Feature photo of Brennen Davis by Scott Changnon/Marquee
A .189/.310/.288 slash line isn’t pretty.
I’m not here to convince you that it is. Instead, I’m here to calm your nerves, talk you off the ledge, and tell you that the season Brennen Davis has put together so far isn’t the end of the world.
We entered the year with Brennen holding onto a top 3 ranking in the system for dear life following a season mired by injury and ineffectiveness. Cautious optimism would probably be putting it mildly when describing our expectations. Since then, I’ve seen him as low at tenth on Cubs rankings, and the slash line above leaves little to be desired.
But it’s not all negatives here for the kid who ushered in a new era of the Cubs prospect development pipeline. Thanks to Statcast data being available in Triple-A Baseball this year, we can see fun things like exit velocity. And thanks to a great tool created by Sam Wirth at Prospects Live, we can see aggregated numbers for individual players.
Today I’m giving you a rundown similar to what you see at Baseball Savant, giving percentile values for where Brennen would rank in Major League Baseball, based on his Triple-A Statcast data. In fact, here’s what his Statcast card would look like if such a thing existed!
16.3 K% (81st Percentile)
9.8 BB% (59th Percentile)
Let’s start with the least Statcasty stats available here. These numbers you don’t need Prospects Live’s tool to find. It’s right there on Fangraphs or here in our Statistics Database!
Davis rocked a 30.7% strikeout rate in 2022. It was 28.4% in 2021. This year it’s all way down to 16.3%. Cutting into a K-rate that drastically over the course of one season is practically unheard of. How he did it is something I’ll dig into soon, but it’s important to point out how critical it is to his offensive profile. A player striking out at a clip below 20% doesn’t have to display power outputs that a guy hovering around 30% needs to. It’s less pressure on Davis and allows him to be a more well-rounded player.
85.6 mph Average Exit Velocity (5th Percentile)
28.7 Hard Hit% (9th Percentile)
109.6 mph Max Exit Velocity (58th Percentile)
Obviously, the first two numbers are not where you want them. What the low Average Exit Velo and HardHit% numbers are telling us is that Davis simply isn’t hitting the ball hard on a consistent basis. We know that the name of the game is making solid contact and barreling baseballs, and that leads to a higher likelihood of hits and extra bases. Simply put — you put the ball in play with authority and you succeed.
I’m careful to use the word “consistent” above though, because a Max Exit Velo of 109.6 mph shows that he does have it in the tank, he just isn’t doing it often enough. If he featured a Max Exit Velo that was in a similarly low percentile, I would have more concern. Brennen’s physical attributes are there, proving that he has the ability to hit the ball harder than most. Doing so on a regular basis is a mission that must come next.
22.2 Whiff% (65th Percentile)
16.5 Chase Rate (98th Percentile)
This is the doozy. You read that chase rate percentile correctly. Brennen Davis swings at pitches out of the zone at a rate that would be less than nearly every single player in Major League Baseball.
When people like Theo Epstein throw around the phrase “development isn’t linear,” our minds immediately wander to stories like Ian Happ, where a player comes up to the bigs before he is truly ready to produce, or David Bote, where he was organization depth before breaking out.
But we should approach “development isn’t linear” more from the perspective that players work on individual portions of their game, attempting to perfect certain skills, before moving on to their next developmental hurdle.
In 2021 and 2022, the number one concern for projecting Brennen long-term revolved around swinging through fastballs in on his hands and chasing sliders out of the zone. With cold hard data backing it up here, we can see that he has not only addressed those issues but has been wildly successful in doing so. He refuses to expand his strike zone, spitting on those sliders diving away from him and forcing pitchers to come into the zone with their offerings. In addition, the eye test is proving that he is making far more contact with both fastballs and breaking balls this year, with the results being displayed here in his solid Whiff%.
If you’re looking for an answer as to why or how Davis cut his strikeout rate by double digits this year, this is your answer: he’s whiffing far less and he’s chasing almost never.
For years, Brennen Davis was known as a freak athlete, oozing tools and potential. Somewhere along the way, he turned himself into a disciplined, intentional, and professional hitter. The next step is to merge those two talents into an all-around hitter that shows itself through production in his slash line. I think it’s only a matter of time before that happens.
For additional context, Brennen’s 95th PCTL exit velocity is 4th among the 5 Iowa outfielders. Velazquez, Perlaza, and Tauchman (now with Chicago of course) have higher values and Hill has a lower value.