14 October 2013

Making the Orioles a 2014 Champion: 1B, Chris Davis

his post is part of the Making the Orioles a Champion in 2014 Series.  Below you will find links to the other articles.  We will do our best to make sure the links go live with each new update.
C | 1B | 2B (1, 2) | 3B | SS | LFCF | RF | DH | Bench | SP (1, 2) | RHRP | LHRP | Conclusion

Davis on Third
In my previous rumination about an Orioles' position, I considered the performance of Matt Wieters and whether the Orioles should move forward with him or look elsewhere as his salary balloons up with the arbitration process.  This post finds me writing about another player in his arbitration years who is about to have a salary explosion.  What differs between him and Matt Wieters would be expectations.  Of course, I am referring to Chris Davis.  He was half of the pieces coming back (Tommy Hunter being the other) in the Koji Uehara deal to Texas a couple years ago.  Unlike Wieters, no one in Baltimore expected Davis to be great.  Similar to Wieters, many in Baltimore question Davis' true talent level.


2013 1B in Review or 'And then there was Davis'

In the aftermath of the 2012 season, one of the main points to argue was what the Orioles would do if they let Mark Reynolds depart.  They could have taken up his option, offered him arbitration, or tried to sign him back in free agency.  The Orioles chose none of those and instead told Chris Davis that he would be using his first baseman's mitt.  Here at the Depot, we agreed with what the Orioles chose to do.  Mark Reynolds was overrated defensively because he had jazz hands which made many a casual fan overlook how with each play extraordinarily strong magnets kept his feet in one place for a whole second before letting him sprint off to a prime vantage point to see a ground ball depart towards whoever was manning right field at the time.  His bat was also underwhelming with his value coming solely from home runs and walks, nothing else.

From both of these value perspectives, Chris Davis appeared to be the same player for at least a third of the cost.  He lacked Reynolds' jazziness, but had better range.  He could not walk like Reynolds, but had the same power and better contact potential.  The expectation was that Chris Davis would be worth between 1.5 and 2 WAR (about the same as Reynolds was expected to be worth), which nailed what Reynolds' bat was worth over the full season (1.7 fWAR--ignore baserunning and fielding).  That projection did not come close to figuring out that Davis' bat would be worth 7.9 fWAR.

How did Davis match up to other first basemen this year?

Rk Player WAR/pos PA Age Tm 2B 3B HR BB SO BA OBP SLG
1 Paul Goldschmidt 7.0 710 25 ARI 36 3 36 99 145 .302 .401 .551
2 Joey Votto 6.4 726 29 CIN 30 3 24 135 138 .305 .435 .491
3 Chris Davis 6.3 673 27 BAL 42 1 53 72 199 .286 .370 .634
4 Freddie Freeman 5.4 629 23 ATL 27 2 23 66 121 .319 .396 .501
5 Brandon Belt 4.4 571 25 SFG 39 4 17 52 125 .289 .360 .481
6 Mike Napoli 4.1 578 31 BOS 38 2 23 73 187 .259 .360 .482
7 Edwin Encarnacion 4.0 621 30 TOR 29 1 36 82 62 .272 .370 .534
8 Adrian Gonzalez 3.9 641 31 LAD 32 0 22 47 98 .293 .342 .461
9 Nick Swisher 3.8 634 32 CLE 27 2 22 77 138 .246 .341 .423
10 Eric Hosmer 3.6 680 23 KCR 34 3 17 51 100 .302 .353 .448
11 James Loney 2.7 598 29 TBR 33 0 13 44 77 .299 .348 .430
12 Anthony Rizzo 2.6 690 23 CHC 40 2 23 76 127 .233 .323 .419
13 Brandon Moss 2.2 505 29 OAK 23 3 30 50 140 .256 .337 .522
14 Allen Craig 2.2 563 28 STL 29 2 13 40 100 .315 .373 .457
15 Mark Trumbo 2.2 678 27 LAA 30 2 34 54 184 .234 .294 .453
16 Justin Morneau 2.0 635 32 TOT 36 0 17 50 110 .259 .323 .411
17 Adam Lind 1.9 521 29 TOR 26 1 23 51 103 .288 .357 .497
18 Prince Fielder 1.7 712 29 DET 36 0 25 75 117 .279 .362 .457
19 Justin Smoak 1.1 521 26 SEA 19 0 20 64 119 .238 .334 .412
20 Adam LaRoche 0.9 590 33 WSN 19 3 20 72 131 .237 .332 .403
21 Mitch Moreland 0.6 518 27 TEX 24 1 23 45 117 .232 .299 .437
22 Paul Konerko -1.5 520 37 CHW 16 0 12 45 74 .244 .313 .355
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/4/2013.

One issue with Davis was that he performed poorly at first base, defensively.  It cost him roughly an entire win from his offensive contribution.  Another way to look at it would be that he had the best offensive season from any first baseman, but the glove pushed him down into a conversation about whether or not Davis, Joey Votto, or Paul Goldschmidt performed best this season.  That may be considered a damper, but it is always great when a team's player can be argued as the best one at that position in any given season.

Next season?

In his first year of arbitration, Chris Davis was awarded 3.3 MM for the 2013 season.  After a thoroughly impressive season, he was certainly due more for the upcoming season.  An 8 to 9 MM figure would not be surprising.  There has been some discussion about dealing Davis or signing him long term.  Those two options are not decisions that necessarily need to be made this off season due to the team having two more seasons of control remaining on Davis.  With the way the current team is constructed with so many players potentially leaving after next season (i.e., Nick Markakis, J.J. Hardy, Jim Johnson, Wei-Yin Chen, Darren O'Day, Matt Wieters, Bud Norris, Tommy Hunter) that it is difficult seeing it as a good idea to remove major contributors for the 2014 season.  An extension is a more plausible idea to consider.

Chris Davis' Career

2008 22 TEX 317 23 2 17 1 2 20 88 .285 .331 .549 128
2009 23 TEX 419 15 1 21 0 0 24 150 .238 .284 .442 85
2010 24 TEX 136 9 0 1 3 0 15 40 .192 .279 .292 51
2011 25 TOT 210 12 0 5 1 0 11 63 .266 .305 .402 89
2012 26 BAL 562 20 0 33 2 3 37 169 .270 .326 .501 121
2013 27 BAL 673 42 1 53 4 1 72 199 .286 .370 .634 165
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/10/2013.

In 2013, Davis had his second solid season in a row, so this is not exactly out of the blue even though the magnitude of his production was surprising.  With his 2009-2011 years in the wasteland, there has still be concerned that Davis' production is a mere flash in the pan.  However, this sort of reminds me of Jose Bautista.  He too was a prospect of decent expectations who had a great deal of difficulty refining himself and becoming a solid MLB player.  Below is a basic comparison.

Chris Davis Jose Bautista
Age wRC+ $ (MM) Age wRC+ $ (MM)
25 88 0.455 27 86 1.8
26 120 0.458 28 102 2.4
27 167 3.3 29 165 2.4

30 181 8

31 138 14

32 134 14
After his big breakout during his age 29 season, the Blue Jays were impressed enough to sign him long term with a five year, 65 MM deal before the 2011 season.  Dave Cameron of Fangraphs originally expressed some doubt on the deal.  However, he backtracked on his doubt a few months later.  With Davis, I think he provides a more sound probability of success with respect to his bat with two solid seasons under his belt.  He has these skills and he is repeatedly using them.

Some might contend that first half Davis was not second half Davis.  I'd contend that second half Davis was a very valuable player and that sample size consideration probably need to come into play.  Perhaps it is not remember, but Bautista also had a similar distribution of performance in reverse. 

Davis Bautista
April 208 100
May 224 212
June 173 92
July 111 217
August 179 207
September 105 150
Moving forward, it is likely a safe assumption that Davis can be a league average 1B and/or Designated Hitter.  Paying him a market value of 8-10 MM for an average first baseman is perfectly acceptable.  He also has a potential to being an MVP caliber player worth up to 35 MM in production (for clarification, few at that level would ever be paid so much and Davis will not see that much value coming back to him...market value for that production is probably worth about 24 MM).  To me, that sounds like a pretty safe commodity for investing in long term.

Who else is available?

Age WAR 2013 (MM)
Jose Dariel Abreu International 27 -- --
Corey Hart Brewers 32 -- 10
Mike Napoli Red Sox 32 3.9 5
Paul Konerko White Sox 38 -1.8 13.5
Casey Kotchman Marlins 31 -- MiL
James Loney Rays 30 2.7 2
Kendrys Morales Mariners 30 1.2 5.25
Justin Morneau Twins/Pirates 33 0.8 14
Mark Reynolds Indians/Yankees 30 0.4 7
Kevin Youkilis Yankees 35 -0.4 12
Of these options, there are serious questions on Hart, Konerko, Kotchman, Morneau, and Youkilis.  Of those five, only Kotchman is likely to accept a minor league deal.  The others (perhaps even Hart) are potential retirement candidates.  Napoli and Morales will probably have arbitration offered to them and would cost the Orioles a draft pick.  Reynolds and Loney would likely both demand starting positions in the field.  The both are not sure bets for average 1B production.  Finally, Jose Dariel Abreu is an interesting candidate who at worst is a poor man's Ryan Howard bat with no defensive position.  At best, he would be a punishing slugger who will be passable enough at 1B.  He could probably be had on a 4 or 5 year deal at 10 MM per season.  Davis is a surer bet than him.

The riskiest most with the biggest payoff would be for the Orioles to sign Jose Dariel Abreu to play first base and then trade Chris Davis for a few prospects or 0-3 yr immediate contributors.  The risk would be that such a move would be bet that Abreu is immediately ready and that at least one of the prospects coming back in return could shore up a place of need on the team.  If you can feel comfortable with that baseline then it would be a cost saving move of a few million per season.  The surplus value would then come in whatever extra the prospects could pull back and whether Abreu is much better than advertised.  It is an intriguing idea.  It would be a move that would encourage some to call Duquette brilliant if it worked or out-of-touch if it did not.  Regardless, the fan base would likely question the move in large similar to how they did with a lesser form of this deal back when Jeremy Guthrie was dealt for Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom.

All of this said, I would lean toward resigning Davis long term.  There is no such thing as a proven veteran and I do think expecting Davis to mash 50 home runs a year is fanciful.  However, I do think Davis is a 30-40 home run man for the next few seasons which should be good enough to make him at least average for this ball club.  I assume that the payroll is flexible enough that the team does not need to count pennies to the extent they would leverage a deal as mentioned in the previous paragraph.  On the other hand, if this team is going to have issues with payroll, then saving a few million on first base might be more significant is fully constructing a team.  The addition of several high profile, cost controlled prospects would also be a boon to the organization.

My conclusion though is that penciling Davis in would be best for the future of this franchise for as long as the playoff window remains open.


Joe Reisel said...

For what it's worth, given the small sample size, Davis hit .471/.571/1.235 as a designated hitter in 2013.

Anonymous said...

The Orioles are in need of three spots to become a contender for 2014 which includes DH, left field, and 2nd base. Signing Abreu would fill the DH spot and give CD a backup at first. I like the idea of signing Abreu but also keeping Davis.

Jon Shepherd said...

Alas...Abreu is a White Sox.

CJ. M said...

It doesnt make a difference as much as we all love the O's we know deep down that they will not go out and get a big time Cuban Free Agent, or a big time Free Agent period, we will continue to be shoppers at the Super Bargin Bin. Attention Savers Shoppers there is a Blue light special on a 4x retread SP with no upside in the January Isle.

Michael Dubuque said...

i honestly cant believe you said davis was bad with his glove... did you watch any of the games... how many times did he dig the ball out of the dirt make amazing picks and scoops... he had a .996 fielding percentage and all year has been talked about as gold glove candidate which i think he will win... honestly ive read a couple of your reviews of the positions and as a die hard fan who watched everygame i honestly am questioning weather you know what your talking about at all

Jon Shepherd said...

Micheal, weather not withstanding, Chris Davis is not a gold glove 1B. He makes picks. All 1B make picks. In fact, if you are inclined to count the picks a player makes at first base (and Baseball Info Solutions does this exact thing) you would find that Davis actually makes fewer picks than the average 1B.

Now if you consider fielding percentage then you probably know that the number is representing the number of ball that were successfully made a play on. It does not consider balls that were beyond the reach of the 1B. If you were to place a rubbermaid trashcan on its side at 1B, it would have a 1.000 fielding percentage.

Now, when you watch the game, try not to fully commit yourself to what the announcers say. They are trying to fill air time. Go online and watch Mark Teixiera when he was not injured. Look how he responds to the ball. He got to a ton of grounders in a way that Davis cannot. Now, remember in 2012 when people were mentioning Mark Reynolds' gold glove play. Look at 2013 when his teams did not care to play him at 1B. It was not a conspiracy. That gold glove talk was just noting that Reynolds made good hands plays and did not note how he failed at everything else.

Of course, do not take our word for it. Find yourself a scout, listen to what he has to say. I would be shocked if any of them thought of him as an elite defender. That is not hyperbole. I would be shocked.