The Power Elite

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By Rich Daniels

Okay, pop-quiz: Name the top two home run hitters from the previous two seasons (2016 & 2017). The top home run hitter should be pretty easy. Giancarlo Stanton's 59 homers last year and 27 in 2016 put him at #1 on the list with 86...barely. Now, name who's second. Nolan Arenado? No, he had 78. JD Martinez? No, despite a great season last year he had only 61. An astute guess would be Nelson Cruz who had 82. Stanton had 86 and the runner-up had 85. But who?

You're sitting in your seat at the ballpark and it's time for the next hitter to come to the plate. Then the unmistakable sound of Tupac's "Ballad Of A Dead Soulja" pounds through the air. "Now batting...for the Oakland A's...the left fielder...number 2...Khris Davis." That's right, Khris Davis. (Pause for palms slapping against foreheads.) His 85 home run total over the past two seasons is both prolific and largely unnoticed by many fans. Perhaps because he plays for the A's who did not contend for the playoffs in either of those seasons. Perhaps because he's not a WAR darling like those named previously. Or maybe it's because he's one of those players fans see for what he isn't before they realize what he has accomplished.

Davis is overlooked because he is a throwback to the power hitters of the past like Harmon Killebrew and Gorman Thomas who didn't flash a big batting average to support high home run totals. While driving 85 balls over the fence, Davis batted just .247 in each of the past two seasons (which he also did in 2015). As a result, the slugger's OPS totals of .831 and .864 leave him short of elite status in the minds of fans not wearing yellow and green. Davis' 361 strikeouts put the finishing touches on fans' skepticism.

"Khrush's" development into a top power hitter happened later than most. The Cal-State Fullerton product's best home run total in the minors was 22 in 2010 at single-A level. But the power potential shone through in his rookie season in 2013 when he popped eleven homers in just 136 at-bats for the Brewers. Over the next two seasons, Davis continued to mash the ball over fences (49 HR in 893 AB) and strike out a lot (244). While those two seasons were not eye-popping by any means, they served as a power-hitting training ground preparing Davis to become a breakout performer.

A trade to Oakland meant a move from Milwaukee's homer haven Miller Park to the yawning chasm of Oakland-Alameda County Stadium. The much-maligned ballpark is known for its ample foul territory and deep outfield fences that allow pop-ups and fly balls to be caught in areas where other parks have seats. It's a place where batting averages suffer and homer totals are decimated. Not that Davis noticed. He erupted for 42 homers and 102 RBI's in 2016 tapping into a wealth of power no one anticipated. Davis followed that with 43 home runs and 110 RBI's last year. And this season the former 7th round pick is on pace for 43 more homers and what would be a career high RBI total of 124, despite spending eleven days on the disabled list.

To put Davis' accomplishments in perspective, those 85 home runs in the past two seasons far out-perform Bryce Harper's two BEST seasons (71). And it's long been speculated that Harper is headed for a contract well above the $300 million mark in free agency this offseason. Anyone has yet to utter the $100 million mark in reference to the Oakland powerhouse. Davis will turn 31 shortly before Christmas positioning him firmly in the prime of his career. That means we can take a pause on our considerations of launch velocities, WAR, and other metrics most of us marginally understand and watch a home run hitter that could fit in any era of baseball. We might not see him drive a double to the opposite field or be stunned by any flashy numbers on the Jumbotron when he comes to the plate, but we could very well see Khris Davis hit a ball 450 feet or more and wonder why he's not a household name. After all, he hits balls like that pretty often. 

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