18 January 2016

What Should You Think Of The Chris Davis Deal?

Chris Davis is going to re-sign with the Orioles, and he'll be playing in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. In a few ways, that's a very good thing. He's talented at what he does. He's one of the premier power hitters in the game. He's popular among fans. And he's well liked by teammates, who clearly want him back.

If you want to just stop there, that's fine. This doesn't have to be complicated. Watching sports is supposed to be fun, and the Orioles (on offense, at least) should be enjoyable to watch for the next few years (and maybe longer). But we do our best to dig a little deeper here, and you probably wouldn't be reading this if we didn't.

I've been trying to figure out what's bothering me most about the Orioles' decision to re-sign Davis. It's not the enormous amount of money, which seemed comical at first but is at least less bad after the reported amount of deferred money. Jon discussed Davis's contract in detail on Saturday, and you should give it a read.

It's not that Davis turns 30 soon and plays first base, and it's extremely risky to hand out such a lucrative contract to those types of players. That's not stating anything new.

It's not that the Orioles have spent a lot of money and, for now at least, seem very similar to last year's team.

It's not even that the Orioles seemed to bid against themselves to get the deal done, with no clear competitor in the market for Davis's services. It's tough to see that $161 million figure and wonder which other team was willing to come close to that offer.

All of those things matter. But I have more of an issue with Peter Angelos willing to spend a huge sum of money for one player -- only to reel in Davis. If Davis were far and away the best player on the market, maybe that would be easier to defend. But he wasn't. There was nothing hidden about the priority to keep Davis at seemingly whatever cost; Dan Connolly, formerly of The Baltimore Sunwas on top of this a month ago. Angelos inserted himself in the negotiations with Scott Boras early on, demonstrating the level of seriousness in keeping Davis in an O's uniform.

Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs expanded on this topic in his analysis of the Davis deal. Here's a section of his excellent post:
The idea presented: the money budgeted for Chris Davis wasn’t being budgeted for just anyone. Angelos has a particular fondness for Davis, and a particular appreciation of everything he’s done. It’s not quite that Davis is being paid right out of Angelos’ pocket, from a completely separate budget, but there are hints that the Orioles’ payroll might go higher with Davis than it would’ve without Davis. If that’s in any way true, then it has to also be a factor, because it means the Orioles would spend more on a team with Davis than they would on a team with, say, Yoenis Cespedes. Again, if that’s true, it would mean Davis is getting money that wouldn’t have been put elsewhere.
Sullivan later hits on a point that gets to exactly what has been eating at me: "...as a fan it could be frustrating to think about this situation because you’d want the same amount of money to be available regardless." And that option evidently was not available here, regardless of whatever offer the Orioles had extended to Yoenis Cespedes. You couldn't pick between Justin Upton, Cespedes, and Davis, because Upton and Cespedes were never real options for similar money (barring a tremendous discount or a bizarre short-term deal). It's better to have Davis than none of the three.

If the Orioles didn't have a particular amount of money set aside, and whatever else Angelos was willing to give to Davis was just icing on the cake, then maybe this is all easier to swallow. It seems likely that Connolly was right all along that the Orioles (Angelos, really) did not want to go above $100 million for any other player. But it's unsettling both because we'll never know for sure, and that also maybe isn't the best way to go about things.

Overpaying for sentimental reasons and past performance isn't a great pattern to follow, though willing to go above and beyond for a skilled player is a positive (especially if that extra money would not have been available for anyone else). The best use of all funds would be to use them in a way to build the best possible team, but that option likely was not on the table.

Do you really care about Angelos losing money on the Davis deal if it starts to go south in a hurry? Would you rather him just pocket that extra money? Probably not. But if this contract affects the likelihood of Manny Machado signing an extension, it will look much worse. This is the type of contract that can hamstring a team. That concern is real.

Then again, maybe Machado will be one of Angelos's guys, and he'll be willing to go above and beyond for him, too. At least in that case, he'll be making an exception for one of the very best players in the game. But let's not get ahead of ourselves or anything. Let's instead start with hoping that the 2014 version of Davis doesn't resurface anytime soon.


Anonymous said...

I'm curious if there were any voices in organization that expressed this same concern to Angelos during the negotations? I feel like anyone who could take a step back from the situation would realize how illogical earmarking this amount of money only for 1 player seems when the team had a bunch of needs? Did Buck & Duquette get swept up in their appreciation of Davis & the craze of fans who long for a homer happy .500 team, as well? It appears everybody was onboard and all the other halfhearted discussions with FAs were simply to put pressure on CD, which is rather concerning as a fan. I guess I always come back to the realization that in the 2 years CD hit a combined 100 HRs, the Orioles didn't make the playoffs. Even at his best, the O's weren't good enough. I guess I was hoping to see what this team could do with that money for a solid pitcher/RF combo...but I also guess that money was never really there.

Anonymous said...

Armchair quarterbacking is pretty easy. Short of Trout/Harper and maybe Price, no one is a sure thing. And even those can be felled by injury. Suppose the Orioles treat Machado like every other player they want to sign and he fails a physical due to his knees. I think there is about a 100% chance Angelos will go after Machado with the same vengeance and signing Davis will HELP with Machado not hurt.

Also, I really think that a peak performing athlete is a fragile thing. Preparation, conditioning, routine, and psyche are all just as important as natural ability. I have no doubt that the TUE issue significantly affected his 2014 - altering/adjusting meds, a different routine, a suspension - all of these things can take an athlete "out of their game". I think this was a lesson-learned for Davis. Geez, he is 29 not 50, he's still a kid and learning about himself.

This team is already NOT the same as last year with the additions of Kim and Trumbo (and Worley, too). From the offensive/defensive standpoint the team is better - much better. If the starting pitching can get fixed (either by new personnel, recovering personnel, or magic) then this team WILL contend.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, an injury-free Hardy and fully recovered Wieters in a big platform/contract year for him will be another boon for improvement overall.

stevej said...

Matt - now the money's all spent(except maybe a 3rd rate pitcher, the next month should be pretty dead. Here are a few suggestions for off season discussion that I'd love to see:
1) the QO system is anticompetitive. Middling teams signing a QO FA must give up a ~3 WAR pick while playoff teams' picks avg. 2 WAR
2) small market stadiums should be big to take advantage of cheap, fast, light hitting OFers. Yet OPCY is small, as if to be nice to the division's 3 big mkt.teams and their slow sluggers. How many wins does this cost?
3) O's as built are following KC model. How have other -SP / +RP teams fared?

Matt Kremnitzer said...

At the end of the day, aren't all fans really armchair quarterbacking? Am I not allowed to have an opinion? I actually thought my reaction was going to be harsher before I sat down to write it.

If you want to get excited about the Vance Worley addition, go ahead. Of course the team isn't exactly the same, but it's extremely close. I like both of the Kim and Trumbo additions, but neither moves the needle much. That doesn't mean they won't make the team better.

I'm just saying they spent a lot of money and the team isn't marginally better than last season's team. Whether that's good or bad, you can decide that.

Jon Shepherd said...

Just a standard PSA, I know we get a lot of international views here, but I want to shed light that quarterback is a term used in American Football (as opposed to what you all call football). I recognize the American sports world can sometimes be confusing with all the terms we use and colloquialisms, but I figured that might help. Perhaps a better term might be the appropriated term Peanut Gallery or Fantasy GM (which is connected to the fantasy sports craze here in America).

Hope that helps and thank you for visiting Camden Depot.

Anonymous said...

Matt K, we all grumble from time-to-time and, of course, everyone can have an opinion which should be respected. All fans want to win but a lot of fans want to feel like they are part of a sports family. When we like players (maybe for their outside character as well as their performance), we don't always just want to follow statistics. They are tools not the end all to be all. Is the difference between Davis, Upton, and Cespedes really enough to move the needle for a lot of "people" (not statisticians) to prefer them? I really like Davis but I would not be unhappy with the other two either. I also follow the Braves and I think anything in the media negative about Upton is wrong - he's a good kid and good clubhouse presence. Cespedes might be good for the Braves even if he doesn't make economical or statistical sense because he could be paired with other Cubans in the clubhouse (with Atlanta planning to bring in even more latin players in teenage form). What I see is that THIS team can be successful...... or it can fail. A lot of dependencies that statistics can't account for (injuries, comebacks, etc...). But we have have seen THIS team succeed (2014) and FAIL (2015) - mostly with the same personnel excepting Chen for 2016. Statistics can predict 81 wins all they want but I see a functional replacement for Chen as the primary obstacle now that Davis is onboard. Can Worley do that? Maybe but most likely not. Who can? Tell me that and that is what I will root for next. But I stand by - as a fan and as someone who understand statistics - my preference for having Davis on the team.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, one other difference was Cruz and Markakis in 2014 vs. 2015. I hope Trumbo and Kim largely solve that problem. At much lower cost, I might add.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks for your comment. I never said that you shouldn't be happy that Davis is back with the Orioles. Probably the opposite, actually, when you factor everything in.

And a fun thing about projections is that you can ignore them if you want to. Most fans do. They can't predict the future. Nothing can predict the future, or this would all be pointless. But that doesn't mean they don't have value. And it also doesn't mean that just because the Orioles seem like a .500 team that things can't break differently. They've done that exact same thing in recent seasons.

Is that the best way to build a team? Maybe for this current version of the Orioles, in a competitive division, it is. But I wouldn't say that proves that earmarking a much higher amount of money for Davis and no one else is the smartest decision.

Jon Shepherd said...

One aspect of the offseason that I find interesting is the concept of statistics vs. not statistics. The reason why I find this interesting is because they are all statistics. What any of us does is take in information, analyze it, and come up with an expectation that is haloed in some degree of uncertainty. What approaches that are more mathematically in mind is try to peel off the emotional connection one has to the situation. This can help prevent optimism or pessimism bleed into the expectation. This method could also result in someone ignoring useful information. That said information gleaned beyond what we can directly measure needs to be soberly reviewed because it is easy to simply say oh JJ Hardy was injured or Miguel Gonzalez was injured without truly figuring out what that means. Additionally, all the players went to pot, but what does that mean with respect to original expectations.

By creating a logical infrastructure we manage to find a dependable and repeatable way to assess potential performance. By observing, we can tinker and enhance our models or tinker and enhance our understanding about the uncertainty inherent in those models. I think the model done in the brain and with the gut has trouble with that evaluation aspect. I think human memory typically aligns memory into a narrative and tends to forget about observations that do not match up with an accepted perspective.

So, in the end, everyone is practicing data science. The difference is largely methodology and while people may get upset with differing views, keep in mind those who present their methodology do it with more transparency. I think everyone recognizes that the brain power existing in front office is rather exceptional and "being smarter than the front office" probably died off in the past five years or decade. However, there are still times when the work here does cut through and is elevated. From personal experience, several of my items have been brought up in front offices and in think tanks. Having that methodology puts weight to it and makes it more accessible.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I wouldn't be here if you guys didn't do good reporting - all of you. Love your comment above. Thanks.

Matt K., I apologize but part of my original comment was to Anon1, specifically because I don't think any of us Davis supporters are "crazed for a HR-happy .500 team". And his assertion that Davis didn't help win in 2014 is wrong without including the fact that Cruz did the 40HR hitting then. In 2016, Davis with 40+ and Trumbo with 30+ should solve that problem (not to mention improvement, I can dream, from Machado).

I agree with everything Jon said with one small caveat. While the statistical analysis helps us strip away the emotion from the situation or, at least, give us a more objective perspective, I think the emotional aspect has to be re-integrated for the decision making process. I love the Oriole Way. I prefer the Showalter Orioles to the Billy Martin Yankees. Part of the Oriole Way is clubhouse and community (and pitching and 3-run HRs).

I have one metaphor I like to use (you all can ignore this if you like). I think a GPS is a crucial tool to survive my drive from Bawlmer to DC every day. It tells me where the potential roadblocks are and what might prevent me from getting to work on time. It also can tell me alternate routes to improve the probability of success. The limitation with the GPS is deciding if the alternatives are really better or knowing alternatives the GPS doesn't present. An instinctive knowledge of the routes is also crucial to make the GPS most effective. The statistical analysis is the GPS, Trumbo and Kim are alternatives the GPS could not present, Kazmir is a likely better alternate route not taken, and a traditional scout's knowledge about every one of the players is the instinctive part of the puzzle. Who will come back? Who will fall off the cliff? Where are the positive surprises going to come from from? Does somebody deep in the bowels of the O's organization have a better feel for Bundy than any of us? They didn't do a great job with corner OFs last year.

Anonymous said...

One final question (I have to do this)..... Should the O's have signed Don Baylor to a 7-year contract instead of trading him to the A's for Reggie Jackson? He didn't come into his prime until he was 28 and only had a track record from 28-30 before hitting it big after that.

Jon Shepherd said...

If I remember correctly, the free agent money simply was not going to be spent. The Orioles thought that trading their headache for another teams headache would work out for them, but they did not cater to Jackson and Jackson was not fond of his previous life in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

But what do the metrics say? For a contract using only statistics up through age 29.

Jon Shepherd said...

26 was his last year in Baltimore, right? Metrics like OPS+, WAR, etc. Suggest he is a good young player. He would be highly sought after. People largely did not appreciate him until he started hitting more home runs, but was a very solid bat before then.

Anonymous said...

I think that the money could have been much better spent on multiple needs, considering being one year removed from .196!!! and Adderal!

Anonymous said...

Worley started one year in the AL and his ERA was over 7! That's Matuszesque!!!

Anonymous said...

Jon, by 29, Baylor was one year away from a MVP. Let's hope Davis gets there this year. He's already had a better track record than Baylor had up to this point. Got my fingers crossed. At least Angelos is willing to spend money now. Can't be too critical of how he spends it. He could have traded Davis last year (something like the Baylor trade which didn't work out for either team), after the suspension, for a bunch of other players but they stuck with him, turned him around, and made him a star again. I like the fact that Angelos seems to care which players play for the Orioles and not just any statistics accumulating hulk.

Jon Shepherd said...

Baylor had a great season when dealt. Davis did not. I am somewhat confused by your comparison. Baylor put up a string of pretty good offensive performances.

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Baylor had 15HR and a .697 OPS in his year with the A's before signing a big FA contract with the Angels. Davis had a 47 HR .923 OPS before signing his FA contract. It's true that giving up on Davis would have been selling low after a bad season, but what you call a great season for Baylor was 25HR 76RBI when Davis had 26HR 72 RBI in his bad season in about 70 fewer plate appearances. In his age 29 season, Baylor was 34HR 99RBI and .804 OPS. Davis had 47HR 117 RBI and .923 OPS. Baylor was damn good at least until age 37. Davis should be MVP capable next year.

Jon Shepherd said...

I think we might be looking at different years. Anyway, Baylor had better performance over a longer period of time while Davis was a late bloomer with a couple excellent seasons. Keep in mind that offensive environments are different and not to get too hung up on counting stats because those are context dependent. To the extreme, Home Run Baker would not be called Home Run Baker these days.

Jon Shepherd said...

Using similarity scores (which is one of many ways one might choose to assess a player and is one I am using now because it takes me about 5 seconds to do this) for players similar to Don Baylor through age 29. The expectation moving forward would be a player who was worth 10.3 WAR moving forward. Don Baylor accumulated 13.1 WAR for the rest of his career.

Metrics also suggest that Baylor did not earn his MVP and that the honor should have been a toss up between Lynn, Winfield, and Brett. And, it was not even close.

Anonymous said...

I loved it when Mike Heath, all 5'10", 170, flattened Winfield with a punch, almost as good as when Alan Mills KO of Strawberry!

Rick Wiese said...

I was opposed to giving Davis a big contract all along. In fact, I advocated dealing him (and Chen) at the trade deadline for players who might either be ready to step in and contribute this year or who could have been flipped in trades this winter. Starting pitching should have been this team's priority. The Orioles missed the playoffs in both of Davis' monster home run seasons. They won 96 games the year he hit .196 and was suspended for 25 games because the pitching came together.

And what if Davis comes out in 2016 and hits .200 while striking out 200 times? It's not like he's ever been consistent enough to put up two great seasons in a row. He had a huge first half in 2013 and a big second half in 2015, but between All-Star break 2013 and All-Star break 2015 he hit .219 with a .305 OPB and an average (split into two seasons) of 31 homers and 84 RBIs and 186 strikeouts. That's what you'd expect from Mark Trumbo, except you'd expect Trumbo to post a much higher batting average. I consider this contract an enormous gamble.

Thankfully, it's not my money. But it is money I think could have been better spent on players to fill spots that should have been a higher priority. After all, Trumbo could have played first base this year and they keep talking up Walker and Mancini, who will now be blocked by Davis. And reading that this amount of money was only available for Davis was a bit irritating as well. It seems that the owner allowed his emotional attachment to Chris Davis get in the way of good sense.

As it stands, it's difficult to envision this team being any better than last year. It's highly unlikely that the pitcher who replaces Chen will be nearly as effective. So they're gambling on Gausman finally becoming Matt Harvey and on both Tillman and Gonzalez returning to form despite dropping peripherals that might indicate that would be unlikely. Ubaldo needs to be good Ubaldo. Hardy needs to be health and return to form. Kim's game needs to translate. And they need to find a solution to the mess that is right field.

I normally tend to be optimistic, but I find it very difficult right now.

Anonymous said...

Judging by the date of his post, Matt and I both came here from the link posted on MLB Trade Rumors, which sort of makes it sound like this article considers other ways the money could have been spent. While this article is good, that's another approach that someone might take, and I think Matt hits it well. What's the opportunity cost of the $160 million? Well, for starters, it's pitching, which we really, really need. We don't really have any pitcher that gives me confidence: "Oh, it's [insert name here] today! We'll be ok." That kind of money could surely have bought one such top pitcher, or two better than average pitchers, say Samardzija & Kennedy.

On the flip side, I may be naive here but I'm not buying the Ryan Howard or other ultra-low comps for Chris. Yes, in six or seven years he'll be old, but before then we should get several years at least of solid OBP and plus SLG. Now that he has the TUE, we hopefully won't see a repeat of 2014. The increased tendency to pull is troubling, but I don't buy that he's already that far over the hill. Finally, while this doesn't count for a ton at first, he's a decent fielder, unlike Trumbo. So, while I'm cautiously optimistic about the next few years of Chris, the opportunity cost is really, really high here, and I sure hope Dan can do some really great dumpster diving or whatever it takes to get some solid innings pitched out of this squad!

Jon Shepherd said...

I think Ryan Howard is a rather good comp for Davis, but ultimately a worthless one. Why? While Howard was beginning to hit a downturn and was a considerable platoon player, he also suffered an injury that simply is not one that is useful to projections. There simply is no reason for us to think that Davis's Achilles are equal to Howard's. Going back to our comp models (which are based on statistical comparisons that are informed by qualitative scouting--as an aside, people seem to forget that much of the statistical work on this site is dependent or heavily shaped by scouting), I think it captures what we would expect from a plus plus power tool fitting in with more marginal tools. I think some of the assessments painting Davis in a positive light show some bias or maybe it is that I connote different meanings to words. For instance, to say Davis is a decent fielder makes me think people consider him above average. I think you can get away with average at first base and slightly below average in the corner outfield positions. Trumbo provides about the same level of defense at first base, but is god awful in the outfield. I think the TUE explanation is a bit much because it ignores the rest of his career as well as him actually using the therapy that year without authorization. It is not like he started taking it his final month and was immediately found out.

With respect to what that money means spent elsewhere, welcome to the site. That topic has been considered since October. Just what it all means and how else could the money be handled. At this point in time, the conversation really narrowed to Davis, Cespedes, and Upton. Before then, it was much more open. If interested, do a search for Camden Depot blueprint. With the added money, those blueprints are all relevant for the most part (though with Wieters instead of Davis except for Dougherty's which wound up not offering Wieters a QO, in that case consider Davis on top of that).

With Matt, is there another Matt in the comments? He is the author of this post.