07 February 2017

Rearview Mirror: A Look At The Chris Davis Contract, One Year Out

I bought my first, new car in 2011.

Nowadays, integrated-technologies for cars (Bluetooth, touch-screen displays, parking cameras, etc.) are included in manufacturers’ standard packages. That wasn’t quite the case six years ago, when you could still bypass most of the bells and whistles to save a buck.

To a poor, college student, it made financial sense. Besides, the word “Bluetooth” made me think of those awful people running around, wearing devices in their ear that made them look like a poor man’s Lobot.

I’d made up my mind that such things were just fads. As a result, my car’s present-day value is not as high as if it would have been if I had paid a bit more to get those features.  Failure to anticipate the market’s direction can leave you with an artifact bereft of the value you paid for it.

This leads me to the Baltimore Orioles’ first baseman, Chris Davis.

Just a year ago, he signed his name across the dotted-lines of a club-record, $161 million dollar contract that would keep him around through 2022.

Even at the time, it seemed overly-aggressive. The Orioles, despite their free-spending reputation, are the type of organization I’d imagine that if you borrowed a pen from, you’d expect to receive a bill for the ink.

In 1998, Baltimore led the league in player-spending with $71.8 million. In 2016, that number had grown to $115.6 million, a 61% increase. On its own, that sounds drastic. However, compare those numbers to that of the Tigers; their payroll has increased by a staggering, 805 percent.

The Orioles 2016 payroll ranked middle-of-the-pack, a number more consummate with their market-size (at least, according to this Bleacher Report article). This made the Davis deal so surprising.
Right off the bat, it put him among some elite company – at least, in terms of the overall dollar amount:

1) Giancarlo Stanton $325,000,000
2) Miguel Cabrera $248,000,000
3) Albert Pujols $240,000,000
4) Robinson Cano $240,000,000
5) Joey Votto $225,000,000
6) Joe Mauer $184,000,000
7) Jason Heyward $184,000,000
8) Buster Posey $167,000,000
9) Chris Davis $161,000,000*
10) Matt Kemp $160,000,000

*The contract does include a large amount deferred payments, which bring Davis’ annual, price tag down to $17,000,000.

The 30-year-old Davis is a menacing presence at the plate, but few would pencil him into their “top” lists. That is not a knock on “Crush,” it’s just that baseball has moved past the age when one-dimensional sluggers dominated the food chain.

For one thing, power isn’t the sacred commodity it was earlier this decade. 2016 saw an increase in home runs, with 2.31 home runs hit per-game (the first time that figure has been over two since 2009). Why pay Joe Gold the farm to hit 40 home runs, when Joe Silver can hit 30 – and you can pay him peanuts on the dollar.

This offseason, front offices adjusted to the changing tides. Reigning NL-home run champ Chris Carter is still unemployed. Ditto for Mike Napoli, who paced the Indians with 34 home runs and helped nearly lead them to a title.

Here’s how their 2016 resumes compare with Davis':

Carter: .820 OPS, .277 ISO, 112 wRC+*
Napoli: .800 OPS, .217 ISO, 113 wRC+
Davis: .791 OPS, .237 ISO, 111 wRC+

*Weighted runs created is a Fangraphs rate stat that measures the hitter's contributions at the plate, while adjusting for park and league factors.  It uses 100 as the base for a league average hitter   

In that last category, Napoli, Carter and Davis finished 14th, 16th, and 18th, respectively, among first basemen.  For Davis, that puts him just ahead of one, John Jaso.  That's not to say that wRC+ is the end-all-be-all, but anytime you're mentioned in the same breath as Jaso, it's probably not going to be a positive thing (Jaso, incidentally, made $4 million, last year - about what Davis pulled in a quarter of a season). 

OPS wasn't much more favorable to Davis, with the O's slugger finishing tied for 17th, in the category - below the average mark posted by first baseman in 2016 (.819 OPS).  The player he is tied with is the Angels' C.J. Cron - again, not exactly exclusive company. 

While it's true you can't measure a player's worth through the lens of a single season, it's telling that Carter and Napoli are still trudging down the unemployment line.  The market for such players has seen a cruel (at least from their perspective) adjustment. 

Injuries, opportunity, and/or desperation will set in, and the duo will find work.  And, when they do, I am willing to bet my outdated car that they won't be sniffing anything close to Davis money.  Think closer to one/two years guaranteed, at $8-12 million per.  Davis' teammate, Mark Trumbo, posted better numbers than any of them and only got three years, $37.5 million.

As for Davis himself, he will spend his Baltimore summers racking up massive home runs and equally-massive whiffs (league-high 32.9% K-rate in 2016), hoping the former occurs frequently enough to counterbalance the latter.  He's like a left-handed, slightly-wealthier man's version of Rob Deer. 

The Orioles need to be saving every penny for their own version of doomsday (2019, when Manny Machado can become a free agent).  To stay competitive during this process, they need to maximize the dollars they do spend.  This seems like a bad start. 

Figures obtained from Baseball-Reference, Fangraphs, and Spotrac


Unknown said...

Good research, solid article. You're right about most of it. But the Rob Deer comment was a little dramatic.

Roger said...

Too bad life doesn't give you a future view mirror. If they could've waited until this year to sign Davis then we could've gotten a better discount. Of course, I know the reservations about the contract the Depot had last year. And surely, if Davis was a RF then the deal would look a lot better. But you gotta play the cards you're dealt. Statistically, it doesn't matter but the O's are MY team (and I hope other fans feel this way) and Davis is one of MY players. I am dreading this supposed tear down that may have to happen soon because it will be like having a whole new team to get used to. And Adam Jones is such an asset to have around, I hope the O's don't just turn him away because "it's a business". I can't think of a better guy to be "the face" of the franchise.

Jon Shepherd said...

Well...Davis will be there for a long while.