Baltimore Chop: It’s Time to Axe Chris Davis
By Louis Addeo-Weiss
Those who have watched Major League Baseball over the past two-plus years are aware of the Baltimore Orioles current situation.
A club clearly in the midst of rebuilding, looking for players who will represent the next generation of Orioles’ baseball, their 212 loses, as of September 10th, since the start of the 2018 season, are the most in baseball, and a big reason for this bottom-cellar level of play can be attributed to a couple of factors.
While the 2016 team, managed at the time by Buck Showalter, won 89 games en route to an appearance in the AL Wild Card Game, where they would be defeated by defending divisional champion Toronto Blue Jays, the club posted a total team ERA of 4.22, greatly aided by closer Zach Britton’s historic 0.54 ERA that season.
In fact, Britton’s 4.2 WAR, according to baseball-reference, ranked second on the team, and led all relievers in the majors.
Of the team’s top 5 contributing players, approximated by Wins Above Replacement, rounding out the last list was first baseman Chris Davis, playing in the first of a seven-year/$161M contract he signed over the offseason.
Davis, who has always struggled with making consistent contact, led the majors with 219 strikeouts that year, the second consecutive season in which he had done so. Despite this, he hit 38 home runs, scored 99 runs, posted a respectable .332 on-base-percentage, and a 110 OPS+, good enough for 3.3 baseball-reference WAR.
Adjusting to analytical site Fangraphs, who calculate WAR in a different fashion compared to the above-mentioned baseball-reference, Davis’ 2.9 fWAR had him as the 12th best first baseman in the majors that season. Unfortunately, for Davis’ and the Orioles sake, 2016 would prove to be his last season of productivity.
Since the start of the 2017 season, Davis has slashed a mere .187/.274/.620 with a 37.6% strikeout rate, and a pedestrian 68 OPS+.
Over this three season stretch, the Orioles have paid $69,000,000 for a player who has generated -3.9 WAR.
Just how bad is this? Well, according to Fangraphs, one win above replacement is worth approximately $7.75M.
In Davis’ case, the Orioles have lost $30.23M merely by penciling him into the lineup, all for negative productivity.
Productivity, in the case of Davis, is the wrong verb to use, as the term liability would better describe just how bad the 2013 Silver Slugger Award winner has been.
In the grand scheme of the sport though, just how bad Davis has been can best be determined by the use of baseball-reference’s play index.
When looking at metrics such as OPS+, since the start of 2017 season, of players with at least 1200 plate appearance, Mike Trout leads the pact with a 189 OPS+.
As for Chris Davis, his aforementioned OPS+ during this span of 68 ranks 173rd of 174 qualified players, with the only name below him being the speedster and defensive specialist Billy Hamilton, who has just a 62 OPS+ since the start of 2017.
When looking at his OPS over this time, a mere .620, this too ranks 173rd of 174 qualified players.
For someone who, when he was at his best, relied primarily on home runs to stay in the lineup, Davis has completely lost his ability to do the one thing that kept him in the major leagues in the first place.
So, even with three-years and another $69M owed to him, the Orioles would be better off just eating what has become one of baseball’s worst free agent contracts in recent memory.
Now, at first, this may seem ridiculous; the idea of literally paying a player to just go-away, but for Davis and the future of the Baltimore Orioles, getting nothing out of him as opposed to the liability of which he has become appears far more logical than just continuing to play him.
In fact, the club essentially has Davis’ heir to first base in Trey Mancini, who, since the start of 2017, has a respectable .800 OPS, good enough for 80th of 174 qualified names here.
Referring back to logic, would it not make more sense playing Mancini?
Some production, which, in this case, would be the 4.5 WAR accumulated by Mancini in that span, is better than what Davis has given them. On top of that, Manicini has posted a respectable 114 OPS+ during that time, and though he is still striking out 22.9% of the time, a rate right in line with the league average of 22.8%, a healthy Mancini could give the Orioles consistent production out of a position they’ve long needed it from. This year, Mancini owns 2.3 WAR and a 126 OPS+, 22nd (32nd numerically) among all hitters.
And while not regarded as a quality defensive player, as noted by an already lackluster career -4.7 dWAR, Mancini’s offensive skill set can offset the albatross that playing Chris Davis has become.
Ridding themselves of Davis would further allow the Orioles, not only to play Mancini, but to give other clubs a look at someone such as Mancini, who, should he continue to be an above-average regular, could merit some return to further boost a rebuilding farm system.
Baltimore’s number four overall prospect, according to MLB.com, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, raised some eyebrows this year, hitting .312 in AAA Norfolk with 25 home runs and 35 doubles. One concern with Mountcastle though stems from his lack of plate discipline, as he had just 24 walks against 130 strikeouts this season.
A converted third baseman/shortstop, Mountcastle transitioned to first base in hopes of accelerating his time-clock to the majors.
Should Mountcastle break with the Orioles next spring, Mancini could move to a corner outfield spot, where he has seen action in parts of 276 games over his career.