23 April 2018

Chris Davis Is In Trouble

Orioles fans were hoping that Chris Davis would bounce back from a lackluster 2017. Once an elite bat, Chris Davis now has just a .164/.274/.274 line good for a wOBA of .252. According to TruMedia, this means he ranks 165th out of 180 qualified batters. Unsurprisingly, Davis’ contract has been ranked the worst in the majors by Joel Sherman. Naturally, Orioles fans are wondering if Chris Davis is finished with 4+ years remaining on his contract.

It doesn’t appear that his ability to control the strike zone is his issue. Davis has always had an issue with strikeouts, but it seems he’s improved slightly in that aspect this season. Davis’s 31% strikeout rate is within norms. His 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio is roughly in line with other seasons, so it doesn’t appear as if walks and strikeouts are causing him issues. In addition, his called ball and in play rates from this season are in the same range as they were from 2013-2017. It doesn’t appear that his issue is plate discipline.

That stated, he’s had 19 plate appearances against left handed pitchers and has struck out 12 times. His BABIP of 0 is not a good sign, but he’s only put the ball into play four times (one home run). He does have a high foul percentage, but he also has three times more swinging strikes against lefties than pitches put into play. It’s early, but this type of performance potentially shouts either terrible slump or platoon bat and that his days as an effective player in MLB are nearly finished.

Aside from his complete futility against lefties, his other issue is that he’s been able to put pitches into play, but hasn’t hit them hard. Matt K noticed that his exit velocity has gone from 90 mph in 2016/2017 to 82.4 mph in 2018. Pitches really need to be hit with at least an exit velocity of 95 mph for them to likely be hits, so a seven mph drop in exit velocity is terrible news for a batter. In 2018, he’s hit 13 out of 44 balls in play (29.5%) with an exit velocity of over 95 mph. From 2015-2017, roughly 45% of pitches he put into play had an exit velocity of over 95 mph. His drop in exit velocity has had a bad impact on him.

Of the forty-four pitches that Davis has put into play, fourteen have been less than .5 feet from the center of the plate and another fifteen have been between .5 feet and .95 feet. On the one hand, those are the types of pitches that batters want to put into play. The closer the ball is to the center of the plate, the easier it is to hit them hard. On the other hand, Davis only has a .180 wOBA against pitches that are between .5 feet and .95 feet, with an estimated wOBA of .360. A power hitter needs to be able to crush pitches in that range. Davis has been successful against pitches that are within .5 feet of the center of the plate (.504 actual wOBA vs .585 expected wOBA), but that by itself isn’t enough to be successful.

On the other hand, through 4/14, there have been 10,998 pitches put into play in 2018 and 3,978 of them have an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. That’s a 36% rate and suggests that while Chris Davis has gone from above average to below average in this metric, it doesn’t explain why he’s completely fallen apart. There’s a difference between below average and terrible.

Furthermore, other Statcast metrics are kinder to Chris Davis. Statcast (as of 4/14) thinks that the average pitch put into play in 2018 has a 33.5% chance of being a hit, an expected wOBA of .391 and an actual wOBA of .370. When Statcast rates Davis’s performance, it expects that he would have a .326 batting average on pitches put into play and an expected wOBA of .427. Meanwhile, Davis only has an actual wOBA of .311 on pitches put into play. If he had his expected results instead of his actual results on pitches put into play, he’d have a wOBA of .323 instead of .252. The average wOBA this season for qualified players is .337, so he’d still be below average. But he wouldn’t be one of the worst players in the majors. That's pretty much the realistic optimistic case for Davis at this point.

As Jon has mentioned a number of times, Chris Davis is slow. With a sprint speed of 25 ft/second, he ranks 285th out of 324 qualified players. It isn’t clear that this is impacting him at bat, but it certainly means that he’s not fit to play any position aside from 1B and DH. That’s not what one wants to see from a player that’s struggling to contribute offensively.

Going forward, it seems likely that he’ll improve against right handed pitching. It seems probable that he’s not going to be completely useless especially if he’s benched against lefties. Indeed, both Zips and Steamer think he’s going to bounce back with league-average offense and contribute about 1 WAR over the remainder of this season.

Still, he’s getting to the point where he’s not a fulltime player. Unless he makes drastic improvements against left-handed pitching, the Orioles will have to concede that point this season despite all of the money he’s owed. A platoon 1B/DH is worth at most $10M per year. Given that Davis still has nearly five years and nearly $115M remaining on his contract, that’s not what Orioles fans want to hear. The fact that his effective range is decreasing is also bad news. If he can’t do damage to pitches that aren’t in the center of the strike zone, it will be easy for opposing pitchers to strike him out.

It’s very likely that the albatross of Chris Davis’s contract is going to haunt the Orioles for years to come and make it even more difficult for them to compete in the future. It’s looking almost inevitable that he’ll be released before his contract ends.


Roger said...


CBreezyThreezy said...

You don't think he is on his medication?

Aaron Smith said...

It's pretty obvious at this point that Chris Davis will continue to be one of the worst contracts in baseball over the next 4.5 years. The real question is if there is any possible way to dump him. How about this proposal: Instead of the Orioles netting a top level prospect in the eventual Machado trade, they simply force a team to accept 3 out of the 4 remaining years of the Davis contract. As a cherry on top, the O's offer to eat the final year and the defered money owed.

Even if Davis returns to replacement level value this season, which is best case scenario at this point, you still have to expect a further decline over the next 4 seasons. In my view, its more valuable to forgo a potential good player or two to get rid of the black hole in the middle of our lineup. Of course Davis has a no trade clause I believe, but I think he would agree to a trade with a contender.

Rob said...

I don't see anybody taking a half year rental of Machado with a three-year Davis kicker.

Roger said...

CBreezyThreezy, the last I heard he had tried a different med to have the same benefit. I have said before that I think he ought to stuff himself full of Adderall until he's caught and then when he gets suspended someone else can have his roster spot. That way we get the best performance he is capable of and when he's not performing, he doesn't take up a roster spot or a lineup spot.

A little speed'll do ya'.

Matt Perez said...

I don't think medication is his issue. I think he's gotten too slow to be successful in the majors.

I'm not sure anyone will agree to take on $51M for him even if they get half a year of Machado. I'm not even sure that makes sense for the Os. If they're going to punt on 2019 like they should, then they'll need young talent rather than cost savings.

Hals Yankees and MLB's Monopoly said...

I suspect Davis did not get the TUE these past 2 years. This is how he hits w/o his meds. Manfred punishing O's for signing him and messing with the market, as well as the MASN dispute

Hals Yankees and MLB's Monopoly said...

Too much money at stake for him. He doesnt get paid on suspension. He got his money, no need to take risks. Dont blame him.