Friday, April 23, 2010

The Abbreviated Story of Chris Davis

I know you're all expecting analysis of the first round of last night's NFL draft, but I think it's a little rash to start analyzing teams' moves before they've actually made them. The Ravens acquired several picks last night in the trade that allowed the Broncos to select Tim Tebow, but we won't know how good the trade looks for the Ravens until they use those picks.

So, in the meantime, I figured I'd talk about a guy who I drafted fairly early in our keeper fantasy league, and whose story just got at least one chapter longer: Texas Rangers' first baseman Chris Davis.

Davis grew from relative obscurity to become one of the most prolific power hitters in the minors, and by the middle of 2008, the Rangers had to call him up. He produced immediately, smacking three homers in his first 19 MLB at-bats. But the warning signs were still there, as he struck out in six of those at-bats as well. Right away he established his propensity to be a "feast or famine" kind of player, and it's very difficult for those kinds of players to stay productive over an entire season.

He finished his rookie 2008 season with 17 HR and 55 RBI (along with 88 Ks) in 80 games, and his upside made him a keeper in our fantasy league. His owner, Vandelay Industries, saw the full crushing weight of those strikeouts firsthand, as Davis struck out 110 times in 247 at-bats through June, and while he had 15 home runs, he was hitting just .202, and his inability to make consistent contact held him to just 31 RBIs through the same time frame.

Davis was demoted in the first week of July, and many fantasy owners were happy to finally be rid of the question of what to do with him. But Davis worked on his approach, and earned another call-up in late August. He still suffered from a high strikeout rate, but he found his way to a lot more singles, and hit .308 to raise his average from .202 to .238 by the end of the season. He hit only 6 homers after his call-up, but a compromise between his two major league stints would theoretically offer a .275 hitter with 25-35 homer potential. It was that potential that led me to taking him in the 3rd round of our keeper league draft (after 8 keeper rounds).

Davis has been abysmal in 2010. Going into today's games, he was hitting .188 with zero home runs and 1 RBI. His single RBI accounted for the only RBI out of first base for the Rangers this season, the worst in the majors. He's still striking out a lot (17 times in 48 ABs, making his career rate a strikeout in 34.7% of his at-bats), and his complete inability to hit left-handers (.218 and a .409 slugging percentage in 220 career at-bats) makes me think he may be destined for a platoon.

Or not. Davis was demoted to triple-A Oklahoma City this morning by the Rangers, who called up super-prospect Justin Smoak to take over at first base for Davis. Smoak has played in just 134 minor league games since being drafted in 2008, but he's hit .293 with a more palatable 20.1% strikeout rate. Smoak hasn't displayed elite power potential in the minors thus far, and Davis will get an opportunity to play every day in Oklahoma City, so a return to the Rangers for Davis isn't impossible. But he's got to work on his approach again, and revisit the changes he made at the end of 2009 that turned him into a .300 hitter, albeit briefly.

I'm not dropping him just yet, as I had already grabbed Alberto Callaspo, who you may remember I told you to go pick up. So for as long as I can afford to sit on a minor leaguer with high-end power potential, I will. But it'll be a long time before I entrust him with a lineup spot again.

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