In his first two seasons with the Oakland A’s, Khris Davis established himself as the centerpiece of the lineup. He swatted more than 40 homers each year, and he graded out as one of the two or three best hitters on the club each time. Not only has he kept up that success in 2018, he’s actually turned it up slightly and is en route to a career-best performance.
Let’s begin with a look at Khrush’s numbers so far. He’s played 108 of the team’s 118 games, and racked up 470 plate appearances.
Khrush, 2018: .258/.332/.563, 140 wRC+, 34 HR, 8.3% BB, 25.7% Ks
Next, some context. His first full MLB season came in 2014 with the Brewers, so our table begins there (and ignores his short debut in 2013).
His power didn’t really start to kick in until 2015, but a knee injury shortened that season. He hit full stride after joining the A’s in 2016, essentially taking what he’d done the previous year and extending it into a full campaign.
For three years, Khrush was remarkably consistent. He batted exactly .247 each season, put up a wRC+ in the 120s, and struck out just under 30% of the time. The only notable blip, other than the missed time in ‘15, was a brief drop in his walk rate in ‘16 and a corresponding dip in his OBP.
This summer, he’s reached another level. His wRC+ is up, for several reasons. One is that he’s added a few points to his batting average, but not because of improved fortune in BABIP. In fact, he’s down slightly in that metric, and his extra hits have come as a result of a reduced strikeout rate — in other words, he’s simply putting the ball in play more often. He’s not swinging less, nor missing any less, nor making contact more often, but nevertheless he’s figured out how to convert more of his plate appearances into batted balls instead of useless Ks. He’s seeing fewer pitches per plate appearance, so perhaps he’s being more aggressive or doing a better job of recognizing the offering he’s looking for, but one way or other it’s not preventing him from maintaining a healthy walk rate.
The other main ingredient behind Khrush’s overall improvement is his power. He already had a case as the best home run hitter in the sport, but he’s launching dingers at an even faster pace this year. Here are his rates of plate-appearances-per-homer:
2015: 16.3 PA/HR
He’s been particularly hot lately, totaling 13 dongs in his last 19 contests — including some of the team’s clutchest knocks of the season. At this point 40 seems like a lock, and the better question is if he can have a shot at 50. That uptick can also be seen in his isolated slugging, which keeps going up every year:
2015: .258 iso
Even the punishing Coliseum isn’t slowing him down. Whereas the A’s have hit nearly twice as many homers on the road than at home this year, Khrush is about even (15 home, 19 road). He’s only three off the MLB lead of 37 held by J.D. Martinez, and perhaps he’d be on top if he only had to hit it 310 feet down the line like Martinez does in Fenway — according to Statcast, Khrush’s average homer goes 11 feet farther than J.D.’s.
Speaking of Statcast, improvements can be seen there as well. His average exit velocity is at a career high (7th in MLB, basically tied with Martinez), his average launch angle leapt up significantly, and he’s barreling the ball slightly more. It’s no wonder that he’s hitting more flyballs than ever, and then seeing more of them clear the fence.
Here’s another way of looking at things, for an idea of where he’s at compared with the last two years. The following lines represent his numbers after 108 games, which came on Aug. 13 and Aug. 5, respectively, compared with Aug. 12 this summer. (He went on to play 150 and 153 games those years, and seems likely to do the same this time around. All he’s missed this year are nine days on the DL and one half of a doubleheader, so there’s every reason to believe he can finish around 150-152 this season.)
Even accounting for the handful of extra plate appearances, he’s still ahead of his normal curve. He’s even hitting more doubles, as he’s already in the same range as the last couple years (24, 28, now 22) but with 40+ games left. Add in the fact that the extra power hasn’t cost him any of his on-base ability, and you can see why his overall profile has taken such a big step up.
As for why the 30-year-old is doing so much better, that’s a conversation for another post. It could be anything from small adjustments he’s made over time, to the benefit of veteran experience, to his transition to DH, to a boost from a stronger group of hitters around him, to weaker AL opposition than normal, or any number of other factors. It could also be that we’re looking at these numbers at a particularly favorable snapshot in time, right as the streaky slugger is in a hot phase, and maybe by year’s end he’ll even out to his norms. But for what it’s worth his wRC+ has been up over 130 for a while now, and he’s tended to finish seasons strong throughout his career.
The A’s are as good as they’ve been in years, and one thing helping to lead the charge is that Khrush is hitting better than ever before. Salute!