Is Chris Davis As Good As Miguel Cabrera?

davisMiguel Cabrera  of the Detroit Tigers is getting tons of attention for his incredible start to the 2013 baseball season, but there is another hitter who isn’t getting the recognition he deserves–Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis. He’s at or near the top in several major offensive categories and–at times–has looked to be stride-for-stride with Cabrera. I’m about to do a little investigating to see just how close Davis is to besting the reining American League MVP.

I’m sure after one paragraph, I’ve already garnered ample scoff–one has proven his worth and maintained it for several years, the other has played just two full seasons. This season, Cabrera’s WAR is nearly eclipsing the amount Davis has amassed after just over six years of service.

So, end of discussion, right? Maybe, but it’s too fun to not at least look.

One thing you can be certain of, Davis is the best slugger in baseball right now. His .386 ISO is well ahead of Justin Upton‘s .317. Davis also leads the league in home runs with 16. Cabrera’s ISO is currently .303, though he’s a bit closer in home runs with 14.

Cabrera has as close to a 1:1 K/BB rate as you can get, which is very impressive for a power hitter. Of all hitters with at least a .250 ISO, Cabrera’s 12.5% strikeout rate is the lowest by a decent margin. Davis strikes out significantly more at 23.9%, though that amount is relatively average for a power hitter.

The edge in batting average belongs to Cabrera by a sizable margin–he’s hitting .388 versus Davis’ .337. Coming as no surprise–and leading the league no less–Cabrera has the better wOBA with a .483, 11 points ahead of the second-place Davis.

So cased closed–I guess at this point it’s just dumping gas onto the fire, but still I want to dig a little deeper to see if the separation is as great as it seems.

Plate discipline would probably be the best way to distinguish the two of them. Looking at swings outside of the strike zone, they both take cuts at 34% of non-strikes. And you guessed it, Cabrera makes contact on these types of pitches nearly 20% more often than Davis. Does that immediately make him a better hitter? Not really but it can be an indication of much better bat control.

On pitches that fall within the strike zone, Cabrera swings slightly more–4% more to be exact–while making contact 3% more. Finally, some sort of common ground–as far between as that ground may be.

At this point, I don’t think it would surprise you that Cabrera makes contact at a much better overall rate than Davis does. Not only that, Davis whiffs more than Cabrera too–12.2% versus 8.5%.

What’s really interesting after contrasting the duo’s plate discipline (knowing how much better a contact hitter Cabrera is), is that Cabrera sees first-pitch strikes during 64.8% of his plate appearance. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t chase the first pitch very often, but I would think it would be smarter to pitch backwards to Cabrera.

But judging by what we’ve already looked at, it really doesn’t matter because Cabrera is going to beat you–and   beat you more often than Chris Davis will. Just take a look at this gif, created by one of the fine writers over at Fangraphs:
cabrera davis

I like what I’ve seen from Davis this year–he has makings of a great hitter. I mocked an owner in my fantasy league last month for suggesting at trade involving Davis for Mike Trout (as well as several others). I didn’t want to allow it because it seemed so lopsided–I didn’t think Davis was for real. Though we’ve only seen close to two months worth of output, Davis had a pretty strong year for Baltimore in 2012 (.270/33 HR/87 RBI/.352 wOBA).

And while at first glance it would appear that Davis should be mentioned in the same breath as Cabrera, he really shouldn’t (maybe in the one following). I wanted to find an angle to prove Davis wasn’t that far off–in some cases he’s not–but he just isn’t as close as I expected.

I like it better when competition on the level of these two is closer and allows for better discussion, but I bet it would be hard to find another hitter closer to Cabrera’s productivity than Davis has been so far.