13 July 2018

Worst Season Ever? Chris Davis, 2018

The Orioles are the St. Louis Browns.  No one really embraces that.  The Orioles consider their franchise beginning in 1954 and disavow their roots.  St. Louis also disavows the Browns as the forgotten, less popular sibling of the St. Louis Cardinals.  The Browns were originally a power play by Ban Johnson to put the American League in direct competition with the National League Cardinals.  It worked and the Browns were fairly competitive until they simply were no longer needed to legitimize the American League.  Sold off to a failed Federal League owner they spiraled down into nothingness.

However, that nothingness was interesting for a few reasons and one was the curious career of shortstop Jim Levey.  In 1930, Levey was a young A ball shortstop playing for Wichita Falls Spudders.  He showed some power and an ability to get on base, but this was not a very competitive league and he had six teammates whose offensive performance was considerably better.  The front office was impressed through by the Spudders and broke 1931 with much of the team as their starting nine.  They were terrible.

Of particular, Levey was atrocious. He could not hit and, to the best of our ability to measure, he was one of the worst fielding shortstops in the league.  He put up the second worst fWAR in history behind only Tommy Thevenow who accomplished a slightly worse performance a year earlier for the Phillies.  Thevenow, also a shortstop, was a stupendous defensive shortstop without a bat and actually enjoyed a long playing career. However, he was dinged up a bit in 1930 and his defense suffered terrible.

After a merely awful 1932 season, Levey came charging back and secured the top spot with a -4 fWAR.  It would be the last year he ever played in the bigs. He then bounced around the Pacific Coast League with the Hollywood Star before settling in with the White Sox A affiliate in Dallas for nearly a decade before enjoying one season as a player/manager for the Jamestown Falcons where, at 38, he was on average 18 years older than his teammates.  All the while, he was known for being a true baseball professional with a solid glove with likely the former being more accurate than the latter.

Season Name Team fWAR
1 1933 Jim Levey Browns -4
2 1930 Tommy Thevenow Phillies -3.6
3 1931 Jim Levey Browns -3.3
4 1997 Jose Guillen Pirates -3.1
5 2002 Neifi Perez Royals -2.9
6 1920 Ivy Griffin Athletics -2.8
7 1930 Fresco Thompson Phillies -2.7
and 3 others
11 1993 Ruben Sierra Athletics -2.6
and 3 others
15 1977 Mike Champion Padres -2.5
2009 Yuniesky Betancourt - - -
17 1973 Lou Piniella Royals -2.4
and 3 others
21 2005 Bernie Williams Yankees -2.3
and 5 others
27 1902 Pete Childs Phillies -2.2
1960 Ken Hamlin Athletics
29 2018 Chris Davis Orioles -2.1
and 6 others

Over 80 years later, Levey may well lose his perch on top of this list.  Sitting at 29 is Chris Davis.  He currently is tied with six others for 29th worst, including the 2009 Aubrey Huff who split his time between Baltimore and Detroit.

But really, what is the likelihood of Chris Davis reaching that threshold of -4?

Seventy games remain as I write this.  I think it is fair to say that if he continues belting a home run once in a while that he will see about 60 more games.  If he does better than that, I would also reckon he gets about 60 games.  No one really is pushing him out and as some players may depart for playoff races, he will unlikely face more competition for his time.  Now, if he reverts to his pre-June 22 production, then I would imagine that 60 would turn to 40 as the club tries to figure out what to do with him while giving him multiple opportunities to succeed.

The Optimistic View
The optimistic view is one that I think is represented by ZiPS.  ZiPS looks into the players past and compares said player with historical trends.  That view of Chris Davis would be that his recent play is not a true indication of his current talent level and a rebound is expected.  That rebound would see him perform as a 204/293/406 hitter (well above his current 160/234/284 line) and net him with a 0.1 fWAR result.  That would drop Davis down a rung to 36th place with a -2.0 fWAR.  To be clear, the fortunate result is that Davis would produce a full season that would be the 36th lowest out of about 18,000 hitters who managed to play at least 100 games.  Let that sink in.

Post June 22nd World
A "rejuvenated" Chris Davis is slashing 191/253/456.  This .295 wOBA is still well below average for a first baseman and he is projected to cost his team about three runs over the rest of the season as his loss of athleticism also has meant a reduced ability to actually play first base in the field.  The scenario, over 60 games, would present him with a further decrease about 1.1 fWAR.  He would be sitting at -3.2 fWAR, good for fourth place.  He would only be beaten by the two Levey seasons and the Thevenow season.

Pre June 22nd World
Things were tough early in the season as Davis suffered a 150/227/227 line.  It would be hard to think that he could do this poorly moving on and still enjoy having his name penciled in the lineup.  I would project him as see maybe playing time in 40 games.  My calculations would have this worth about -1.6 fWAR, bringing him to -3.7 fWAR.  This would fall just short of Levey's previusly thought insurmountable -4 fWAR.

But What if Davis Now Pitched in Relief
Back in January, I looked at exactly how poorly a position player would be if he pitched regularly.  The conclusion was that an average position player would put up an ERA of 6.84.  It appears that position players with multiple outings tend to do much better than that, but lets just assume that Davis is an average relief pitcher.  At a 6.84 ERA and 70 games left, we could probably imagine Davis put in about 15 mop up innings for the rest of the season.  That would be worth about -0.2 fWAR.

Now, what if he could manage a 6.84 ERA starting.  That probably sees him put in about 10 starts and generously estimating six innings a start.  At 60 IP, he would see something around a -0.7 fWAR.  So with half a season at -2.1 fWAR while batting, what would it take to achieve that as a pitcher with a 6.84 ERA? About 250 IP.

That gives you an idea how terribly Chris Davis has done.  If Chris Davis was permitted to get clobbered for eight innings a night over 32 starts for a whole year, then he would find himself at -2.1 fWAR for the whole season, which would just barely pass the worst fWAR since 1900: -1.9 by the Senators Phil Ortega in 1965.


Pip said...

And yet Buck pencils him in every G-D day, and at 5th, no less.

robotworks said...

1.) Interesting idea. 6.xx ERA fits in nicely with the O's staff.
2.) DH him and let Trumbo take first. Analytically proven to give you a better overall production from those two.
3.) A DH batting 8th?


Unknown said...

Great piece of history. I honestly don't see any logic of keeping Davis on the team at this point. The fact he signed that contract and is playing this poorly is more the reason to let him go. It's like the Orioles are PAYING 21m per season to let this guy bay .155 when they could replace him with a cheap minor league option who could at the very least bat .200.

Davis' contract is sunk, so what would you rather do? Owe 21m to a player who bats below .200 or face the same costs with a player who would bat slightly above .200 and play about the same level of defense?

V. Blekaitis said...

I played in a very competitive fantasy baseball league for several years. Because the keeper points league awarded pts. for walks, I selected Adam Dunn in the inaugural season.
After a disastrous 2011 season, I was tempted to drop him for a less established keeper. But I suspected he was trying too hard after signing with the White Sox and he rewarded me with a bounce back season of 41 HRs, 96 RBI and a 16% walk rate.
We're stuck with Davis's contract. So why not let a player who has as recently as 2016 hit 38 HRs, drove in 84 runs and had a decent walk rate of 13.2% try to find his confidence back, as Dunn did?
IIRC, Dunn said after his miserable season that he was overthinking the game too much and went back to hitting balls off a tee in the offseason to gain his confidence back.
Having said that, I must confess I haven't seen any Orioles games this year or in 2017. I have mlb.tv, so all O's games are blacked out for me. So, I don't have a chance to see what he's doing so wrong. It appears that even when pitchers are making mistakes, he isn't taking advantage of it.