Since his call-up about five weeks ago, I would describe what I’ve seen from Henry Davis with one word. Solid.
Offensively, Davis has looked as comfortable as any rookie I can remember. In 131 major league plate appearances this season, Davis is hitting .261/.351/.417 with four home runs and a wRC+ of 111. Let’s not forget that just last week, Davis took Shohei Ohtani deep twice.
Ji-Man Choi and Henry Davis go back-to-back in swashbuckler fashion. ☠️️ pic.twitter.com/I4UKhH6GYu— MLB (@MLB) July 22, 2023
Henry's second of the night! pic.twitter.com/fhkskDUDiQ— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) July 22, 2023
Fireworks against Ohtani aside, what has impressed me most about Davis is his command of the strike zone and overall approach.
I should preface by saying, the offensive philosophy of this Pittsburgh Pirates team has often driven me crazy. A lot of Pirates’ hitters have been overly patient and downright timid this season. They draw their walks, yes, but it also seems like they’ve watched a TON of hittable pitches pass by. For Davis though, this approach has yielded positive results.
In his short time in the majors, Davis has an impressive walk rate of 9.9 percent, higher than both the Pirates’ team average and the league average as a whole (9.2 and 8.6 percent respectively). His swing rate at pitches both in and out of the strike zone is lower than the league average. That said, his contact rate at pitches both in and out of the strike zone is higher than the league average.
Just using the good old-fashioned eye test, Davis looks comfortable in any situation. There just hasn’t been a situation this season in which he has looked completely overmatched. His strikeout rate of 19.9 percent, which is basically on par with his career Minor League rate proves that.
When it comes to making actual contact with the baseball, Davis has also been solid. His hard-hit rate of 46.7 percent comfortably exceeds the league average rate of 36.1 percent. And although his max and average exit velocity have not been elite (42nd and 50th percentile among all hitters), his barrel rate of ten percent exceeds the league average of 6.9 percent.
The point must be hammered again that Davis has only had 131 plate appearances. But it’s hard to not be at least a bit excited about what he has shown thus far with the bat.
Hitting aside, one thing that has surprised me a bit about Davis has been his sprint speed. Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew Davis wasn’t a sloth on the bases and in the outfield. I just thought of him as a league-average runner. That is not the case. With a sprint speed of 28.2 feet per second, Davis is in the 76 percentile of all Major Leaguers.
Currently, he has three steals in six attempts. Not great at the moment, but, he will learn to better pick his spots. With the speed he possesses and overall baseball acumen, I don’t see why Davis couldn’t steal 20 bags in a season. He had nine steals in the minors last season and seven in the minors this season before his call-up.
The biggest question with Davis at the moment is difficult to answer. Where does he fit defensively? As we all know, he was drafted as a hit-first catcher. This season with the Pirates, he has caught one inning. The Pirates’ decision-makers are not confident in his ability to catch at the moment. In right field, Davis has shown competence, but he is still a work in progress. At the moment, the recently called-up Endy Rodriguez is getting nearly all of the catching reps (with Austin Hedges filling in as the primary backup).
Truly, I have no idea what is going to happen. Perhaps, Rodriguez proves to be the superior defensive option and Davis becomes a full-time outfielder.
Could a sort of quasi-catching platoon be possible? Perhaps both players could get three or so starts at catcher per week while the other plays their secondary position on the days they aren’t catching (Davis is RF, Rodriguez at 1B). In this instance, a third catcher would need to be rostered as the primary backup.
In theory, this sounds great. One would think being a part-time catcher would do wonders for minimizing the overall wear and tear a full season of catching does to one’s body.
On the other hand, part of me thinks this part-time catching plan may just be too much moving around. Catching is already a difficult position as is. How would pitchers react to not having one consistent catcher? Would each catcher be assigned to a certain starter? How would this affect the bullpen? Having to form a relationship with every pitcher, while also being competent at a whole other position, while also being an important hitter to the team (which both plan to be) seems like a tall task.
I don’t know. The first option probably makes more sense. But it will be interesting to see what the Pirates do moving forward.