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Tough Khuestion: What Does The Future Hold For Khris Davis?

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Los Angeles Angels
“My eye black is ‘rooted in Oakland,’ baby!”
Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Few can agree on what 2020 will look like for Khris Davis but most can find common ground in conceding that 2019 was not good. It wasn’t “Chris Davis” bad, but as mediocre as it was statistically (.220/.293/.387, 23 HRs), it was harder to watch.

A hip injury, a contract extension, a HBP on the hand, and a wRC+ of 64 in the season’s second half while slugging all of .327. The A’s insist Davis ended the season healthy. No one, however, suggested “healthy and happy”.

If you’re worried that Davis has fallen off a cliff never to shine again (we call that “pulling a Chone Figgins”), take solace in the fact that the A’s slugger is only 31. He is under contract for his age 32 and 33 seasons and while it is possible to fall off a cliff in your early 30s it is very uncommon. The bat speed is probably still there, even though it sure swung through an awful lot of fastballs in the zone in May-September 2019.

If you’re thinking, “Aha, I found a flaw: he was pulling off pitches, no wonder he flailed at so many RH offerings!” remember that when he is raking to the tune of .247 with 40+ HRs, Khris also appears to pull off of pitches — only he proceeds to launch them into the bleachers in LF, CF, and RF.

Most of all, though, if you’re thinking “After watching him this year, I think there’s no way he could return to his prime form,” the good news is that players bounce back all the time. For every 2018 Blake Treinen who becomes 2019 Blake Treinen, there is a similar reversal.

Who would ever want a pitcher whose ERA (and FIP/xFIP to match), from 2015-2017, rose from an already unsightly 4.99 up to 5.87 and then 6.41? That was Anibal Sanchez, he of the near no-hitter in game 1 of the NLCS, owner of a 2.63 ERA in 2018 with Atlanta and a solid campaign for this year’s Nationals (11-8, 3.85).

The first burning question is: What exactly was behind Khris Davis’ struggles in 2019? How much was he impacted (literally) by the hip injury sustained when he lost a battle with the side wall in Pittsburgh, and the hand/wrist strength lost to the HBP? Was he in any way affected by signing the contract extension and then trying to live up to the promise of maintaining strong production? And if the answers are “no” and “no,” then what exactly explains a consistent and potent power hitter repeatedly fanning on the very pitches he mashed for 3 years, waving at the very pitches he often laid off, and settling for fly balls short of the warning track that used to get a second wind and land halfway up the bleachers?

If you’re a fan of “Freaky Friday,” the book/movie which brought you Liam Hendriks and Blake Treinen switching bodies this season, perhaps you will conclude that Matt Olson had his hamate bone removed and it sapped Khris Davis’ power. (It sure didn’t sap Olson’s!) If you’re familiar with “The Creature,” you might opine that Davis is a guy who can get inside his own head, and even if the contract extension was a non-factor perhaps the narrative started to haunt him once he slumped for a few weeks and it all snowballed on him.

Where I am with it is thinking that most likely the hip and hand injuries did take a toll on Davis’ power, for a while, and after that it became a mental block trying so hard to pull out of a funk that the funk only got worse. There is a legitimate mental aspect to baseball and Khris Davis is a strong candidate to be impacted by the voices swirling around his own head.

He is also too good of a power hitter to go all “Steve Blass” on the world. (Blass lost the ability to throw strikes, seemingly overnight, and never recovered.) Fully healthy, with an off-season to push the “reset” button, I can’t imagine a 32 year old Davis picking up where he left off in 2019 and never turning the corner to get back on track.

Of course what “back on track” looks like is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it is no longer .247 with 40+ HRs as Davis leaves his prime and gets into his 30s. Maybe it’s more like .240 with 35 HRs — I think the A’s, and their fans, could more than live with that.

Or maybe the name is just cursed with regard to contract extensions, as are the A’s (see Chavez, Eric along with Kotsay, Mark and Crisp, Coco). My own suspicion is that nothing was going to turn around in 2019 until the off-season could press that “reset” button, and that Khrush will come back in 2020 doing justice to the nickname again.

Unless he starts the season 0 for 12 with 7 Ks, gets in his own head about it, and ... You know what, let’s just take that as it comes. I think he’ll be ok.