27 September 2017

Will Chris Davis Keep Declining?

We already know the Orioles have a Mark Trumbo problem. He's about to complete the worst offensive season of his career, and while it's not impossible that the O's are able to move him and the two years left on his contract, it won't be easy and will require them to take on at least one bad contract in return.

Still, unlike Chris Davis (who was fine), Trumbo was very good offensively just last season (125 wRC+). When you look at the Statcast data for Trumbo, this season looks truly awful.

Batted ball data for Mark Trumbo (via Baseball Savant):
2015: 92.1 avg. EV, 183 avg. distance, 6.8 barrels/PA
2016: 92.7 avg. EV, 196 avg. distance, 10.5 barrels/PA
2017: 89.7 avg. EV, 171 avg. distance, 4.7 barrels/PA

(The above numbers are average exit velocity, average distance (in feet), and barreled batted balls divided by plate appearances. Barrels, for reference, are "batted-ball events whose comparable hit types (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) have led to a minimum .500 batting average and 1.500 slugging percentage." A barreled ball must be hit at least 98 mph.)

Even if it doesn't feel like it right now, there's still some hope that Trumbo will hit again next season. That doesn't mean he fits well on the O's roster - it's tough to deploy a bad outfielder who doesn't hit well at DH, and it's not like the O's would ever platoon Davis and Trumbo - but at worst, Trumbo will be around for just the next two seasons. Davis's issues, however, are even more concerning because he's under contract through 2022. He's supposed to be the star.

Davis has always been a streaky, up-and-down hitter, but this will be the first time he's had consecutive, full-time seasons in which his numbers have gone down.

wRC+ data for Chris Davis (via FanGraphs)
2012: 121 wRC+
2013: 168
2014: 94
2015: 149
2016: 112
2017: 93

You don't ever want to count out someone who's just 31 years old, but the Statcast data doesn't paint a rosy picture, either.

Batted ball data for Chris Davis (via Baseball Savant):
2015: 91.9 avg. EV, 217 avg. distance, 9.9 barrels/PA
2016: 90.8 avg. EV, 213 avg. distance, 9.0 barrels/PA
2017: 89.9 avg. EV, 204 avg. distance, 6.5 barrels/PA

The excuse for the production dip in 2016 was an injured hand that Davis dealt with for nearly the entire season. Davis never went on the disabled list and toughed it out the whole year. His hand seems fine now, but Davis did spend about a month on the disabled list from mid-June to mid-July with an oblique injury. Regardless, even with a couple of decent stretches, he never seemed quite right. What is there to really say about his pitch recognition skills when he misses a month of the season and still leads the majors in strikeouts looking by a comfortable margin?

You don't need me to tell you that the Davis deal, which already seemed questionable at best when it was announced, is looking catastrophic right now. Davis could bounce back, but how much? The Orioles weren't hoping for him to land somewhere in the 100-110 wRC+ range for the first few years of his deal, and he's managed to be even worse than that in 2017. You don't ever want to discount all of what a player brings to the table, and Davis is pretty good with the glove and has become excellent at scooping bad throws. But his glove does not add nearly enough for what his bat is subtracting (that goes for every defender at first), and the O's didn't sign him to such a huge deal because he saves infielders some errors.

As a first baseman, Davis is at a stage in his career when he could start looking old very fast. You knew it was coming, but just maybe not this quickly.

(I didn't see it until yesterday evening, but Camden Chat also wrote about the Davis/Trumbo conundrum. Give it a read.)


Anonymous said...

Britton and Trumbo to Braves for Teheran and Kemp would solve a lot of problems while creating a few new ones, but overall good for both teams.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

I can't imagine that any team would give up much for Britton in his current condition. Most likely, he will have to show that he's healthy to start the 2018 season, and then maybe the O's could deal him at the trade deadline.

Also, an NL team seems like a real stretch for Trumbo, especially one that doesn't need a first baseman.

Ace said...

Davis was always far more likely to end up here after signing that massive contract than become a consistent star. There was never a solid justification for it. Like all terrible moves made by a sports franchise, the O's will just have to eat it, no other way around it.

My suggestion is to bat Davis either in the 8th or 9th spot. I can tolerate a sub .230 strikeout king with 25 hr batting 9th, but I can't accept that level of production in the 5-7 hole. Also consider resting him more when he goes on one of his binge slumps.

Trumbo's contract is annoying but you can work around it because there are only two years left on it. Not a huge problem. If it continues to get ugly, you make him a $12m/year version of Pedro Alverez and stash him on the bench, platooning him in on occasion. Why rob valuable at bats from a younger more productive player if Trumbo continues to go down hill?

Jon Shepherd said...

Well, lets not oversell it. The Davis contract was highly questionable and, to a man, we all here had sharp criticisms of that move. That said, the Orioles had stiff competition from the Tigers where Davis was very deep into contract talks. So there was a viable reason to sign him and the deferred contract structure was widely applauded.

If there is any silver lining to this is that to make the deal worthwhile, Davis needs to be a 2 WAR player, which is a low bar. We know hand injurys and obliques cause issues with power transfer either through the wrists or from the core. So that is a positive for him. However, we have some trouble information that we touched on here previously this month which is that Davis' sprint speeds have cratered. That loss of athleticism may mean that he will provide little to no secondary power. Yes, he is a home run hitter, but in his good years he provided a great deal of value with doubles as well.

This is a rambling comment, but to isolate my concerns it would be (1) hit tool collapsing, (2) athleticism impacting secondary power, (3) athleticism impacting defense, and (4) decrease in secondary power would minimize his usefulness against LHP.

Matt Perez said...

It's not barrels per plate appearance. It's the percent chance of a barrel per plate appearance. Obviously, you can only have one barreled ball at most in a PA. In fairness, Statcast doesn't make the units clear.

In addition, wouldn't it make more sense to use Pitches Put Into Play? Otherwise, you're potentially penalizing a batter for having more walks or strikeouts than in previous seasons. In fairness, I think this stat tells the same story also.

Unknown said...

I love that braves trade, Roger!

Jon Shepherd said...

I would say both are important parts of a larger story. Barreling is not a linear function of balls in play. A lot of what they say in overlapping but not the same.

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Thanks for the clarification. The copy has been adjusted to read barrels divided by plate appearances. Thanks for checking in, Perez!

David said...

The worst part about the Davis contract isn't the fact that he's being overpaid, that's inevitable and often an acceptable cost of trying to keep together a veteran core and extend a competitive window, it's that the emergence of Mancini made re-signing Davis completely unnecessary at any price. They could've had $160 million to work with and have a better first baseman if they knew what they had in Mancini or trusted his production would hold up in the majors. They guy raked at every level.

Unknown said...

And he came so close to joining the Tigers, who lead the league in terrible contracts!

Matt Kremnitzer said...

Trey Mancini didn't make Davis redundant. He made Mark Trumbo redundant. Trumbo was the one signed to an extension most recently, though even then, I feel like there's some revisionist history, as if Mancini's ascension was a sure thing. It wasn't, but that hardly makes the Trumbo deal look any better now.

Jon Shepherd said...

With Trumbo, I think it was fairly plain that he was a good value for a club that had a role for him. The Orioles really were not that club. Trumbo had shown better proficiency at the plate when playing in the field and the club really had no place to put him in the field. As a DH, he was not worth was he was paid and as a player who suffers when DHing it looked worse.

The idea around Mancini was that Trumbo would get the club another draft pick and Mancini showed some ability, so many thought why not roll the dice. I think our final blueprint series suggested that specifically. Mancini then did what no one really thought he could do and still is highly doubted in the scouting community. Mancini has been able to tighten his swing a little and has a better hit tool than he was given credit for.

But, no, Davis had nothing to do with that. As Matt said, it was a Trumbo or Mancini issue more so.

Unknown said...

Trumbo 37.5 mill Alvarez 2 mill....banging head against my keyboard!