Move Over, Howard and Reynolds

In 2007, Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard set the single season record with 199 strikeouts. Last season, he matched his record breaking season with 199 more, but moved into second place on the all time list. Mark Reynolds, third baseman for the Diamondbacks, whiffed on 204 different occasions, “besting” Howard. Two months into the 2009 season and Reynolds, despite continuing to fan at a ridiculously high rate, actually has some competition for the throne of punchout king.

Chris Davis of the Rangers is only 23 years old and appears to combine slick glovework with raw power. When he connects with a pitch, the ball travels great distances. Already with 12 home runs, Davis has begun to establish himself as a significant slugging threat. Davis has, however, a huge weakness so far in that he is seemingly allergic to actually making contact with the ball. In 170 plate appearances and 158 at bats, Davis has struck out 71 times so far, a rate of 44.9 percent. 44.9 percent! Of his official at bats, Davis almost has a 50/50 shot of striking out.

Since 1999, only one player has finished a season with a strikeout percentage exceeding 40 percent: Jack Cust. In 2007, Cust struck out in 41.5 percent of his bats and shaved fifty basis points off of that rate last season, dropping to 41 percent. There have not even been that many different players to strikeout in at least 30 percent of their at bats over the last ten seasons. With Cust, there have been 40 player-seasons with a strikeout rate greater than or equal to 30 percent. That number is a tad deceiving though, since several players are repeat offenders.

Six of those seasons belong to Adam Dunn and another six to Jim Thome. Jose Hernandez and Ryan Howard each own three of those seasons with Cust, Preston Wilson, Jim Edmonds, Mark Bellhorn, Brad Wilkerson, Carlos Pena and Mike Cameron each owning two. In actuality, only 19 unique players have accomplished this feat, if we can call it one. Suffice it to say, Davis is currently performing in uncharted territory.

His plate discipline numbers are equally odd, straying heavily from the league average:

Davis O-Swing=   35.9%, League O-Swing=   24.3%
Davis O-Contact= 51.2%, League O-Contact= 62.5%
Davis Z-Swing=   76.1%, League Z-Swing=   65.7%
Davis Z-Contact= 60.9%, League Z-Contact= 87.6%
Davis Contact=   57.3%, League Contact=   80.6%

The standard deviations amongst qualifying players, and the number of SDs from the mean Davis has strayed are below:

Stat        SD     Davis-SDs
O-Swing     0.058     2.00
O-Contact   0.106     1.06
Z-Swing     0.064     1.63
Z-Contact   0.056     4.77
Contact     0.065     3.58

Other than contact made on pitches out of the zone, Davis has strayed substantially from the league average, numbers that will have to improve if he wants to hold down a major league starting job. A major league first baseman can succeed with a low batting average if he supplies ample amounts of power, but a .203/.259/.456 line isn’t getting it done, even with a league best glove to date. In spite of the fielding prowess and 12 long balls, Davis has been worth just 0.1 wins this year, essentially the definition of a replacement player.

Again, he is only 23 years old and should improve with more experience, but the strikeouts and plate discipline stats have certainly raised red flags. The news isn’t all bad for Reynolds, though, as Davis projects to improve with whiffs over the remainder of the season, finishing with 195. At 204, Reynolds’ record for single season strikeouts would be safe should this come to fruition, but Davis has certainly been fanning at an historic pace.

Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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13 years ago

HR or Strikeout… Two True Outcome player!