Derek Jeter wasn't the first player with an inside-out swing, but he may as well have patented it over 20 years in the Bronx, during which he made it cool to stay in the strike zone, to single somewhat softly, to spray.Nearly 70 percent of Jeter's 3,465 hits went to
Derek Jeter wasn't the first player with an inside-out swing, but he may as well have patented it over 20 years in the Bronx, during which he made it cool to stay in the strike zone, to single somewhat softly, to spray.
Nearly 70 percent of Jeter's 3,465 hits went to center or right field, and like so many Y2K kids, Khris Davis was watching. The A's slugger was 13 when the 2001 World Series brought Jeter, at the height of his celebrity and skills, near his Arizona home. Sometime that autumn between "The Flip" and Byung-Hyun Kim, Davis found the player he wanted to model himself after.
"I thought he was the G.O.A.T. [greatest of all-time]," said Davis, who wears No. 2 to honor Jeter. "I rather hit an inside pitch oppo than turn on it. I was watching Derek Jeter a lot during that time."
Such sparked the swing inspiration for a kid who'd grow into baseball's most productive opposite-field hitter. Davis' swing is more an offshoot of Jeter's than an evolution from it, less efficient and more laborious, and nobody would confuse the two today. But the root of what makes Davis unique at the plate -- his ability to hit any pitch for a home run to any field -- comes, maybe curiously, inspired by Jeter's slasher style. And it's allowed the 29-year-old to corner the market on one of the most difficult parts of hitting -- sending inside pitches to the opposite field with authority.
Davis has hit 36 home runs to the right of center field, more than any other right-handed hitter, since Statcast™ began tracking such things in 2015. He's hit 11 of his 27 that way this season, including seven on pitches on the inner half, according to Statcast™. That's seven times more than anyone else, making him baseball's undisputed king of inside-out power.
Davis has 10 inside-out homers since Statcast™ began tracking in 2015, twice as many as the next hitter, Michael Trout.
"There aren't many righties who can hit the ball out to right field like a left-handed hitter does," A's manager Bob Melvin said. "We get spoiled by it a little bit."
Soft, hard, in or out, Davis tries to hit everything that way. He's strong enough to crush hanging breaking balls and hook outside heaters over the wall to his pull side. But when he's going right, Davis is driving the ball, more than any other hitter, to center or right-center.
Davis will work with single-hand bats in the cage to help him stay inside the baseball (a drill he heard Jeter used to do), then spend most of his on-field pregame swings shooting oppo (most players take just one opposite-field round). The practice has translated into some of the A's most memorable home runs this season.
"To see a guy who takes inside fastballs middle-in and hit them out the opposite field, especially in Oakland, and do it consistently, that's incredible," said outfielder Matt Joyce. "'You're a freak,' I joked with him the other day. 'How does it feel like to be a freak?'"
Teammates marveled over the fastball on the inner black from Mike Hauschild that Davis shot 418 feet to right center in April, and the 96-mph heater Davis inside-outed against Charlie Morton barely a week later. The A's walked off with a win after Davis launched a 3-2 cutter on the inner half, from Cleveland's Bryan Shaw, over the right-center-field wall in Oakland on July 15.
"Most of the time you see guys take that pitch, and if they beat it, they hit a line drive up the middle," said A's hitting coach Darren Bush. "They don't hit it 420 feet."
The physics that allow Davis to drive the ball the way he does are fueled by his strength and rooted in his mechanics. Davis starts his hands low and tries to spit on anything above them. He stands far from the plate then instinctually steps away from it, clearing his hips for a bat angled toward right-center. His bat enters the zone early and drags behind his body, producing power in conjunction with a lower half that teammates compare to a bodybuilder's.
"He's incredibly strong, but he's incredibly flexible as well. It doesn't look like a muscular swing. It's loose, relaxed and very whippy," said Joyce. "I don't know if you can teach it. There's so much of me that wants to be able to do what he does. But it's a swing that you either have or you don't. And he has it."
It's a swing engineered to punish pitches down and put baseballs in the seats. But it has holes. More than half of Davis' plate appearances this season have ended in either a strikeout, a home run or a walk, making him, in terms of production, about as opposite an inside-out-hitter to Jeter as can be. But it's the approach that allows his swing to work, and that keeps Davis in a unique kinship with his childhood idol.
"My dad used to tell me to hit the other way, the other way, the other way. He ingrained it so much that it's hard for me to pull," Davis said. "And every hitting coach I've had has let me grow and develop as a hitter. They handed me the keys to the car and let me drive."
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz.