13 August 2018

Chris Davis: Orioles Contracts and Extensions that Did Not Work

Chris Davis is the summit in a lot of ways: he holds the most expensive and longest contract in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.  Although the deal was ill-advised at the time, it was certainly not outlandish. 

Peter Angelos desired to re-sign Davis after the 2015 season.  He noted it in late September of that year to the press, a rare public statement on a player by the owner.  Angelos noted it again after the Winter Meetings, further solidifying what we all kind of knew, which was Angelos would move heaven and earth to get Davis back on the club.  It was noted that the Orioles front office largely did not agree with this approach to the 2015/16 offseason.

What many fans forget though is that Davis has another suitor.  Tigers Illich thought Davis to be the missing piece in Detroit.  He was certain that Davis could spend a year or two out in right field, something that Boras was stressing to everyone within earshot, before existing contracts would open up first base and designated hitter later in the contract.  It was rumored, and widely reported, that the Tigers were discussing the parameters of a contract around 190 MM against the wishes of the Tigers' front office.

What wound up happening is that the Tigers front office convinced ownership to hand out a deal to Justin Upton instead for 132 MM (well below the parameters discussed with Davis).  Davis went back hard to the Orioles, with Yeonis Cespedes circling, and signed a 7/161 MM deal with much deferred (making it worth more like 126 MM) two days after Upton inked.  It seemed to be very similar to how Baltimore approached Ivan Rodriguez and Javy Lopez a decade earlier in offering them both the same deal, waiting until someone came back to them and said yes.  Cespedes then went back to the Mets the following week on a 3/75 (a deal he would opt out of after the year was over and sign a staggering 4/110 deal after the season).

The contract has not been kind.  Davis' first year was fine with a 3.3 bWAR, but for someone who had six more years left to go on a contract, you certainly wanted a bit more production because he was entering typical decline years.

Standard Batting
201813 (21).159.242.29749
11 Y280.239.321.476112
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/10/2018.

And decline he did.  Contact, walk rate, power, they have all declined.  In 2018, Davis is having one of the worst seasons in the history of the game.  At -2.2 bWAR, he would wind up around the 30th worst season ever out of 18,000 player seasons with more than 100 games played.

Under the terms of Davis' deal, that 126 MM should have translated into an expected return of about 12.7 bWAR.  Almost three full seasons in, Davis stands at a cumulative of 1 bWAR or 7.8% of what was expected.  This begs the question as to whether it truly was the worst contract extension or free agent signing in Orioles' history?  Let us cherry pick a few contracts and see how they shake out:
2016 $ xWAR bWAR %
J.J. Hardy 44 4.2 1.7 40
Brian Roberts 57 6.7 1.0 15
Albert Belle 310 30 4.0 13
Glenn Davis 73 7.2 0.7 9.7
Chris Davis 126 12.7 1.0 7.8
Scott Erickson 153 14.5 0.1 0.7
One thing to note is that Albert Belle is uniquely on this list.  Before insurance companies got wise, the Orioles were able to secure a ~1.7 MM premium on Belle's contract that would pay out 11.7 MM per year for every year that he was out due to a permanent injury.  So, you could argue that the Orioles really paid Belle 29.9 MM, which would be a xWAR of 13.6 and that he achieved 29% of  his expected performance.  

Scott Erickson either did not qualify for the insurance premium or the Orioles were unable to secure one for him.  And you can see how much the Orioles put into him with what would be around a 5/153 deal in 2016 free agent land.  Sometimes those dollar figures (5/32) look so quaint back then that you do not see how much the deal actually was in that market.  Nowadays, you would think of that being if someone forked over that deal to Ervin Santana when the Orioles were trying to nab him on a one year deal and pair him with Ubaldo Jimenez.  Yes, Erickson was coming off of two 4 bWAR season, but that is an exceptional deal for someone who really was not an elite pitcher.

Maybe a percentage base is not the right way to look at it.  Perhaps a better way to look at it is how much money was sunk.
Sunk $
J.J. Hardy 26.25
Brian Roberts 59.85
Glenn Davis 68.25
Albert Belle 100.8
Chris Davis 122.85
Scott Erickson 151.2
It does not change all that much.  Glenn Davis and Belle flip around. 

It should be noted though that Chris Davis' career is still active.  With another 1.2 bWAR, he will surpass Brian Roberts in % return.  With a couple more bWAR, he will move past Albert Belle in total sunk cost.  He certainly can make this contract become a slightly smaller albatross. 

However, given his -2.1 bWAR so far this year, he can sink lower.  A -1 bWAR moving forward would mean falling beneath Erickson in terms of percentage.  A -3 bWAR moving forward would put Davis as a sunk cost greater than Erickson.  Hopefully, that will not happen.


In case you want some further reading on the value of WAR.


Unknown said...

At what point in the contract is it reasonable for the Orioles to act rationally and, given the sunk cost, waive Davis? Perhaps not this year or next, but it’s hard to imagine him full time in 2021.

Jon Shepherd said...

Depends on what he is blocking and their hopes he can somehow correct himself.

Unknown said...

The difference with the Davis contract vs past contracts is that Davis' torpedoed a competitive team. That contract is one of the biggest reasons the O's are in rebuild mode instead of competing for a playoff spot.

Unknown said...

Also please explain how Erickson's contract of $32m in 1998 translates to $153m in 2016.

Jon Shepherd said...

Adjusted for how cost per win has changed over time.

Jon Shepherd said...

The Orioles are not 17 MM per year spent better away from a competitive team. Davis did not torpedo anything. This club had a core and that core got old.