30 May 2018

People Have Hypotheses On Why Chris Davis Is Failing

In early October of 2015, Peter Angelos talked to Roch Kubatko about the importance of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter to continue on doing what they do.  He also dropped what I thought was a bombshell at the time that no one else seemed to notice.  Angelos made it known that it was his intention to re-sign Chris Davis.  That was stunning to me because the thought at the moment was that Davis would pull in a 200+ MM deal, which seemed unthinkable in Baltimore given its status as a small market, lower revenue club.  It was also frightening because Davis is exactly the kind of player who should not have been given that contract.  Alas, Detroit was also curiously interested and the structure of a contract for a 161 MM deal with deferred money was figured out.

It has been a bit of a mess as the club is now into the third year of the deal with not only little to show, but also horrifically diminishing returns.

Standard Batting
Year Age PA 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+
2013276734253.286.370.634168
2014285251626.196.300.40496
2015296703147.262.361.562147
2016306652138.221.332.459110
2017315241526.215.309.42395
20183219444.156.242.24937
11 Y11 Y4895208271.242.324.481114
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/29/2018.

That said, while we were certainly in the corner of this being no good and very bad.  The bolder, yet wise, minds around Baltimore painted the scenario as one that was not about the club losing out on Yeonis Cespedes or Justin Upton, but where Angelos only had the money for Davis alone.  Recently, rumors have come forward that had Duquette been in control that off-season that he would have gone after pitcher Johnny Cueto.  At the time, my industry contacts were saying that Duquette was being forced to sign Davis, but would have been allowed to sign Upton or Cespedes if Davis went elsewhere.  Regardless, the point is that this was not a slam dunk signing and absolutely no consensus was present.

With that in mind, I was no visionary.  I figured the club was looking to harness three or four valuable-ish years to keep that window of competition open and then suffer the last three with a player who would arguably be unplayable.  The issue I always had with Davis was that he had two tools.  He has plus plus power.  While that skill would be able to be MLB quality as he aged, he had a horrific contact skill.  My fear was that if he dropped from where he was (around a 40/45) rating that it would undermine all his power.  And, so, it is.

Chris Davis During Better Days
Davis' decline has been relatively straight forward.  His athleticism has tanked with him going from a first baseman with average speed to one of the slower ones over the past three years.  This is reflected in his loss of secondary power (i.e., doubles), which become important when the ball stops leaving the yard.  His bat speed has grown slower.  His exit velocity has cratered.  His timing is completely off at the plate.  Not only do his skills look missing, but he also appears to have little to no plan when he comes to the plate.

With four and two thirds years left in his deal, it is hard to both see how this club can keep him around or an ownership that is incredibly willing to accept that the money is sunk with nothing to salvage.  Similarly, things have manifested for fans and it sits in three fantastic stories about Davis: he is soft with money, his priority are his kids, and he needs drugs.

Tackling that first fan hypothesis: Chris Davis got soft with his contract.  I think this idea in general is one where people tend to notice how when free agents sign big money deals that their best seasons wind up coming in the years before that deal.  That leads to the idea that once a player is secure in their financial future that they take it easy, coast, and fall apart.  That idea happens to neglect the reality that given the way baseball free agency works, free agents tend to be 30 years old or older.  The age is typically on the downside of a player's age curve.  In other words, players sign contracts when physical skills decrease and injury rates increase.

Studies on this are numerous with considerable weight pointing to this not being a real thing.  Why?  It seems to make sense in our own lives that we have periods of time where we sacrifice in our jobs and push ourselves to our limits.  It is also likely true that we typically are not pushing ourselves to our limit.  In highly competitive environments, employees tend to push themselves fully even beyond the point where their financial comfort is secure.  This becomes more apparent in scenarios where the performance of an individual is public facing.  In other words, Chris Davis has excelled in a field where you have to push yourself hard all of the time.  Second, everyone can see his failures.  With that in mind, it seems highly unlikely that financial security is undermining his play.

The next knock I have seen is that a player performs worse with young children.  It is something that I have seen before with Davis, Adam Jones, and Nick Markakis.  However, it tends to not track.  Yes, family obligations.  Typically, this takes on a more gendered take in greater society.  Men are often preferred if they have children as it seems to point toward a seriousness or stability of some kind that seems rooted in far flung misguided notions of the past.  Women on the other hand have to deal with a great deal of negativity with insinuations of how brain chemistry alters and impacts their work performance or how they are expected to care for sick kids.  Personally, I was highly questioned as to why I was taking paternity leave.  It may be 2018, but we have some residual antiquated thoughts.

With baseball players, it seems to be focused on the idea that these guys are getting sleepless nights caring for young children screaming in the night.  Mind you, these families have been adapted and hardened for baseball.  Many players shifted their kids nap times in season so that they can be awake when their father finishes the game.  Pregnancies are planned so that births happen in the off-season.  So with that in mind, do you really think a player with a 161 MM contract is somehow unable to find support for his significant other to take care of the kids the night before a game?  Does that make much sense to you?  It does not for me.

The last hypothesis I commonly see is about Chris Davis' Therapeutic Use Exemption to treat his diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).  It is advised to go back up above and look at Davis' career in the table above.  In 2014, Davis was nabbed for violating the league's rules on performance enhancing drugs.  In previous seasons, he had a therapeutic use exemption for Adderall.  For some reason that still does not seem clear, Davis was unable to secure one for the 2014 season.  He was terrible and resorted to taking the drug when nothing else worked.  It is uncertain how often he took it.  One dose of Adderall will show up in the metabolites found in urine up to four days after taking it.  However, chronic use will keep the metabolites in high enough concentration to be measurable for up to seven days.  Regardless, whatever his usage was in 2014, his performance was terrible.

That off-season, Davis experimented with a time released version called Vyvanse.  It is not Adderall.  Adderall is not time released, it apparently comes on rather suddenly.  Vyvanse takes out the highs and lows.  By taking it, you even out the effect.  Davis came to the conclusion that he preferred this version of therapy for ADHD.  MLB, and really most doctors, prefer time released medications to treat ADHD.  There certainly was some pressure on Davis to seek a TUE for Vyvanse at a level, very least, as a social pressure.  To my knowledge, Adderall is still the most common drug to treat ADHD for players on TUEs.

Anyway, Davis got a TUE for Vyvanse and, supposedly, has continued that treatment.  The common thread you hear is that ever since Davis went off Adderall that his performance has suffered.  This is not accurate.  Davis had another monster season in 2015, his first year using Vyvanse.  Then he signed his deal and then it all progressively fell apart.  While it sounds like a good narrative, it just does not fit well.

When you look at everything on the table, the popularly peddled excuses for poor performance simply are not very credible.  Davis has lost athleticism.  He is no longer a gold glove first baseman.  He no longer hits the ball with authority.  He no longer runs at a decent clip.  It may be a boring excuse, but the likely problem with him is that he is aging.  His chimp days are behind him.

18 comments:

Jan Frel said...

Great overview. There is one other thing I have read and heard on TV broadcasts from time to time... something to do with his eyesight... inability to pick up on pitches. I do observe that when he hits. some of that might be ADHD.

My followup to this is: When a player signs a guaranteed contract, but simply can't play, is there any history, ANY of a player retiring, citing a moral breaking point that they can't earn this money for their work? Interestingly, it happens ALL the time in the acting/stage performance world. I vaguely remember 1 case of it in baseball, maybe 3-4 years ago.

PTCello said...

I don’t disagree with this a bit and I personally detest any and all long-term greecagent contracts. I hated this one even when it was in the talk-about stages.
But explain Nelson Cruz?
Why is he still excellent when the two are so similar?

Alli Upham said...

I think it may be beneficial for CD to reach out to his old pal Jake Arrieta and get on his Pilates routine.

Jake is a beast of an athlete who started to get better when he left Baltimore, joined the Cubs and added in a new condition, and strength program centered around pilates.

I think this could loosen Davis up a little bit, maybe focus more on overall athleticism than pure strength.

We are seeing the new age athlete (Tre Turner, Lindor, Betts, Benintendi, Albes, Acuna, Buxton, Correra, DiDi, Yelich, etc.) be more wire-ery. Quick is the new strong.

Just my 2 cents.

robotworks said...

While it might torque the Players Association off, at some time, ex-Fan favorite CD should renegotiate his contract, or come to a agreement where he abandons the active years of his contract, keeps the delayed payments, and is happy with the millions he has already been paid. You notice I didn't say earned.
You might say I am crazy and I wouldn't do it, but no... I make a nice piece of change doing what I do, but I spent many years building my skill set up to do it. I have told my boss, that if it comes a time where I can't do the work, I'm gone. I have saved up enough moola to check out now and spend the rest of my life in modest (very modest) retirement. I could not stand to think I came to work and had others carry me.
For the sake of his reputation, CD should just walk away from this contract. he has more money already than any family needs to live comfortably for the rest of his life.
JMHO. t

Rob said...

I love Chris Davis so this is all thoroughly depressing. I seem to remember some performance issues around his use/non-use of chewing tobacco in the past, too? I wonder if a sports psychologist might help - I can't help but think physical issues might be secondary. Let's hope he can turn things around, I miss that home run swing.

Jon Shepherd said...

Stadiums where smokeless tobacco is not allowed: Anaheim, Boston, Chicago (both), Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York (both), Oakland, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, St. Petersburg, and DC.

He can use it in Baltimore.

I would think if smokeless tobacco was the key, then he would perform much better at home than on the road.
69 wRC+ at home 2017-2018
75 wRC+ on the road 2017-2018

Sessh said...

Interesting take. However, I am not completely buying that Davis is just in decline, either. He is only 32 which is really the tail end of someone's athletic prime. This started when he was only 30. It's not like we're talking about a guy in his mid or late 30's, this is a player apparently in severe decline during his prime years with no injuries.

It doesn't really make all that much sense, either. Maybe the Vyvanse stopped working or maybe he has started getting side effects from it. Of all the three hypothesis' you covered, the drugs still seem to be the most viable. ADD can do a lot of crazy things to your attention span of which one has little to no control over. If Adderall was working for him, he should go back on it just to see if it makes a difference. I, too, would love to know why Davis was suddenly denied the exemption for it. We may never know, but it sure is odd.

Scott Wheeler said...

As depressing as it is to think he is in steep decline with 4 years left, what is almost as frustrating is seeing him in the middle of the line up night after night. Tonight, I watch him in a key situation, 2 on and 2 out against scherzer, and he wiffs weakly. Is buck seeing any of this?

Robert Barnes said...

My guess is that Buck believes he can turn it around, and that moving him to 8-9 would destroy what's left of his confidence and kill that chance. I'm not saying I agree, just that Buck might be thinking this way.

Robert Barnes said...

Sessh, I agree with you of the multiple theories on Chris Davis's decline medication is the most likely. I outlined this in the previous post, but Jon Shepherd asks a good question.

Here is my controversial answer. Just because drugs are prescribed by a doctor does not mean they are any different than street drugs. So when thinking about ADHD drugs you have to think of them as speed. They are amphetamines of one type or another. They might not be the methamphetamines that Heisenberg makes, but they are in the same family. So when someone who has ADHD takes adderal they get a short-term High and a drop off. When they take A Time release drug like Vyvanse they get a slow dose of speed all day long.

This means that taking a dose of adderal right before a baseball game maximizes your focus your mental acuity and your physical ability. And then sometime after the game you crash.

With a drug like Vyvanse, when you first start taking it you will get that effect similar to a street drug High when you first start taking it (2015). But not long afterwards you become what doctors call "adjusted." This means the drug just keeps you even all day long. If the drug was street drug instead of a prescription, we would call that addicted, not adjusted.

However like I said in the previous post it's possible that Chris just didn't want to have those Lowe's in his life. I have also made that choice and only take adderal on rare occasions when I have a very important task to complete. It's possible that after years of taking Adderall Davis found that he dropped off far too early for his comfort, and that he was not able to do anything but be great at baseball for 3 hours a day when using it to treat his ADHD.

I am making a lot of assumptions here, and this is just a theory, but it is a theory based on extensive personal experience

Jon Shepherd said...

Keep in mind that age curves are population averages. You would expect some in the population to decline early and some to decline late. Davis would not be the first guy to free fall at 30.

Sessh said...

I have some experience with ADD and medications myself. I was on Ritilin for many years as a kid, so I know what they are (speed) and all that. Still, those "highs" from Adderall are just correcting the deficit or allowing that person to be "normal" for a time. Of course, there's then the crash back down to where you were before.

Still, maybe that's what works better for Davis as opposed to a slow release. Besides, if he wanted to stop using the Adderall due to the lows, why did he apply for an exemption to continue using it? He obviously wanted the Adderall. The Vyvanse was the result of being forced to find a Plan B option. Perhaps the "high" the Vyvanse was giving him in the first year also explains why he didn't drop off immediately after he started using it.

Also, I know he wouldn't be the first to decline at 30, but there are too many other variables here for me to commit to it. I wouldn't find it unusual or weird for someone to relax a little after getting a huge contract and slacking off a bit on your work. Maybe get a little full of yourself and think you don't have to work as hard anymore. All speculation on my part of course, but not all that much of a stretch to believe an element of that is in play here.

Jon Shepherd said...

The gist of it seems that he was negligent in getting his paperwork together in 2014. He then used both vyvanse and adderall after the year openly, deciding on vyvanse long term.

Brandon Sciuto said...

He should get on whatever drug is needed. Or simply quit. He stinks. Poor guy. Poor us.

aj barrell said...

Like the story said his athletic markers have tanked. The adderal didnt make him run faster or have better bat speed. He was an impressive athlete for his size. Either injury, age or wear and tear have sapped what made his skillset work. His secondary skills arent good enough for him to have a graceful decline. Once his contact/batspeed droped enough he is done.

This is Why alot of larger sluggers call off a cliff as they age past 30. The ones that dont are possible hall of famers ones that do are Chris Davis like.

Robert Barnes said...

"The adderal didnt make him run faster or have better bat speed." Is something only someone with no experience with these drugs/medications would say.

Sessh said...

Amphetamines do just that. They would increase bat speed, reaction time, focus and energy levels which includes running faster. I would even argue that they are more of a performance enhancer than steroids and it's not even close. There's a reason just about everyone in baseball was using them regularly for many, many decades along with rampant steroid use through the late 50's, 60's and 70's. It was synthesized in the late 1800's, so amphetamines have been around for a long time.

For people who have a deficit in these areas, amphetamines will increase those abilities just so that person can function at levels most other people can function at naturally. People taking them who do not have deficits become enhanced in ways steroids could never do. Amphetamines help you to make contact with a baseball. Steroids make the ball go further when you make contact.

Jon Shepherd said...

Amphetamines are tricky. They can often make one feel stronger, faster, etc., but not actually be stronger, faster, etc. The military has done quite a bit of research on this with respect to performance combined with fatigue. The basic conclusion was that amphetamines keep you alert and focused, but not to the baseline of a typical person.

Diving into performance a bit more, there is considerable evidence showing that amphetamines improve aerobic athletic performance, but not anaerobic performance. Sprinting and swinging a bat would fall into something more akin to anaerobic performance. That said, the studies I know of are done with people who do NOT have ADHD. You add that element into it and these studies may well change quite a bit. I know of no studies that involve a study population limited to ADHD individuals.