Khris Davis and Others Who Have Pressed Before

Khris Davis has maintained excellent exit velocity all year, and has 33 home runs to his name, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t pressed at times with his new team. His walk rate is less than half what it used to be, and his swinging-strike rate is up nearly 20%.

The Oakland outfielder admitted that his decision on when to swing hasn’t been at its finest this year. “I was putting pressure on myself in a new environment,” he told me recently before a game against the Indians. “It was mental. Just kinda settled down.”

It’s something we can easily see in his swing percentages — but, perhaps more importantly, it’s totally normal and has happened very often to other big bats changing teams.

Take a look at Davis’ swing graphs, and you can see him settling down in graphical format. Watch his swing rate explode early in his Athletics’ tenure, and then decline steadily towards his personal career average with time.

DavisSwing

This is one of those “baseball players are humans” moments, and it’s totally intuitive. But not every human being reacts to the same situations in the same way, and so I’d usually treat this as a “story” moment — a moment that could be true for Khris Davis without being true for everyone.

I thought it might be interesting to test how universal the situation is, though. In order to capture other Khris Davises of the past, I looked for batters coming off seasons of good production at the plate (offense that was 20% above league average or better) in a hearty sample (400 plate appearances or more) who then changed teams in the offseason. Because I had to do this by hand, I went back three years. In order to judge “pressing” I used overall swing percentage and also reach percentage.

Pressing On a New Team
Player Year April Swing Year Swing Career Swing April O-Swg Year O-Swg Career O-Swg
Khris Davis 2016 54.6% 53.6% 50.6% 31.4% 32.9% 30.2%
Jason Heyward 2016 41.3% 41.8% 42.7% 23.6% 26.5% 27.2%
Justin Upton 2016 47.4% 44.9% 44.9% 26.3% 25.5% 25.7%
Denard Span 2016 41.7% 44.2% 41.1% 22.4% 25.9% 23.1%
Ben Zobrist 2016 35.7% 35.6% 38.1% 22.5% 21.2% 22.4%
Adam Lind 2016 51.4% 48.9% 46.0% 43.0% 40.2% 33.4%
Hanley Ramirez 2015 48.0% 50.0% 45.7% 26.1% 32.9% 28.9%
Russ Martin 2015 39.8% 41.0% 40.6% 17.8% 22.0% 20.9%
Nelson Cruz 2015 46.2% 48.7% 48.4% 25.3% 33.8% 30.8%
Melky Cabrera 2015 46.3% 46.8% 46.4% 34.6% 33.8% 32.5%
Adam LaRoche 2015 43.3% 43.1% 42.7% 24.8% 26.4% 25.7%
Michael Morse 2015 55.2% 49.0% 51.6% 36.5% 30.7% 35.5%
Dexter Fowler 2015 42.6% 41.2% 41.9% 21.9% 20.0% 21.6%
Evan Gattis 2015 54.2% 50.8% 51.4% 44.3% 38.0% 38.2%
Justin Upton 2015 50.7% 44.5% 44.9% 32.7% 24.0% 25.7%
Matt Kemp 2015 52.8% 51.1% 49.3% 37.3% 35.6% 32.6%
Brandon Moss 2015 46.1% 49.6% 49.2% 32.7% 31.8% 31.5%
Josh Donaldson 2015 46.0% 45.7% 44.4% 24.9% 24.7% 25.2%
Adam Lind 2015 46.2% 45.2% 46.0% 38.9% 36.4% 33.4%
Robinson Cano 2014 50.9% 49.6% 51.3% 40.5% 35.6% 33.9%
Shin-Soo Choo 2014 37.9% 40.5% 42.1% 16.2% 21.1% 22.0%
Brian McCann 2014 48.9% 43.6% 44.2% 34.3% 28.3% 29.2%
Jhonny Peralta 2014 49.1% 48.8% 48.5% 26.8% 27.6% 28.3%
Carlos Beltran 2014 47.4% 44.5% 44.4% 31.6% 28.9% 27.9%
Marlon Byrd 2014 57.0% 57.2% 51.5% 41.7% 42.2% 33.0%
Nelson Cruz 2014 47.6% 49.8% 48.4% 29.6% 33.2% 30.8%
Kendrys Morales 2014 50.1% 47.7% 47.6% 35.0% 33.0% 32.4%
Prince Fielder 2014 46.9% 44.5% 45.1% 34.5% 31.6% 29.9%
Average 47.3% 46.5% 46.0% 30.6% 30.1% 29.0%
Sample: Batters with a 120 wRC+ or better in 400+ PA that changed teams in the winter by signing or trade since October 2013. Top three pressers in each category highlighted by bold.

Davis was pressing by these measures, since he’s swinging and reaching more than he has in his career, both in the first month and for his first year with the Athletics. He’s worse than average when it comes to the swing difference, and about average when it comes to the difference in reaching.

And that’s interesting! Twenty-nine different slugger-years, and these guys have swung more often and reached more often when they landed on new shores.

You can quibble with the selection process, but these are the best bats that have changed teams in the last three years, mostly. And there could be some regression happening, but the figures produced with each player’s new club differ (in most cases) from established career rates — even while batters mostly just swing less as they get older — so this flies in the face of normal age effects to some extent.

Not all of these guys are created the same, of course. Marlon Byrd shows up as a league leader in all formats, but he was in the midst of a philosophy change that meant more aggression in order to achieve more power. That pre-dated his move, but also didn’t exist long enough to change his career numbers. Maybe that’s true of others.

But it certainly looks like Adam Lind (this year) and Hanley Ramirez (last year) were among the biggest pressers of the last three years. That’s not to shame them, not at all. The point here, if there is one, is that this is a nigh universal thing. Only one player in the sample (Jason Heyward this year) came to a new team and promptly began swinging less across the board. That takes some fortitude, really.

And that’s my personal takeaway from this. As a fan, these numbers could be used as a salve — this new player is pressing, yes, but not in a way that can’t be undone! Not in a way that hasn’t happened before! Things will be fine, most likely. These numbers will regress to their career averages, most likely. Khris Davis will take a walk again.





With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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wobatus
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wobatus

Same thing may be true of rookies but harder to tell because of the difference between minor league and major leagues anyway. Good stuff.

dl80
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Member
dl80

This is mostly unrelated, but it got me thinking about what are the greatest rookie seasons in history. If we count any season in which a player was still technically a rookie (so that a small call up or even several doesn’t count), we’ve witnessed 4 of the 10 best in the last 100 years all in the last 15 years: Pujols, Trout, Seager, and Bryant. And 3 were in the last 5 years.

It’s amazing that these four have outpaced Joe Jackson, Ted Williams, Musial, DiMaggio, and Ruth (who lost rookie eligibility early because of his odd career beginning). Some may be because better defensive stats are giving those guys more value from their defense, but still.

As for pitchers, the last top 10 rookie was Doc Gooden in 1984 (he’s still #1 overall), and Yu Darvish in 2012 at 23rd best is the highest in the 2000s. There are no other top 30 guys from 2000 or beyond.

Some of that is probably due to the way pitchers are treated now and how they throw so many fewer innings, but it’s still pretty surprising to me.