’ name at or near the top of the league leaders list for home runs is commonplace (and it feels weird to conclude with this) but It’s time we start recognizing that Khris Davis may be in the midst of one of the best all-time power seasons from an Oakland Athletic.

Top-10 Oakland Power Seasons

Rank Season Name PA HR ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
Rank Season Name PA HR ISO SLG wOBA wRC+
1 1996 Mark McGwire 548 52 0.418 0.730 0.489 190
2 1969 Reggie Jackson 677 47 0.333 0.608 0.442 179
3 1987 Mark McGwire 641 49 0.329 0.618 0.411 157
4 2001 Jason Giambi 671 38 0.317 0.660 0.465 193
5 1992 Mark McGwire 571 42 0.317 0.585 0.420 171
6 2000 Jason Giambi 664 43 0.314 0.647 0.471 183
7 2018 Khris Davis 258 20 0.313 0.561 0.371 139
8 1991 Jose Canseco 665 44 0.290 0.556 0.398 152
9 2017 Khris Davis 652 43 0.281 0.528 0.361 128
10 1999 John Jaha 570 35 0.280 0.556 0.417 149
Fangraphs.com