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Thursday, April 23, 2020

ZiPS Time Warp: Eric Davis

On a purely objective level, Eric Davis had a solid major league career. He played parts of the 17 seasons in the majors, hit 282 homers, and collected 1,430 hits. Davis received MVP votes, made All-Star appearances, and earned three Gold Glove awards. Of a group of three childhood friends consisting of Davis, Darryl Strawberry, and Chris Brown, he’s the one who came out of baseball seemingly the least affected by personal setbacks and tragedy. Davis is still involved in Major League Baseball and has worked with underprivileged kids, something he knows about having grown up in South Central Los Angeles.

But as accomplished a player as Davis was, he was capable of being more. Like another All-Universe athlete from the 1980s who made the majors, Bo Jackson, baseball wasn’t Davis’s best sport in his youth. At John C. Fremont High School, he was considered a basketball player before a baseball player, but at the time, baseball had the quickest path to playing professionally. While the NBA’s policy disallowing anyone to play in the league within four years of high school was struck down by the US Supreme Court, no high schoolers made the NBA between Darryl Dawkins and Bill Willoughby in 1975 and Shawn Kemp in 1989.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, what kept Davis from approaching a Cooperstown career wasn’t personal or legal troubles or a lack of talent; it was a flurry of injuries. From a knee injury suffered as a rookie while sliding to the torn rotator cuff with the Cardinals, Davis was a veritable encyclopedia of maladies. (For a comprehensive listing of his dings and scrapes – and for a great look back on Davis’ career – be sure to check out Norm King’s SABR Bio of Davis.) Some of them were of the ordinary variety, such as an assortment of leg injuries that cut short almost every one of his age 24-28 peak seasons, a broken collarbone diving in the outfield, and multiple shoulder ailments.

Others were less typical, as when Davis lacerated his kidney and ended up in intensive care and endured a month-long hospital stay. Spinal problems, which ruined his 1994 long before the strike ended the season, initially led Davis to announce his retirement at age 32. Just a year after his extremely successful 1996 comeback with the Cincinnati Reds (.287/.394/.523, 26 homers, 3.4 WAR in 129 games), he was diagnosed with colon cancer. Davis spent the second half of the 1997 season recovering from having a portion of his colon, along with a tumor the size of a baseball, removed but still returned to the Baltimore Orioles and hit .327/.388/.592 in his last real full season in the majors. By this point, he was a part-time right fielder/designated hitter, with his days in center field wisely consigned to the past.

 

QLE Posted: April 23, 2020 at 01:30 AM | 33 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: dan szymborski, eric davis, zips

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   1. Tin Angel Posted: April 23, 2020 at 02:25 AM (#5943323)
As a kid Davis, Strawberry, and Rickey were my favorites for a few years. Davis was just electric, so much fun to watch.
   2. Mayor Blomberg Posted: April 23, 2020 at 03:29 AM (#5943327)
Career 349 SB and 66 CS. His dWAR surprises me, though. I remember him as better than that.
   3. baudib Posted: April 23, 2020 at 05:48 AM (#5943331)
I think Davis the first two months of 1987 was as good as any player I've seen besides Bonds in his absurd years.

I was young at the time, had never seen Mays play, but had heard of him. I hadn't even really seen someone who was really like Mays. People talked about Strawberry being in that category but he clearly wasn't. But Davis had those first two months and I was like, how could Willie Mays have ever been better?

In April he hit .364 with 7 HRs and in May he hit .329 with 12 HRs, slugging .841. Through 42 games he had 19 HRs and 20 steals in 22 attempts. He was seemingly making highlight reel catches every night.
   4. Rally Posted: April 23, 2020 at 07:44 AM (#5943337)
I would take Davis for those 2 months over anyone else I've seen. Barry was a better hitter but Eric dominated every phase of the game. Since then I have seen better players, but never anyone quite like Davis.
   5. Rally Posted: April 23, 2020 at 07:48 AM (#5943338)
First time I ever saw Davis play was for Indianapolis, against my then hometown Louisville Redbirds. He had some big hits in the series, but every series somebody gets hot and gets hits, that didn't make me stand up and take notice. But then Eric pulled off a straight steal of home, and I knew this was someone to pay attention to.
   6. Ron J Posted: April 23, 2020 at 08:25 AM (#5943344)
Thanks Dan. Actual baseball content is in short supply these days and I love stuff like this.

Out of curiosity what are his zMLEs like?
   7. Starring RMc as Bradley Scotchman Posted: April 23, 2020 at 08:37 AM (#5943349)
Davis spent the second half of the 1997 season recovering from having a portion of his colon, along with a tumor the size of a baseball


Well, it's a good thing he stopped playing basketball, amirite...?!

Ahem. Sorry. I'll just, um, I'll just leave now...
   8. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: April 23, 2020 at 08:52 AM (#5943354)
I would try to mimic Davis's relaxed stance when I was a kid. I wasn't much of a hitter anyways, so it didn't really do any harm. Also spent a lot of time in my backyard trying to rob HRs from going over the fence, a la Davis.

Getting to see Davis and Larkin emerge around the same time was a special treat.
   9. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 09:21 AM (#5943360)
Getting to see Davis and Larkin emerge around the same time was a special treat.


I would take Davis for those 2 months over anyone else I've seen. Barry was a better hitter but Eric dominated every phase of the game. Since then I have seen better players, but never anyone quite like Davis.


Eric Davis was the hero of my youth.
   10. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 09:26 AM (#5943361)
By coincidence, in recent years I've had business in Cincinnati several times during same week as Reds fan fest. I met him and a few other Reds stars in the bar of my hotel and of course that was a delight for me. He is still in ripped shape and I commented that he looked like he could still play. He shot back: "I could, if the games were 2 innings long."

The following year he and I were on same flight back to California and during a long delay we had a pleasant chat about things other than baseball. Good guy all around.
   11. Rally Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:03 AM (#5943372)
I’ve posted this on Davis before, so I searched, copied, and now I paste:

I'm surprised the defensive numbers for Davis are not better. Maybe I should complain about that to the guy who ran them. Davis is +8 for 1987, his best defensive rating. For those first 2 months Davis was a threat to get an out anywhere the ball was hit. If it was hit over the wall, Davis could jump up and bring it back. And once I even saw him charge in from center on what looked to be a ball hit up the middle, and get a force out at second base. It was a walkoff situation, and had 1B Dave Parker not given up on the play and left the field, Davis might have had a chance to turn 2 and preserve a tie.
   12. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:06 AM (#5943374)
I once heard on WLW that Davis holds some record for steals of third base but don't recall details. I assume Rickey has highest gross number, so if WLW was right (king sized IF) maybe it was pctg? Anyone know how to look that up on Bref?

   13. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:11 AM (#5943377)
And once I even saw him charge in from center on what looked to be a ball hit up the middle, and get a force out at second base. It was a walkoff situation, and had 1B Dave Parker not given up on the play and left the field, Davis might have had a chance to turn 2 and preserve a tie.


I don't know if there's any video readily available, but this looks like the game in question.
   14. Rally Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:17 AM (#5943381)
That’s the game. 99% sure it was a groundball to center, not a fly, but memory can be a funny thing.
   15. Graham & the 15-win "ARod Vortex of suck" Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:33 AM (#5943385)
#12/Traderdave:

I'm not sure how to look up players' career percentages on steals of third, but Davis went 80/92 on steals of third in his career, which seems like a terrific percentage (87%) to me. The data is incomplete for the deadball era guys, but it seems unlikely that any of them would have had a better percentage given the aggressive strategies of that time period. (Cobb went 17/30 from the available data. There's no available data for Honus.)

I spot checked a few of the usual suspects.

Rickey! Henderson: 322/391 (82%) This is probably more impressive than Davis' numbers given all the extra volume.
Rock Raines: 132/203 (65%) Surprisingly low success rate.
Vince Coleman: 189/221 (86%) Again, this is more impressive given that the rate is almost the same, but there is considerably more volume.
Brett Butler: 53/69 (77%)
Maury Wills: 88/106 (83%)
Kenny Lofton: 115/150 (77%)
Lou Brock: 269/342 (79%)
Billy Hamilton (the modern player): 73/84 (87%) Davis beats Hamilton by a nose. Davis' unrounded percentage is 86.96% versus 86.90% for Hamilton.
Chase Utley: 3/4 (75%) I thought I would at least check given his phenomenal success rate, but it turns out that essentially all of his career steals were of second base.
Carl Crawford: 59/74 (80%)

It looks like the WLW guys may well have been right. Hamilton is essentially tied with Davis, but this radio clip could well have preceded Hamilton anyway. I would argue that Coleman and Rickey's bodies of work stealing third are more impressive, but Davis does own the best percentage of anyone I checked.
   16. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:35 AM (#5943387)
What surprises me is that he had 282 career home runs...and only 239 doubles. He certainly doesn’t fit the typical Mark McGwire “more homers than doubles” profile. Any theories?
   17. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 10:58 AM (#5943397)
Any theories?


Line drive power. His homers tended to be lasers more than fly balls. When he hit the ball, it stayed hit.
   18. PreservedFish Posted: April 23, 2020 at 11:02 AM (#5943399)
I feel like "line drive power" would usually be associated with more doubles, not fewer. And a line drive stroke is more likely to create singles and doubles when the ball doesn't go over the fence - it's the big lofting launch-angled fly balls that are either homeruns or outs. Do you mean that he just hit the ####### snot out of the ball every time?
   19. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:20 PM (#5943439)
Do you mean that he just hit the ####### snot out of the ball every time?


Yes.

And I admit that judgement may be clouded by memory and irrational fandom, but yes, that's what I meant.
   20. Don August(us) Cesar Geronimo Berroa Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:33 PM (#5943449)
It looks like the WLW guys may well have been right. Hamilton is essentially tied with Davis, but this radio clip could well have preceded Hamilton anyway. I would argue that Coleman and Rickey's bodies of work stealing third are more impressive, but Davis does own the best percentage of anyone I checked.


Beltran 74/82 90.2%

Though, again, that radio clip may have pre-dated Beltran also.
   21. baudib Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:43 PM (#5943455)

I would try to mimic Davis's relaxed stance when I was a kid. I wasn't much of a hitter anyways, so it didn't really do any harm. Also spent a lot of time in my backyard trying to rob HRs from going over the fence, a la Davis
.

Jay Buhner had the same stance.
   22. Traderdave Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:45 PM (#5943457)

Though, again, that radio clip may have pre-dated Beltran also.


Yes, it did
   23. RJ in TO Posted: April 23, 2020 at 12:59 PM (#5943468)
Rock Raines: 132/203 (65%) Surprisingly low success rate.
Could you check these numbers again? Assuming I'm reading it right, the B-R splits show him as 42-1 in steals with a runner at 2B only, and 41-10 with runners at 1B and 2B, which would likely put him closer to 90% for his career on steals of 3B.

Edit: The 132/201 is CS2/(CS2+SB3), rather than SB3/(SB3+CS3), which would be 71/(71+10) = 87.6%.
   24. Walt Davis Posted: April 23, 2020 at 06:32 PM (#5943687)
More HR than doubles doesn't seem that rare for a Davis type. Both Bondses -- even young Barry was hitting as many or more HRs by age 25. Aaron, Mays, Griffey, Banks, Sheffield, Snider, Murphy, Rice, Allen, Gant, Jutice, Trout, Doby. Dawson had only 65 more doubles than HRs and had seasons with HR>2B spread throughout his career. It may be slightly more common for speed/power types since they can turn some doubles into triples (but also singles into doubles so maybe not) but if we shift it a bit to look at half or more of XBH are HRs, the list doesn't really change.

In a sense, all hitters (or all decent hitters) are line drive hitters. Variations in launch angle are not so extreme and nearly every hitter will have a LD launch angle on about 22-25% of their contact (definitions of "LD" seem to shift a bit over time). Whether you are also a HR hitter or not then depends mainly on whether the rest of your contact is mostly high or low(neg) launch angle. (And how hard you hit it of course ... and not hitting it too high).

Just as an extreme current example, Gallo has a 24% LD rate compared with lgavg of 25%. (That's per-contact.) He's Gallo because on the non-LD contact, he's hitting FBs about 2/3 of the time (and a lot of them go over the wall ... and a good number go no farther than the infield). Gallo hits a double about once every 12 contacts; AL 2019 average was about 1 per 14. FWIW, Davis was about 1 per 16. Brett was about 1 per 14.

The HR >> doubles guys are generally the guys sacrificing contact for power but of course their contact results are excellent (or they wash out quickly). The guys we think of as classic "line drive hitters" are guys who don't K a lot so, per PA, they will hit a lot more LDs but, per contact, they probably aren't.

There are extreme guys no doubt. Votto's LD% is 29 and he has 404 doubles and 284 HRs ... but he still hits a double about 1 per 12 contacts (he's a couple decimal points better than Gallo). Mauer was 24% for his career in a 21% league (again, watch those definition changes) with nearly 3 times as many doubles as HRs ... and he hit a double about 1 per 14 contacts.

   25. Mefisto Posted: April 23, 2020 at 06:43 PM (#5943691)
I would take Davis for those 2 months over anyone else I've seen.


He was incredible, and I did see Willie Mays play.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: April 23, 2020 at 07:56 PM (#5943715)
Could you check these numbers again? Assuming I'm reading it right, the B-R splits show him as 42-1 in steals with a runner at 2B only, and 41-10 with runners at 1B and 2B, which would likely put him closer to 90% for his career on steals of 3B.

Edit: The 132/201 is CS2/(CS2+SB3), rather than SB3/(SB3+CS3), which would be 71/(71+10) = 87.6%.



Yep, he's 71/10 for his career, not sure where that 132/203 came from.

Raines base running stats including steals and caught steals by base.
   27. the Hugh Jorgan returns Posted: April 23, 2020 at 11:07 PM (#5943752)
I seem to recall someone doing rolling 162 game averages for Davis and he had one period over the last half of one season and the start of another where he hit some insane Ruthian 330/440/600+(not sure of exact numbers) and also stole like 40 bags with great fielding stats, it was mind boggling how good this guy was when healthy.
   28. John Northey Posted: April 23, 2020 at 11:21 PM (#5943757)
I loved his 1986 season - 277/378/523 with 80 SB (11 CS) in just 132 games. His 87 was even better 293/399/593 with 50 SB. Wonder if all that stealing and playing on astroturf pushed those injuries a bit.

His age 38 season, despite a body that must have been in rough shape by then, was pretty darn good - 303/389/429 106 OPS+ Just 92 games though so just 1.4 bWAR. His final year was the next one with negative WAR His final appearance was pinch hitting and flying out to RF. Few end like Ted Williams.
   29. Kiko Sakata Posted: April 24, 2020 at 12:44 AM (#5943764)
I seem to recall someone doing rolling 162 game averages for Davis and he had one period over the last half of one season and the start of another where he hit some insane Ruthian 330/440/600+(not sure of exact numbers) and also stole like 40 bags with great fielding stats, it was mind boggling how good this guy was when healthy.


I loved his 1986 season - 277/378/523 with 80 SB (11 CS) in just 132 games. His 87 was even better 293/399/593 with 50 SB. Wonder if all that stealing and playing on astroturf pushed those injuries a bit.


He started 1986 poorly - he was batting .182 as late as May 22nd. From there, he batted .299/.403/.571 w/ 24 HR, 69 SB (9 CS) in 104 games.
He then started 1987 insanely hot. Through the end of May, he batted .346/.420/.786 w/ 19 HR and 20 SB (2 CS) in 42 games.

He actually slumped kind of badly both right before and right after that. But I'm sure the best (consecutive) 162-game stretch of his career included those 146 games.
   30. Hysterical & Useless Posted: April 24, 2020 at 11:23 AM (#5943884)
Incredible ballplayer. How I wish he'd been on my team. And even more, how I wish he'd been healthier.
   31. Walt Davis Posted: April 24, 2020 at 07:25 PM (#5944080)
Not that anybody outside of Houston got to see him often but the Eric Davis of the older set was Cesar Cedeno. At 21-22, he hit 320/380/537, 157 OPS+ with 111 SB. The 47 HRs weren't a huge total but it was still semi-deadball and it was the Astrodome in its spacious days. Things fell off pretty sharply after that but he did still steal 50 a year for another 4 years. And at 29 he rivalled those years with a 309/389/465, 147 OPS+ and 48 steals. Then he got hurt and old, in trouble back in the DR, etc. but remained a solid bench player for several years.

Cedeno finished with just over 8000 PA and 53 WAR. Davis ended with 6100 PA and 36 WAR. About 5 of that WAR is Rfield. It's hard to comp them because Cedeno had 7 pretty healthy seasons before suffering his first major injury at 27 while Davis never reached 600 PA in a season and had only 4 consecutive seasons of reasonable durability ... but let's try.

For ages 24-25, Davis averaged 8.2 WAR per 650. We can add age 26 which lowers the average to 7.2 but pushes him over 1500 PA. Davis wins any 2-season comp but Cedeno ages 21-23 average 7.3 WAR/650 in over 1800 PA.

ED 281/380/536, 146 OPS+, 67 SB per 162
CC 302/365/509, 147 OPS+, 62 SB per 162

Looks like a draw to me. Cedeno was better in those early 20s (majors at 19, Davis was tearing up A- at 19, holding his own at A at 20) but ED was better in their mid-20s but already having trouble staying on the field. It was pretty much a draw after that as well in terms of OPS+ and WAR/650 but Davis lasted 800 PAs longer.

So I think the nod has to go to Cedeno because what he did at 19-20 and 24-26 is way ahead of what Davis did (or was capable of doing) from 19-23. Both careeers appear to have been derailed by injury (and age) although Cedeno's list is not nearly as historic as Davis's. But even in their brief super-peaks, it's not clear that Davis was better. I consider it reasonably likely that Davis's injuries had a greater effect on him while Cedeno's decline was standard enough that maybe it would have gone that way anyway so it's possible that a healthy Davis would have continued to put up 7 WAR seasons through his late 20s but that's overly speculative for me.

Or to put it another way, Cedeno 19-23 blows Davis out of the water. Davis 24-26 was definitely better (but more fragile) but it's not like Cedeno 24-26 was a slouch: 132 OPS+, 5.5 WAR/650. From 27 on, Davis has a small edge but roughly equal in quality.
   32. Walt Davis Posted: April 24, 2020 at 07:38 PM (#5944084)
Another guy from my youth that deserves mention is Bobby Bonds. He, tied with Barry, still holds the record for most 30-30 seasons at 5. Davis only did it once and Cedeno never. He struck out a ton for his day so (almost) never posted shiny BAs. From 23-27, he put up 31 WAR (amazing durability -- the man averaged over 700 PAs a year) with good defense (in RF, equivalent to an average-ish CF), 156 HR and 206 SB. He never put up the crazy SB totals the other two did but then he still stole over 30 bases at age 33. He ended up with almost identical PA to Cedeno and about 5 more WAR. He probably wasn't as good at his peak but he aged much better than either did (and got a slightly earlier start than Davis).
   33. Walt Davis Posted: April 24, 2020 at 11:59 PM (#5944120)
I just got around to actually reading Dan's piece. So a somewhat modified ZiPS projects healthier (but not durable) Davis out to about 52 WAR in 7200-7300 PA (AB + BB + assorted other stuff maybe) and 52 WAR. If you spread out another 800 or so PA across that career evenly, he'd catch up to Cedneo and Bonds in PA and add 5-6 WAR and Bonds in WAR. So those two indeed seem reasonable comps. I'm not sure it would really be "fair" go catch him up in PA since for both players, relative to virtual Eric, that advantage is due to being better than Davis in their early 20s.

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