The most amazing active streak in baseball might be the most unlikely streak in history.
I’m talking, of course, about Khris Davis’s batting average. Davis has hit exactly (or, more precisely, rounded to) .247 for not one, not two, not even three but four straight seasons, from 2015 through 2018.
This year appears to be different. Davis is currently hitting .230, and while there’s still a long way to go this season, .230 is not close to .247. Baseball appears to be broken.
Assuming he stays healthy the rest of the year and plays in roughly the same amount that he did in 2018, Davis needs to hit .282 for the rest of the year to continue the streak. That’s certainly not impossible.
Davis also should be hitting closer to .247 based on some of his advanced metrics: He has a higher average than he did last year on balls in play (.274 to .261) and a lower strikeout rate (26.3 percent to 26.8 percent). With those components improving, we’d expect Davis to have a better batting average. Statcast metrics tell a similar story. Davis is seeing roughly the same pitches to previous seasons and swinging and making contact about as often. The difference isn’t seeing better pitchers.
One clear difference with Davis — in addition to his inexplicably non-.247 average — seems to be his power. Davis has hit just 17 home runs in 2019. He finished last year with 48, and at this point in the year he had hit 32.
Likewise, his hard-hit rate and average launch angle have plummeted. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a pair of injuries may be limiting him, and Davis said he’s been choking up, possibly leading to weaker hits.
Some of the difference, as is often the case in baseball, is luck. Davis has made 24 outs this year on balls in play with an expected hit probability (based on launch angle and exit velocity) of over 50 percent. This particular lineout had a .797 expected batting average, or a nearly 80 percent chance of landing for a hit:
Overall, according to Statcast, Davis has an expected batting average of .242 based on all his batted balls. With slightly better luck, Davis could be right where he’s been the last four years.
It’s worth remembering how fickle batting average can be. The difference between Davis’s batting average from this year and last year is just six missing hits, which says a lot more about batting average than it does Khris Davis. It also suggests that the decline in homers alone might be keeping him out of .247 range.
To reach the fabled average, Davis needs a hot finish to the season — and, fortunately, he’s had even better hot streaks before in his career. Last year, from June 29 to Aug. 23, he hit .316 in 177 at-bats with 19 home runs over 46 games. Davis will have about as many at-bats for the rest of the year, and he doesn’t need as many hits. If the power comes back, it’s easy to imagine a similar stretch.
Besides opposing pitchers, another enemy threatens Davis’s batting average streak: rounding.
Let’s say Davis finishes the season with 520 at-bats, a reasonable number based on his playing time. If he has 128 hits in those at-bats, his average rounds to .246. With one more hit, though, it would increase to .248. There’s a decent chance that Davis has no mathematical chance of repeating his .247 average.
The odds of having a number of at-bats for which a .247 average is impossible are close to 50-50. If Davis finishes with a number of at-bats between 500 and 571 that is two or three more than a multiple of four, he can hit .247. Otherwise, he cannot.
Past 572 at bats, .247 becomes possible at three of every four numbers. So last year’s quest got quite a bit easier on Sept. 29 when Davis hit at-bat number 572, a career high. The odds of Davis ending the past four seasons with a .247 batting average even with the perfect number of hits are still just 9.4 percent.
Put another way: Davis finished 2018 with 576 at- bats. If he had gone to the plate just one more time and gotten a hit, he would have finished with a .248 average. If he had made an out, he would have been at .246.1 Davis was pulled in the sixth inning of the season’s final game, by the way.
The chase for .247 isn’t impossible, but it is mathematically very unlikely. Of course, it was also unlikely the past four seasons. The powers of rounding and opposing pitchers haven’t stopped Davis before. We believe in you, Khris.
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