Orioles first baseman and sentient baseball annihilating machine Chris Davis has been particularly great at destroying baseballs lately. Davis has been hitting .336/.413/.794 with 15 home runs and 37 RBI since the All-Star Break. That's good for a 232 wRC+ (read more about wRC and wRC+ here) and a .480 ISO (read more about ISO here). Including Sunday's stats, that has brought his season line up to .261/.342/.553 with 34 home runs and 89 RBI. That equates to an overall 143 wRC+ and a .292 ISO, which is easily the second-best season of his career next to his monstrous 2013.
However, in between 2013 and 2015 was the disastrous 2014 for Davis in which he posted a measly 95 wRC+. Development, as they say, is never linear and baseball demands constant adjustment and consistency. Davis never adjusted in 2014 and struggled mightily to provide any consistency to the Orioles. Yet, in 2015 the numbers have bounced back. Davis has adjusted and thrived. So I looked into what those adjustments might be.
First, here is a heat map of the percentage of pitches Davis has seen from 2014 to 2015.
Note the concentration of pitches low and away. This makes sense, soft stuff low and away that pitchers can try and get Davis to swing over the top of. Also note the up and in pitches. This has been the book on Davis. Soft stuff away and hard stuff up and in. The path of his power swing makes it more difficult for him to reach pitches in the upper part of the zone. Well, as least that's how it worked in 2014. Below is a an ISO heat map for Davis in 2014. ISO is a measurement of power. It is basically the exact same thing as slugging percentage, but it removes singles from the equation. So it is a more true measure of an ability to hit for extra bases.
You can see the hole low and away, especially out of the zone. But, also note the hole inside and especially up and in. So in 2014, Davis had definitive holes where his power could be sapped, rendering him much less useful because hitting for power is the part of the game where Davis provides value. Now, below is the ISO heat map for Davis in 2015.
The first thing you should notice is that a lot more red is in that picture. The next thing is that the high and high tight holes are no longer a problem for Davis in 2015. Furthermore, the low and away pitches haven't been as much of a bother either. So, he's been getting to those pitches and hitting them harder in 2015, but that does not really answer the why. *Puts on 30 for 30 voice* What if I told you Chris Davis' success in 2015 is because he has been pulling the ball more? Below are two spray charts for Davis, the first is 2014 and the second is 2015.
As you can see, in 2015, more of Davis' home runs have been to right center and right field. While, in 2013, the opposite field home run was a huge part of Davis' game, in 2015 it has not been. Pitchers have avoided Davis' opposite field power zone and Davis has adjusted by pulling the ball in the air more and it's paid dividends.
Last season, Davis pulled the ball 50.9 percent of the time, in 2015 it has been 55.8 percent. On top of that that he has increased his fly ball rate by three points, reduced his infield fly rate by two points, and increased his hard hit rate by eight points. So Davis has been hitting the ball in the air more, avoiding weak contact better, and hitting the ball hard more often. Meanwhile, he's also pulling the ball. This has all combined for another monster season from Davis.
Chris Davis has carried the Orioles in the second half and will be a key cog in any supposed playoff run down the stretch. He struggled in 2014 because of his failure to adjust to how the league was attacking him. In 2015, he has adjusted back and with a vengeance. Going into his free agency Davis has changed his approach and is hitting the high and inside pitch. He has done this by pulling the ball in the air with authority. For now, do not worry about Davis' impending free agency, instead enjoy the ride and watch as he continues to obliterate baseballs.