13 September 2014

How the Chris Davis Suspension Affects the Rest of the Season

Yesterday it was announced that Chris Davis will be suspended for 25 games for the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs.  The suspension is extended to the playoffs as well, so after missing the final 17 regular season games, Davis would also miss the first 8 playoff games, should the team make it that far.  The failed drug test was due to the use of amphetamines, and Davis admitted to taking Adderall during a press conference following MLB’s announcement of his suspension.  This is actually the second positive amphetamine test for Davis, as the first positive test only triggers follow-up testing, and isn’t publicly reported.

Chris Davis (photo courtesy of Keith Allison)
Davis was a key contributor to the team’s playoff run in 2012 and a revelation in 2013, as he enjoyed a career year in basically every single offensive category, hitting .286/.370/.634 (AVG/OBP/SLG), with 53 home runs.  The performance was good enough to finish 3rd in the AL MVP voting behind Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.  This year has been a different story though, as Davis has struggled, hitting just .196/.300/.404.

So how will his absence affect the remainder of the Orioles’ season?  Well, if you’re talking about the regular season, the answer is not much, if at all.  The team currently holds a very comfortable 10 game lead in the AL East with 17 games to go, so the loss of Davis won’t change their chances of making the playoffs.  The Zips projection system at Fangraphs expects Davis to be worth 0.3 wins above replacement the rest of the year.  Kelly Johnson (who I expect to be the primary third baseman moving forward) is projected at 0.2 fWAR, but with approximately 20 fewer plate appearances.  Add those 20 extra plate appearances for Johnson, and he’s projected to produce about 0.3 wins as well.  Anything can happen over a 17 game span, but it’s unlikely that there will be much of a difference.

As for the playoffs, the situation is generally similar, as there are so few games that are played, literally anything can happen.  At a maximum, the Orioles would play 12 playoff games without Chris Davis (Davis would be eligible to play in the ALCS, but the Orioles would have to play with a 24 man roster until his suspension is over).  With Kelly Johnson assumed to get the majority of Davis’ playing time, let’s do a quick comparison at how we could expect each player to perform at third base for the first 12 games of the playoffs (we’re going to assume that Chris Davis would have played third base exclusively for the sake of simplicity).

Offensively, Davis has produced 1.15 runs above average for every 12 games played (according to wRAA), whereas Johnson has produced 0.40 runs above average over the same time.  When accounting for hitting alone, Johnson will be worth about 0.75 runs less than Davis over a 12 game span. On the defensive side of things, UZR has Davis’ glove work at third as 1.85 runs below average for every 12 games.  In contrast, Johnson would be worth 0.95 runs above average.  Add it all up, and according to this back of the envelope exercise, Johnson is actually expected to be worth 2.05 runs more than Chris Davis during that 12 game span.  As Matt alluded to on Thursday, these defensive values should not be viewed with a lot of confidence, especially since the amount of time each player has spent at third base combined doesn’t add up to a season’s worth of data.  What this exercise does show is that perhaps an argument could be made that the Orioles may not miss Chris Davis at all.

But I’m not trying to make that argument.  The above assumes that Chris Davis would be playing every inning of every playoff game at third base, which in reality, would not be the case.  No, the loss of Chris Davis won’t necessarily be felt over the course of 12 playoff games that he could miss, it will be felt during key moments of those 12 games that he could miss.  The loss of Chris Davis means an infield (which has already suffered the loss of Manny Machado) will lack even more depth than it already did.  It means that Baltimore will have one less defensive replacement to use near the end of a close game.  It means the Orioles will have one less competent pinch hitter to send up in a crucial moment with men in scoring position.   This wouldn’t be a big deal over a course of 12 games during a 162 games season.  But those little things become extremely vital in the playoffs, where the importance of every game is magnified, because there may not be another game tomorrow.


Erik said...

How good would Chris Davis have been without Adderall? Batting .150? I think we can chalk this up to someone who isn't special if he is not on drugs. It saddens me greatly that we ever relied on him. The Orioles can get to the playoffs and beat the KC Royals without him (as much as they could with him). After that, it isn't clear what will happen even with him.

Ben said...


I recommend this article... Adderall is allowed if you have an exemption, and he DID have one previously. But it's also highly addictive. It's a prescription drug, and he had one at some point, so the extra layer of required exemption seems silly. Now, there's the possibility it was something else, but if we take Davis's comments and the stories out there at face value, this shouldn't really say anything about his character or talents as a player.

Unknown said...

Erik, I don't agree that Davis would have been hitting worse if he wasn't taking Adderall. Additionally, we can't say for certain that he was even taking it the whole season. I think it's more plausible that his struggles this year made him more susceptible to taking it in the hopes that he would turn things around, but that's just speculation and we would have no way of knowing that. I don't think Adderall is the reason he was so good in 2013 either. Last year he was great, this year he was terrible. His true talent is probably somewhere in between.

Ben, thanks for linking to that article. Provides some good insight from players who have taken Adderall, and I agree with your conclusion when taking Davis' comments and the stories at face value.

Lee said...

One other thing to consider is that from some comments made he was not on it last year. He only uses it when he has to

Erik said...

I am not making light of the problem of addiction, but the game needs to be shielded from the drug use anyway. I think everyone knows that Chris Davis cannot deal with the issues in a month, or even only an off-season.

One of the most difficult things for an addict to do is avoid the circumstances that are most likely to stimulate reuse. As a free agent, Chris Davis might best take a year away from major league baseball to take care of himself first. Yes, it costs money. So does not establishing a firm basis for remission from addiction.