An In Depth Look Inside the Rise of J.D. Davis

JD Davis celebrates during HR trot

Among all of the moves GM Brodie Van Wagenen made this past offseason, acquiring J.D. Davis has proven to be his most successful. In January, the Mets sent three minor league prospects to Houston for the former 2014 third round pick in Davis and minor league infielder Cody Bohanek. Davis played in 165 games with the Astros over two seasons, posting just a .194 batting average and 5 total home runs. However, Davis has been one of the most important pieces in the Mets lineup during their comeback efforts this season. Through 107 games, the Mets utility man is slashing .312/.375/.513 with 14 home runs. Since the All-Star break, he has been hitting to a .371/.429/.610 slash line. Two major adjustments to Davis’ approach at the plate have fueled his stellar 2019 season: his plate discipline and ability to hit fastballs. Let’s take a look inside the rise of J.D. Davis.

Plate Discipline Improvements

Let’s first take a look at his plate discipline. Below is Davis’s zone swings/pitch and whiff percentage, courtesy of Brooks Baseball’s Pitchf/x data.

J.D.  Davis swing rates
J.D.  Davis whiff rates

In the 2017 and 2018 seasons with Houston, Davis swung at nearly 34% of pitches outside of the zone. Most notably, he swung at high and inside balls. This resulted in nearly a 15% whiff percentage at pitches outside of the strike zone. This year with the Mets, Davis has limited his swings on pitches outside of the zone to 30%, resulting in a drop in whiff percentage to just 9% of whiffs. Let’s take a look at two examples.

Davis vs. Lynn – April 9th, 2019 (result: strikeout)

Up first is an at bat in April of 2018 when Davis was with the Astros. He was facing Lance Lynn and the Minnesota Twins. Davis struck out on 5 pitches in the at bat. He takes the first pitch, a 91 MPH two-seam fastball, low for a ball.

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He then takes a bad hack and fouls off a fastball way inside to even the count at 1-1.

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Lynn comes inside again with the same pitch, and Davis lays off this time, bringing the count to 2-1.

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On the fourth pitch, Davis swings well under a 91 MPH four-seam fastball that catches the top of the zone.

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On the final pitch of the at bat, Lynn catches Davis looking with another fastball that catches the bottom of the zone. It was a borderline strike, but too close to let by with two strikes, and Davis goes down looking.

In the at bat, Davis took a real bad swing at a ball well inside the zone, whiffs on a top zone fastball, and then stares at a low fastball in the zone for the strikeout.

Davis vs. Bumgarner – July 18th, 2019 (result: single)

Now let’s take a look at an at bat Davis had this July against four-time All-Star Madison Bumgarner. Again, a five pitch at bat, but this time resulted in a base hit. Davis takes the first pitch, an 87 MPH cutter, low for a ball.

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Bumgarner comes back with the same pitch, but a little more below the zone, and Davis lays off again.

Down 2-0 in the count, Bumgarner throws a 91 MPH four-seam fastball right down the pipe. Anticipating the fastball in the hitters count, Davis takes a hard cut, but is just behind and under the ball. He fouls it back for the first strike.

The next pitch is a curveball that falls in the dirt, and Davis wisely lays off again. The count is now at 3-1.

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Bumgarner comes back with an 88 MPH cutter just catching the bottom of the zone. Davis turns on it and drives it past the shortstop for a base hit.

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In the 2019 at bat, J.D. did not chase any ball outside the zone, and made contact on his two swings inside the zone. The fifth pitch resulting in the single was in a very similar location to the called strike three in the at bat against Lance Lynn. Davis has fine tuned his plate discipline in the off season, and is swinging at better pitchers and minimizing whiffs.

J.D. Davis Walks it Off in the 10th Inning

Another example comes from just Wednesday night, when Davis hit a walk-off single deep to left off Brad Hand. The hit won the Mets their 4th straight, against a very good Cleveland team, and their 14th game in the month of August. Davis came up to the plate with 2 outs and quickly got behind 0-2. Again, Davis shows exceptional plate discipline, taking three balls to force a full count. After fouling off three straight pitches, Davis drove the 9th pitch of the at bat to the left field wall, scoring Michael Conforto for the winning run.

Improvements on Hitting Fastballs

A similarity between both at bats was the amount of fastballs thrown. Lance Lynn threw five straight fastballs to Davis, and Bumgarner only threw one off speed pitch in the at bat. A major factor in Davis’ 2019 outbreak has been his change in approach at hitting fastballs. From 2017-2018, Davis struggled against them, and has spoken publicly about how he worked on hitting fastballs in this past offseason. Here’s a look at JD’s advanced statistics against the fastball from Brooks Baseball’s Player Card data.

JD Davis vs FB2017-182019
Bating Average0.1530.323
Slugging %0.3050.583
Swing %51.15%43.99%
Whiffs18.32%15.44%
Ground Balls8.02%4.85%
Home Runs0.76%1.26%
GB/BIP55.26%42.86%
HR/(FB+LD)11.76%21.21%

Davis improved his batting average and slugging percentage against fastballs by nearly .200 and .300 respectively. As discussed before, he also lowered his swing and miss rates. He has reduced the amount of ground balls hit off of fastballs, and increased the number of home runs, resulting in his recent power surge.

Year to Year Advanced Statistics Improvements

His 2019 Exit Velocity and xSLG (expected slugging %) are in the top 10% in the league. His 2019 xWOBA (expected weighted on base average) and Hard Hit % are in the top 5% in the league. Also, his 2019 xBA (expected batting average) is ranked in the top 1% in the league, all according to to Baseball Savant’s Statcast data (table below).

Season20182019
Barrel %8.111.2
Exit Velocity88.591.7
Launch Angle8.89.1
xBA0.2240.323
xSLG0.3860.538
wOBA0.2180.376
xWOBA0.2990.396
xWOBACON0.3640.472
Hard Hit %35.148.7
K %25.720.2

J.D. Davis Comparisons to Shohei Ohtani and Ronald Acuna

Baseball Savant also has a player similarity tool that compares hitters tendencies to those around the league. His similarity counter part is slashing .307/.365/.529 with 16 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 360 plate appearances this season. Since coming into the league in 2018, he has produced a WAR of 4.8 in that time. Any ideas? If you guessed Shohei Othani, you’d be correct. Who knows, Davis was a pitcher in college and even threw a scoreless inning with Houston in 2017, maybe he’ll turn into a hitter and pitcher for the Mets.

Overall, J.D. Davis has shown significant improvements in 2019 compared to his previous years in the league. Of all of the Mets offseason acquisitions, he has the highest WAR at 1.8. Without his hot bat, the Mets would most likely not be in the position they are right now with a chance to make the playoffs. And while Davis is hitting like an All-Star right now, he looks like one too. Here’s a look at a video overlay of Davis and NL East rival Ronald Acuna Jr. hitting bombs. Check out the similarities in their swings. If Davis can continue hitting like this, he will help carry the Mets to a Wild Card birth, and possibly even further.

Acuna homers off Luis Avilan — Davis homers off Joe Musgrove

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