There are few constants in the game of baseball, but Khris Davis has provided one in recent years.
In 2015 with the Brewers, he batted .247. And then in ‘16, ‘17 and ‘18 with the A’s, he batted .247 each time, becoming the first player in Major League history to post the same batting average in four consecutive qualified seasons.
But now, this wonderfully quirky streak is in serious jeopardy. Heading into Friday night, Davis was batting just .217 through his team’s 139th game.
Of course, average doesn’t tell the whole story, and Davis’ drop in that category actually undersells the overall dip in his performance this season -- one that hasn’t prevented the A’s from being in Wild Card position in the American League postseason chase. After batting .247/.326/.549 with an MLB-leading 48 home runs and 123 RBIs in '18, Davis has produced a mere .217/.287/.377 line with 19 homers and 60 RBIs in ‘19.
But this is about the magic number: .247. Can Davis still get there? Or has he run out of time?
Let’s take a look at the numbers, which are through Thursday’s action.
What’s gone wrong?
With 414 at-bats entering Friday, Davis would have needed 102 hits to achieve a .247 average. Instead, he had 90.
So what happened to those 12 hits? It’s not a strikeout issue, as Davis’ K-rate has ticked down slightly, from 26.8% to 26.3%, his lowest since 2014. Rather, the results have not been there when Davis has put the ball in play (here including home runs).
2015: .359 BA
2016: .352 BA
2017: .377 BA
2018: .354 BA
2019: .307 BA
That .307 was tied for the 19th-lowest average on batted balls of 189 hitters who had put at least 250 balls in play through Thursday. If Davis were simply repeating his .354 from last season while putting the same 293 balls in play, that would have produced 13 or 14 extra hits -- covering the entire difference between 2018 and ‘19.
Some of that gap could be due to bad luck, as Davis’ expected average on batted balls, per Statcast, is .330. But that is still down from last year, reflecting how the 31-year-old has seen a sharp decline in his hard-hit rate (47.8% to 38.8%) and a significant rise in his ground-ball rate (35.5% to 43.1%), while teams have roughly doubled how much they deploy an infield shift against him (to 42.3%).
Where does he go from here?
Let’s say Davis makes better contact and gets a bit of luck over the final three weeks of the season, beating out a slow grounder here or dropping in a blooper there. Is raising his average to .247 even possible at this point?
Using the number of A’s games remaining (23 including Friday night’s conclusion of a suspended game from May 19), and Davis’ season average of 3.6 at-bats per game, there are a variety of potential scenarios.
Here is the bad news, if you are a fan of the .247 streak: Davis may have to bat .400 or better the rest of the way -- something he has never done over that long of a stretch in his career.
Some ways for Davis to finish at .247
64 more at-bats: 28 hits needed (.438 BA)
68 more at-bats: 29 hits needed (.426 BA)
72 more at-bats: 30 hits needed (.417 BA)
76 more at-bats: 31 hits needed (.408 BA)
80 more at-bats: 32 hits needed (.400 BA)
84 more at-bats: 33 hits needed (.393 BA)
Unfortunately for Davis, he really has not enjoyed a hot streak all season. He batted .218 in March/April, .250 in June and .174 in July, and he was at .162 since Aug. 1, heading into Friday. The only exception was May, when he went 13-for-39 (.333) over 12 games before a short stint on the injured list for a right groin strain halted his momentum.
Davis’ highest average in any calendar month of his career with at least 50 at-bats is .330 in September '17. The picture looks only slightly rosier if Davis’ career is broken down into rolling, 80 at-bat stretches. In that case, the highest average Davis has produced over this relevant number of chances, within a season, is .350 (28-for-80) in May/June 2014. (He also reached .350 over the final 20 games of 2017 and first three of ‘18.)
In other words, there is no precedent for Davis doing what he will need to do over the rest of this season in order to keep the .247 streak alive.
Unprecedented things do happen in baseball. Davis’ streak falls into that category in the first place, after all, so perhaps this will be another one of those times. But if Davis is going to add to the legend of .247, he will have to turn around a disappointing season in a hurry.