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Friday, July 19, 2013
Davis goes from chasing pitches to records

By Lee Singer, ESPN Stats & Info

ESPN Stats & InformationChris Davis is being much more selective on fastballs this season than earlier in his career.
Chris Davis has developed into one of the elite hitters in baseball this season, making it easy to forget how far he’s come over the last few seasons.

During his first two years in the majors, Davis struck out 32 percent of the time he came to bat. Of players with at least 600 plate appearances in their first two seasons, only Mark Reynolds struck out more frequently. And to compare career trajectories, Reynolds set the single-season strikeout record in his third season.

Davis has been sent back to the minors six times since his major-league debut, including as recently as two years ago. When he couldn’t find a role with the Texas Rangers, he was traded at the 2011 deadline with Tommy Hunter to the Baltimore Orioles for reliever Koji Uehara.

Flash forward to 2013 and Davis entered the All-Star break with 37 home runs, tied for the second most in major-league history behind Barry Bonds, who hit 39 in 2001.

How did he get here? Improvement in three key areas:

More contact: Davis has lowered his strikeout rate to 28 percent, a significant improvement from those first two seasons. He’s also lowered his swing-and-miss rate over that time from 36 percent to 32 this season.

More fly balls: Last season, Davis hit 33 home runs while hitting fly balls only 39 percent of the time, slightly above the league average of 36 percent. This season, he’s raised his fly ball rate to 46 percent, sixth in the majors.

Better plate discipline: Over the previous four seasons, Davis swung at 36 percent of pitches out of the zone. This season he’s lowered that to 30 percent. This has allowed him to get into better counts.

From 2009-12, Davis saw a 2-0 or 3-1 count in 14 percent of his plate appearances. This season he’s seeing those counts in 22 percent of his trips to the plate and hitting .448 with a MLB-leading 12 homers after getting in those counts.

Additionally, he’s raised his walk rate from under seven percent during the first five seasons of his career to 10 percent this season.

Davis’ improved plate discipline is especially evident against fastballs, as shown in the heat maps at the top of the page. His swings are clustered more in the strike zone this season (on the right), and he’s less prone to chasing high fastballs or those below the knees.

The results have been incredible -- he has 18 home runs on fastballs, most in the majors and just four short of his total over the previous four seasons combined.