17 May 2018

Is It Already Time To Sit Chris Davis More?

Because of his massive contract and continued struggles, Chris Davis is always a popular topic. At the moment, Davis has a wRC+ of only 42. Among all players with at least 100 plate appearances, that's tied for sixth worst. Among anyone who's played first base this year, Davis's 42 wRC+ is second worst behind Ian Desmond's 32 wRC+. In terms of FanGraphs WAR, him and Desmond are tied at -1.0 (worst among all players).

In a post on FanGraphs yesterday about how the Rockies have been historically bad at first base, Travis Sawchik didn't spare the Orioles' struggles at the position: "By using wRC+, the Rockies are a historic outlier when it comes to first-base performance with their wRC+ of 21. Interestingly, the Orioles are second on the list (42)." Of course, almost all of the O's first base work has come from Davis.

It would be stunning for Desmond and Davis to continue being this bad. In the Expansion Era (1961-2018), only seven players have qualified for the batting title and played at least 50% of their games at first base while posting an OPS+ below 80. Here's that group, from the handy Baseball-Reference Play Index:

Rk Player OPS+
1Ian Desmond422018COL155156.171.213.349.562
2Chris Davis462018BAL15074.
3Pete Rose691983PHI555520.245.316.286.602
4Enos Cabell721981SFG413412.255.274.326.600
5Kevin Young731993PIT508386.236.300.343.643
6Darin Erstad741999ANA6388413.253.308.374.683
7Dave Stapleton761983BOS5985410.247.297.363.661
8Lee Thomas781963LAA594529.220.301.316.617
9Mike Squires791981CHW334350.265.312.296.607
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/16/2018.

The most notable name on this list is Pete Rose, in his age 42 season. It's only mid-May, but for now, Desmond and Davis are on this list, and would far and away be the worst of the group.

Over a month ago, I talked about Davis's small contributions and not giving up on him, and a few weeks ago, Matt Perez discussed Davis's various problems and how he's close to not being a full-time player anymore. Since then, he hasn't played much better. Somehow, in just the third year of his lucrative contract, we're already to the point of wondering if Davis should be a platoon player.

The smart move is probably to be patient. The Orioles are bad, Davis's contract isn't movable, and the non-deferred part of his deal runs through 2022. He has plenty of issues to work out, but the O's can offer him time to get out of whatever funk he's in in order for him to hopefully regain some of his offensive prowess.

And yet, at the same time, this does not appear to be a fluke. In previous seasons, Davis's ability to make contact was a concern, but when he hit the ball, he often made solid contact and the ball went far. That is no longer the case:

2015: 149 wRC+, .390 wOBA, .402 xwOBA
2016: 112 wRC+, .340 wOBA, .353 xwOBA
2017: 92 wRC+, .312 wOBA, .335 xwOBA
2018: 42 wRC+, .235 wOBA, .299 xwOBA

That's a look at Davis's wRC+ from FanGraphs and his wOBA and expected wOBA numbers from Baseball Savant over the last few years. Davis is simply not making the same amount of quality contact (even while making slightly more contact overall), and while his power may not be gone, it's definitely gone missing.

How long can a team put up with its first baseman posting a wRC+ below 50? That's the same question the Rockies are asking about Desmond. But Davis is making even more money and is much more entrenched.

As expected, there are obvious signs of frustration with Davis's lack of production. The motivating tactic of batting him leadoff to begin the season failed spectacularly. Then, in late April, Davis was given a couple days off to "get back to being a baseball player." Davis will look OK for a couple of at-bats here and there, but overall, nothing is working.

Considering Davis's current level of production, he should be batting eighth or ninth. If he were to platoon against right-handed pitching, either Mark Trumbo or Trey Mancini should play first base whenever Davis sits against lefties. The Orioles are in a bind at third base as well, with Tim Beckham's injury forcing them into a platoon featuring Danny Valencia and Jace Peterson. At least Valencia is hitting; Peterson is not.

The Orioles have plenty of issues. That's one reason why running Davis out there may not be that big of a deal. Still, he's already among the very worst players in the game, and there's nothing to suggest that's going to change anytime soon. How much leeway does he get? How bad does he have to be before he gets the Chris Tillman treatment? How many bad players can the Orioles keep in Sarasota?

The Davis contract was a gamble, and well intentioned or not, the Orioles lost. Now what?

Photo via Keith Allison. Stats (as of May 16) via Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and Baseball Savant.

1 comment:

Jan Frel said...

He has to give up, quit baseball