Matt Davidson’s hot start a nice sign for Sox

Yesterday we took a look at Avisail Garcia’s fantastic start to the season.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one with him in mind because Brian Kenny at MLB Network dove into the same numbers I did with Garcia.  Avi then went out and went 2-2 with a walk, and RBI and two runs scored last night to raise his average to .382 on the year.

Today we are going to look at one of the other hot starters for the Sox, Matt Davidson.  The 26-year-old finally broke camp with the big club this spring after coming over in a trade for Addison Reed back in December of 2013.  At that time Davidson was considered a top-100 prospect by most outlets.  But things just never really came together for Matt once he came to the Sox.  He hit just .199 in Charlotte in 2014 and .203 in 2015 and struck out 355 times in 171 games.

Last year Davidson was off to a much better start in AAA, slashing .268/.349/.444 before getting called up to the big club in late June.  But he broke his foot running the bases in his first game with the Sox and that ended his season.

This looked to be a now or never year for Davidson, and so far he has made the most of it.  Matt is currently slashing .264/.310/.566 for a .876 OPS.  He’s hit four homers, two doubles, and a triple in 58 plate appearances.  That is the good news.

The bad news is that the strikeouts are still a problem, as he has 21 already on the year and is going down at a 36.2% rate.  Davidson is currently in the midst of an 0-for-15 stretch over his last five games with four strikeouts and three walks.  He was hitting .368 before that spell.

So this is probably a case of things evening out in a hurry for Davidson.  Before this current slump his OPS was 1.164 and he was averaging a home run once every 10 plate appearances.  We talked about Avi Garcia’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) yesterday, well Davidson’s was .556 before this stretch.  Clearly he was going to regress hard once that evened out.  Now it’s down to a more normal looking .345.

While Davidson was hot early in the year, there were people calling for him to get more playing time and get a chance to face both righties and lefties.  The thought seemed to be that he was beating up on left-handed pitching but struggling against right-handers.  However, that hasn’t really been the case.

The batting averages are about the same versus righties and lefties, with Davidson actually holding a slight .267 to .261 advantage against righties.  His slugging percentage is higher against righties too, at .600 versus .522 against lefties.  The big difference is the on-base percentage.  All four of Davidson’s walks have come against lefties giving him a significant .370 to .258 difference.  Fifteen of his 21 total strikeouts have also come against righties, with only four more total plate appearances.  As a result of the OBP difference his OPS against lefties (.892) is slightly higher than against righties (.858).  The difference however, isn’t as much as some people would believe.

The sample sizes are still quite small, so we will certainly need more of a body of work.  He only has 58 total plate appearances so far.  What will be interesting is to see whether Davidson can continue to consistently hit for enough extra base power to offset his obvious strikeout issues.  His ISO is currently .302, which is right about where Big Papi finished last year to lead all of baseball.  It feels unlikely that he will be able to keep that up.

So that once again brings us to the question of what do the Sox need to see out of Matt Davidson to convince them he is worth hanging onto as a piece of the rebuild?  If he can become a 30-plus home run guy and play a reasonable third base, he might be the best option within the organization to fill that spot for the next few years, assuming Todd Frazier doesn’t stay with the club.  Or is he the right-handed half of a DH platoon and a guy you like to have on your bench to come in and pinch-hit against a tough lefty in late innings?

We will need to see more to answer the question for sure but for now at least, it is nice to see Davidson having some success at the big league level, after all the struggles he has gone through the last few years.

Matt Hoeppner

Born and raised in the south suburbs of Chicago. Graduate of Michigan State University's J-School. Fourth generation Sox fan. Pitch F/X and Statcast operator in Detroit and occasional play-by-play announcer for Michigan Regional Sports Network.

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