The Next Khris Davis

Earlier this season on FanGraphs, Ben Clemens embarked on a journey to search for a player similar to Mike Trout. Now of course, no one in the past half-decade has come close to replicating Trout’s production – but it was a fun exercise in player comparison analysis. My colleague found that Tommy Pham was Trout’s closest match.

Consider the following blind resumes for 2019:

2019 Blind Resumes
Player A 182 12 0.242 0.313 0.479 19.8% 38.0% 42.1% 23.5% 44.6% 43.8% 0.329 108
Player B 242 15 0.239 0.293 0.500 16.7% 43.3% 40.0% 25.0% 40.0% 42.7% 0.330 105
Player C 223 15 0.250 0.300 0.514 19.1% 33.6% 47.4% 20.8% 40.8% 43.4% 0.338 112

The three players profile very similarly. They all have a fly-ball tilt to their batted ball tendencies, with few line drives. They all have large HR/FB ratios, and each have high hard-hit and medium-hit rates.

By the title of this article, you likely have already guessed the true name of one of the above lines. Player A is none other than Khris Davis.

For fantasy baseball, Khris Davis is one of the most stable and valuable players that you can find. If you are a reader of this site, you are well aware that Davis has hit for a batting average of exactly .247 for the past four consecutive seasons. That of course, is a feat extremely hard to accomplish. More importantly though, Davis has hit for at least 40 homeruns in each of his past three major league seasons. Davis is the only player to accomplish the power feat in each of the 2016, 2017 & 2018 calendar years.

Khris Davis (Player A above) is currently owned in 99% of CBS leagues. Player B is only 57% owned in CBS leagues. Player C is only owned in 63% of CBS leagues. Can you guess who they are?

The mystery players comparable to the Athletics slugger, are none other than Jorge Soler (Player B) and Renato Nunez (Player C).

In looking for the most meaningful Khris Davis matches, I sorted through 2019 batted ball data. I looked for all players who have:

  • Minimum 40 PA
  • Hard-Hit rate of at least 40%
  • Medium-Hit rate of at least 40%
  • Fly-Ball rate of at least 40%
  • HR/FB rate of at least 20%

Below are all of the players that met the above requirements:

Khris Davis Comparisons – 2019
Name Team PA HR HR/FB FB% Soft% Med% Hard%
Tyler Austin Giants 74 5 33.30% 42.90% 8.60% 51.40% 40.00%
Miguel Sano Twins 59 5 33.30% 50.00% 6.70% 43.30% 50.00%
Jorge Soler Royals 242 15 25.00% 40.00% 17.30% 40.00% 42.70%
Eric Thames Brewers 149 7 24.10% 40.30% 11.10% 40.30% 48.60%
Khris Davis Athletics 182 12 23.50% 42.10% 11.60% 44.60% 43.80%
Mike Trout Angels 246 14 21.90% 43.20% 13.50% 42.60% 43.90%
Alex Bregman Astros 256 17 21.00% 46.00% 17.10% 40.90% 42.10%
Renato Nunez Orioles 223 15 20.80% 47.40% 15.80% 40.80% 43.40%
Gleyber Torres Yankees 234 14 20.30% 41.80% 13.90% 42.20% 44.00%
Kyle Schwarber Cubs 218 10 20.00% 41.70% 10.60% 47.20% 42.30%

Which of these are most comparable to Khris Davis?

There are a few excellent names in this group. Mike Trout and Alex Bregman are superstars. Aside from their power – they consistently hit for a high average and have the ability to steal a fair number of bases. They would not compare directly to Davis.

We can cross off Gleyber Torres as well. Although still in his sophomore season, I can (with confidence) say that Torres consistently hits for average and is not a Davis comparison.

Let’s also throw out players with horrific contact rates. Tyler Austin and Miguel Sano each have strikeout rates north of 35% – with career figures of 37% and 36% respectively. Davis’s career mark of 27% is far better.

Next, let’s remove players who walk decidedly more than Davis. Eric Thames and Kyle Schwarber have a large difference between their batting averages & on-base percentages due to their increased propensity to stare at four balls. Thames and Schwarber’s BB% for 2019 currently stands at 16% and 15% – well above the 9% from Davis.

That leaves us with two reaming players – Jorge Soler and Renato Nunez. Both players profile very similarly to Khris Davis. Take a look at their 2019 heatmaps below, which upon visual inspection seem to mirror Davis:

Jorge Soler now enters his 6th season in the majors. He already has surpassed his greatest single season HR total (of 12 in 2016) – with 15 to date in 2019. Soler has not yet shown multi-year consistency in the major leagues, nor has his lofty upside emerged.

Soler now plays in a pitcher friendly ballpark, where homeruns are suppressed. Only 6 out of the 15 homeruns that he has hit in 2019 have been launched at Kauffman Stadium. Last year, he started out hot in the first two months of the season – only to break his toe and derail the potential breakout. However, this current surge of his (in 2019), may have actually started in 2018. Statcast data confirms that the strides he has made this season are legitimate. His xSLG and xwOBA metrics are all consistent with his actual stats to date.

I wouldn’t put Soler yet in the 40+ HR range. But still at 27, and with the “juiced ball” – he may get close.

Renato Nunez had previously displayed power in the minor leagues, coming up through the Athletics organization. Back in 2017, he launched 32 homers while at AAA Nashville. I happened to be in Nashville in August of 2017 for the Great American Solar Eclipse. That week, I attended a Nashville Sounds game where he was the cleanup hitter – and was able to see him in person!

Nunez ended last season on a high note. In September/October, he slashed .313/.341/.550 with 5 HRs. While the lofty batting average has now come back to earth, the power surge has certainly sustained. Starting with the arbitrary endpoint of September 1, 2018 – in the 3 months of games since (half a season) Nunez has hit 20 homeruns. That’s a 40 HR pace!

Nunez is only 25 years old, and the best might still be ahead of him. At the same age, Davis just hit the major leagues. Khris was hitting homeruns at a 20-25 HR seasonal pace before perennially swatting 40+ dingers.

It would help Nunez to walk more, and he would benefit by exhibiting better contact. But even at this current level – Nunez may be able to flourish, especially with the excellent home ballpark for power at Camden Yards. Renato will be given plenty of playing time this season; he is the Orioles cleanup hitter each and every day. Like Davis, Nunez is prone to slumps and exhibits hot streaks – but the Orioles will ride with him all season long.

Currently, his RBI total is poor (at 30) – but in future years, if Baltimore can surround him with impact players, he may have the chance to drive in 100+ a season.

Monitor Nunez’s progress for the remainder of the season and beyond, as Renato Nunez may be the next Khris Davis.

Ariel is the 2019 FSWA Baseball Writer of the Year. Ariel is also the winner of the 2020 FSWA Baseball Article of the Year award. He is the creator of the ATC (Average Total Cost) Projection System. Ariel was ranked by FantasyPros as the #1 fantasy baseball expert in 2019. His ATC Projections were ranked as the #1 most accurate projection system in 2019. Ariel also writes for CBS Sports, SportsLine, RotoBaller, and is the host of the Beat the Shift Podcast (@Beat_Shift_Pod). Ariel is a member of the inaugural Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, a member of the inaugural Mixed LABR Auction league and plays high stakes contests in the NFBC. Ariel is the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion. Ariel Cohen is a fellow of the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) and the Society of Actuaries (SOA). He is a Vice President of Risk Management for a large international insurance and reinsurance company. Follow Ariel on Twitter at @ATCNY.

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I wonder how Aaron Hicks lines up with these guys, but his sample size is a bit too small.