Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Down & Away: The Mantra of Rajai Davis

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Image courtesy of Daylife via Getty Images
Whenever you imagine a Rajai Davis at-bat unfold, what do you see? Do you see him falling behind in the count? Do you envision him striking out on a pitch down and away?

If you're like me, that's exactly what you see every time Rajai Davis comes to the plate. Like any major league baseball player, Davis is prone to the occasional funk and currently he's in the midst of an 4 for 50 slump.

While some slumps can just be written off as a cold streak, I think Davis' slide can easily be pinpointed to a few things. For one, Rajai Davis achillies heel is he cannot lay off pitches down and away.

Davis has always been a hitter that likes to swing at pitches outside of the zone, but this season he's amped it up in terms of fishing at outside pitches. Last year, Rajai Davis was swinging at pitches outside of the zone 34.9% of the time, this year he's swinging at pitches outside the zone 39%.

Year O-Swing Z-Swing Swing O-Contact Z-Contact Contact Zone SwStrk
2006 13.5 51.6 30.9 60 100 90.5 45.6 2.9
2007 19.4 62 42 53.4 89.7 81 53 7.5
2008 36.2 66.3 52.1 65.7 91.5 83 52.8 8.6
2009 30.9 69.7 50.7 60 88.9 80 51 9.9
2010 34.3 67.1 49.9 72.6 90.8 84.3 47.6 7.7
2011 39 68 52.4 61.6 88.5 77.7 46 11.3
(Data courtesy of FanGraphs)

That small increase in itself may not be a huge cause for concern, but it's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Rajai Davis' tendencies. Overall, he's also making less contact with the ball and swinging and missing more than ever before.

Onto concern number two for Rajai Davis: any time he's behind in the count, he's basically a sitting duck. In 22 at bats where he's been in the hole 0-2, Davis has been retired each and every time, striking out nine times.

Unless you're Jose Bautista, digging out of an 0-2 hole can be pretty difficult so I'll give Rajai a free pass on that one. But it seems to be that whenever Rajai Davis has two strikes on him, he's as good as out.

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA ▴ OBP SLG OPS
0-2 Count 21 28 28 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 9 .000 .000 .000 .000
After 2-2 25 32 32 1 0 0 0 0 0 17 .031 .031 .031 .063
2-2 Count 23 30 30 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 16 .033 .033 .033 .067
After 0-2 33 48 48 2 0 1 0 0 0 23 .042 .042 .083 .125
Two Strikes 49 102 100 9 1 2 0 0 3 2 2 43 .090 .108 .140 .248
After 1-2 35 50 50 6 0 2 0 0 0 27 .120 .120 .200 .320
2-0 Count 7 7 7 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .143 .143 .143 .286
After 0-1 49 106 103 15 3 2 0 1 2 36 .146 .170 .214 .383
1-2 Count 25 32 32 5 0 2 0 0 2 0 0 15 .156 .156 .281 .438
Pitcher Ahead 44 84 83 15 2 3 0 1 2 4 0 24 .181 .190 .277 .468
For me, the most troubling statistic in this graph is that Rajai Davis is hitting .090 with two strikes. Given it's only a 100 at bat sample size, but that's one fifth of a season's at bats in which Davis is only getting on base 10.8 percent of the time when he has two strikes against him.

However, these splits aren't really all that surprising as Rajai Davis hasn't really been a great hitter when behind in the count anyway. It's just disheartening when you see the trend continue when he was supposed to be this team's leadoff hitter.

And lastly, what's worrisome to me is the fashion that Rajai Davis is allowing himself to get fooled swinging at pitches that are far outside the strike zone.

Below are a couple of Pitch F/X charts from Texas Leaguers which clearly show us how Davis just loves to fish for balls down and away.

Rajai Davis Pitch F/X Chart: 0-2 Count

Rajai Davis Pitch F/X Chart: 1-2 Count

Rajai Davis Pitch F/X Chart: 2-2 Count

These Pitch F/X charts make the scouting report on Rajai Davis very easy. Opposing pitchers must have got the memo that if Rajai Davis is behind in the count, you either feed him a steady diet of sliders away or changeups.

The remedy for the situation is pretty simple but it's the execution that's going to be difficult. Rajai Davis needs to take a page out of Jose Bautista's book and work on some plate discipline and lay off those sliders away if at all possible.

This is a trend I've noticed with Rajai Davis more and more as the season has progressed, and I think John Farrell has too considering Davis has tumbled from the top all the way down to the bottom of the batting order.

It's just disappointing because Rajai Davis was acquired to be the sparkplug this team needed at the top of the lineup and provide the speed the Blue Jays sorely lacked. Nobody expected him to put up a Jose Bautista calibre on base percentage, but at the very least get on base 30% of the time.

But now that Rajai Davis is down there hacking away in the seven and eight slot in the lineup, it feels more and more like in the short term, this trade may not have panned out exactly as Alex Anthopoulos had hoped it would.

Plate discipline excel data courtesy of Fangraphs
Situational splits courtesy of Baseball Reference
Pitch F/X Charts courtesy of Texas Leaguers

2 comments:

  1. Nice stuff Ian.

    According to this the MLB avg with 2 strikes is .141

    (http://faculty.engr.utexas.edu/bickel/Papers/AVG_by_Count.pdf)

    IMO the issue dates back to all of the off-season stories on Davis turning into a home run hitter. He's obviously taken this approach into the season and it's not working for him.

    Davis comes as advertised. A flawed speedster that's a good fill in at CF for a season or two.

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  2. Matthias, compared to the league average with two strikes I'm still surprised Davis' AVG is so low. Maybe things will even themselves out when he gets 400+ at bats or so.

    You're right, maybe Dwayne Murphy saw something in Davis' swing in Spring Training and encouraged him to stick with it. That would certainly explain why he's taking home run-sized cuts at those outside pitches.

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