What went wrong with Henry Davis?

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants
Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants / Lachlan Cunningham/GettyImages
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The former #1 overall pick Henry Davis struggled in the Majors this season, especially at the plate. This begs the question: what went wrong?

In 2021 the Pittsburgh Pirates selected Henry Davis with the first overall pick in the draft, signing him to an under-slot deal and passing on a couple highly-touted high school draft picks at the top of the draft. Davis, while not considered the best of the crop, was still praised for his bat, power, quickness and arm strength, placing #5 on MLB Pipeline's draft prospect list.

So far early on in his career, Davis has shown flashes of those skills, but hasn't put it together consistently. He's hit just .201/.297/.317 in 338 plate appearances since getting the call to the big leagues last season, a 70 wRC+ and -1.0 fWAR. This season, he's looked even worse, hitting .162/.280/.206 with only 3 XBH and a whopping 34.7 percent strikeout rate.

Fielding-wise, Davis was one of the worst outfielders in baseball last season, with a -9 Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and a .937 Fielding Percentage. His arm strength ranked among the best in baseball, but his inability to track down fly balls, especially in the gap, made him hard to trust in the field. Between his defense and Endy Rodriguez's injury, the Pirates were forced to move him back behind the plate this off-season.

The results haven't been kind there, either. While he's receiving better than most would have expected, Davis' -3 DRS is 2nd to last among qualified catchers. The Bucs were the last team in the Majors to toss a runner out, and though Davis has done well in that department since tossing out his first runner, he still lags behind his league counterparts in that department.

The defense was never supposed to be that good, which makes the lack of offense so much more concerning. There are certainly other hitters on the team who have performed below expectations, but Davis' expected stats rank among the worst in baseball, ranking in the 5th percentile or lower in xWOBA, xBA, and xSLG, along with ranking sixth in Whiff% and 5th in K%. His 86.3 average exit velocity ranks in the 17th percentile in the league.

Davis has struggled greatly against both the fastball and breaking ball. He's hit just .149 with 1 XBH in 58 PA against the fastball, whiffing 34.6% of the time, and .133 in 19 PA against breaking pitches, while whiffing 42.4% of the time. His struggles against the fastball have certainly been the biggest reason why Davis' time in the majors has been as bad as it's been.

Even last season when Davis struggled offensively he was still seeing the fastball much better than he has this season with just a 16% whiff rate, less than half of what the rate is this season. If the Pirates are to get Davis going offensively again the plan has to be centered around the fastball, which he saw 60% of the time this season in the big leagues. Hitters with the lofty power of Davis need to be able to handle (and crush) the fastball to survive in today's game.

A lot of things went wrong this season for Henry Davis, but there is still time to turn it around. He's only accumulated 338 plate appearances in his MLB career and according to recent interviews with General Manager Ben Cherington, the Pirates still believe in Davis and also realize his challenges with the fastball were too much of a problem to solve at the Major League level. Davis will be back, let's just hope the new version is ready to drive out some fastballs.