Daniel Moroz: Projecting what Hunter, Davis will contribute

As most of you know, the Orioles traded Koji Uehara to the Texas Rangers before the trade deadline for Tommy Hunter and Chris Davis. Rather than discuss the trade per se, I thought I’d walk through what we might expect from the new Birds for the rest of this season.

To do so we want to look at the players’ numbers, while giving more weight to more recent performance (so how they did last year counts more than how they did three years ago). There some consideration for the guys’ age, with improvement expected as they move into their prime years (for the position player, at least). And then there’s regression to the mean; if we don’t know anything about a player who hits .300 in his first 50 career at bats, we shouldn’t actually think he’s a .300 “true talent” hitter. Really, he’s probably a slightly better than average hitter who had a hot month. The longer the player hits .300 though, the more sure we can be that he’s actually close to a .300 “true talent” hitter. These are some of the basic aspects of doing player projection.

Tommy Hunter is a 25-year-old right-handed pitcher. He’s made 44 major league starts in his career, and has been worked of the bullpen for the Rangers in 2011. Despite being a big guy (6-foot-3, 280 lbs.), he’s not a power pitcher by any means - his average fastball velocity for his career is only around 90 mph.

Not surprisingly given his fastball, Hunter is not a strikeout pitcher. His career strikeout rate is a below average 5.1 K/9, and it’s not likely to cross the 6.0 threshold if he’s being used as a starter. He’s also been a flyball pitcher in his career, which leaves him vulnerable to the longball (1.3 HR/9). Luckily, Hunter makes up for those shortcomings with good control (career 2.5 BB/9). If you put these things together, it’s not unreasonable to think that Hunter’s 4.38 career ERA is actually a touch low - his Fielding Independent Pitching figure is 4.75. Going forward, something in between seems likely - perhaps in the 4.50 neighborhood (before accounting for the Orioles’ poor defense, of course). That’s perfectly serviceable for fourth or fifth starter, which is what Hunter is.

Chris Davis is also 25, a left-handed swinging corner infielder. His main tool is his monster power, but there are certainly holes in his game. He has almost 1,000 career major league plate appearances, mostly coming in 2008 and 2009, in which he’s hit .247/.299/.453. If he gets 200 plate appearances the rest of 2011, how is he likely to hit?

First off, Davis has walked in less than 7 percent of his career plate appearances. He used to be better at it in the minors, but even while hitting .368/.405/.824 in Triple-A this season he’s only walking 5 percent of the time. This is an area where he should improve as he gets older, but for now, Davis probably isn’t going to walk more much than 7 percent of the time (below average, especially for a first-baseman), which would give him 14 free passes.

Strikeouts have been an issue as well, as Davis has fanned in almost 32 percent of his trips to the plate. Not only does he swing and miss a lot, but he also tends to expand the strike zone (which contributes to the lack of walks). It’s not quite so bad in the minors, but even getting that down to 29 percent for Baltimore now would be a step forward. That would give him 58 strikeouts (and one of the majors’ worst K/BB ratios).

Taking out the strikeouts and the walks leaves 128 at-bats ending with Davis putting the bat on the ball - and that’s when he shines. As stated before, he has monster power. He hit 38 home runs in 193 games in 2008 and 2009, and had 24 in just 48 games in Triple-A this year. He has just four longballs in his last 74 major league games, though. Seeing Davis hit eighy or so homers seems reasonable.

On balls that don’t leave the yard, Davis has managed to have them fall for hits more often than the average hitter in his career. His Batting Average on Balls in Play is .325, though like with the homers, most of that was from a couple years ago. He’s always hit a lot of line drives though - which go for hits more than grounders or fly balls - so we wouldn’t expect that to drop too far; perhaps something around .320. With all the homers, Davis doesn’t end up with a ton of other extra-base hits, virtually all of which are likely to be doubles.

Putting all those things together would give Davis a line of about .258/.310/.446. That would make him a somewhat above average hitter.

Defensively, both the scouting reports I’ve seen and the stats agree that Davis is not a plus defensive player - enough so that he could give away whatever runs his slightly plus bat brings in (relative to an average hitter). How valuable is that level of production from a first-baseman (where the bar for offense is quite high)? Not very - much closer to a Quad-A player than an average big leaguer. But if he ever starts striking out less and (more importantly) walking more, the O’s could have a non-terrible first-baseman on their hands.

Daniel Moroz blogs about the Orioles for Camden Crazies and joins MASNsports.com as part of our season-long initiative to welcome guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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