Chris Davis has been on a steep decline the past few years, and his performance has reflected the Orioles’ 2018 season.
These days, Chris Davis’s performance on the field seems to encapsulate the Orioles’ 2018 season.
From the start of the year, the Baltimore Orioles have displayed constant ineptitude on the diamond. They struggle to put runs on the board and cannot get on base. Through July 12th, the Orioles are dead last in baseball with a godawful .290 OBP and 29th in batting average (.227). For a team that has the likes of Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, Mark Trumbo, and Adam Jones, one would think that the team would at least have some power. Unfortunately, most of that power has disappeared leaving them 17th in the majors in home runs.
The Orioles also boast one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors. Consider the ERA of their five main starting pitchers:
With the possible exception of Dylan Bundy, the Orioles’ rotation has not pitched well. However, the scuffling offense remains the main reason why the Orioles’ performance problems are being magnified.
And that starts with first baseman Chris Davis. He is not just performing badly — he’s been virtually unplayable. Of the 162 players currently qualified for the batting title, Davis ranks last in batting average by 19 points, last in slugging percentage by 57 points, and last in OPS+ by 19 points. By almost every statistical category, Davis has been the worst hitter in 2018.
So awful, in fact, that Davis was given a brief, eight-game break from playing in order to refocus. Upon his return, Davis received boos from frustrated Orioles fans who were dissatisfied with the current state of Davis, who used to be the Orioles’ best slugger.
Not that long ago, Chris Davis was one of the league’s fiercest power hitters, and this was reflected by how pitchers would constantly pitch around him. But in the midst of his steep decline, pitchers are now attacking the strike zone against him more frequently than they did in previous seasons.
The FanGraphs chart shows how Chris Davis is receiving more pitches in the strike zone compared to the MLB average. That’s what happens when you compile a -2.1 WAR in your team’s first 60+ games. Instead of pitching around him, they are going right after him and Davis has not been able to punish them.
In particular, Davis has struggled mightily at catching up to fastballs, a problem to which Davis alluded to. He has been especially bad with the high fastball:
He has also struggled against breaking balls, which has resulted in his high frequency of strikeouts.
Davis has averaged more than 30 home runs the past four seasons. In 2018, he only has four home runs. So instead of being a staple in the Orioles power department, he has had a negative offensive impact on the club.
His struggles can be seen in more ways than his difficulty catching up to fastballs and dealing with breaking pitches. The 2018 season has seen Davis not making solid contact on the balls that he has hit; as the chart shows below, Davis’s Hard Hit% and Barrel% are down from his previous seasons.
Two things Davis excelled at earlier in his career were making solid contact and hitting the ball hard. As a result, Davis’s Barrel% in 2015 was in the top 1% on the league that year while his exit velocity in 2015 was in the top 6% of the league. However, in 2018, Davis launch angle has decreased along with his exit velocity, which has influenced his lower home run total and overall offensive contributions.
This impact on his WAR has been obvious. Davis’s current 2018 WAR is on pace to be the lowest single-season total for any position player, ever. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the worst season by a Major League player was Jerry Royster of the Atlanta Braves in 1977, who posted a -4.0 WAR with a .216/.278/.288 batting line. Davis is on pace for a -4.5 WAR.
Ever since Chris Davis signed his contract extension, he has been on a consistent decline. The deal at the time was already questionable for the Orioles, but it looks worse now considering Davis’s offensive decline. Consider his first three seasons after signing his new deal:
The statistic in bold highlights a recurring problem for Davis: He strikes out too much. Most teams are willing to overlook high strikeout totals if the home runs are there. This season Davis is only on pace for about 13 home runs — not exactly enough power to compensate for the low batting average and the many strikeouts.
However, Davis, unlike the two main Orioles pitching acquisitions this offseason, played poorly last year as well. With a contract that keeps him in Baltimore through the 2022 season, it would appear that Davis and the Orioles are stuck with one another.
Davis’s contract has numerous ramifications for a franchise that desperately needs to rebuild. With an untradeable contract that eats up a significant portion of the team’s payroll, the Orioles do not have much money to spend in order to improve their club. It is expected that the team will trade Machado, Jones, and perhaps Dylan Bundy at some point before the Trade Deadline.
Even still, the Orioles can expect to see a lot of losing in the future—and Chris Davis’s struggles will be at the center of it.
(All statistics and information originated from ESPN.com, FanGraphs.com, and Baseball-Reference.com, unless otherwise noted.)
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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