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Chris Davis is spiraling into oblivion

Chris Davis used to crush dingers. Now he crushes only Orioles’ fans hopes and dreams

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The 2018 season has not been kind to the Baltimore Orioles. Lauded in some circles as sleeper candidates for the postseason, they’ve played themselves out of contention with a horrid start to the season. They’re already in last place in the AL East with the largest gap between them and first place of any division. They’re looking up at not only the suddenly-okay Rays and Blue Jays but also the twin terrors of the Yankees and Red Sox.

You can’t argue this team is unlucky. They’re just bad. Through Tuesday’s games the pitching and defense has allowed the third-most runs in the American League while the offense has scored the third-fewest.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. But I want to focus on one guy in particular: Chris Davis. Davis is not just the worst hitter on the team, he’s also the worst everyday player in the major leagues. Yet just a few years ago, he was a home run champion.

Davis has had quite the career. From fringe power threat in 2008 to third-place MVP finisher in 2013, Davis proved he could stick in the majors. After following up his breakout season with an injury-marred 2014 and bounceback 2015, he signed an offseason deal worth $161 million with enough deferred money to pay him through the next five presidential elections.

The Orioles, fresh off two playoff appearances in three years after a 13-year drought and knowing the team’s stars could all depart after 2018, probably wanted just three good years of Davis in exchange for four bad ones. So far they’ve gotten just one. Davis was good in 2016, playing to 2.8 WAR. But 2017 was another disaster year of just 0.1 WAR and 2018 is no better. His slash line of .158/.236/.259 with just 4 HR yields a gasp-worthy .223 wOBA and 33 wRC+. No wonder he’s been benched a few times this year.

His plate discipline is eroding. Davis’ strikeout rate, once under control in the low-to-mid-30 percent range, ballooned last year to 37.2 percent as he explored new heights in getting caught looking. This year, he’s at swinging more often but his strikeout rate is down only a tick to 36.2 percent.

Meanwhile, his walk rate, which fueled his halcyon power days from 2013–2017, has collapsed from the 11-12 percent range down to the 8 percent range. He now walks less often than the average major leaguer:

That’s not the walk rate of a power hitter. It’s the walk rate of a guy that doesn’t scare pitchers.

Speaking of power: Davis’s ISO is at .101, the lowest of his career as a full-time player. That is Alcides Escobar and DJ LeMahieu territory.

He’s not hitting for power because he’s neither lifting the ball nor hitting it hard:

A power hitter like Davis needs, at the very least, to elevate the ball. If he does, good things will happen when he makes the occasional solid contact. But he isn’t.

About the only glimmer of hope is that his HR/FB% is so much lower than his career norm:

That collapse is astonishing. If it continues it would rank as the 7th-largest drop among 578 similar player-season pairs since 2002:

Well, forget what I said about the glimmer of hope. This list is scary. Jacque Jones, Todd Hollandsworth, Brad Wilkerson, Josh Hamilton, Jim Thome, and Raul Ibañez (the 2013 - 2014 version) retired within two years of experiencing this drop. Of the guys who stuck around longer:

  • Ryan Howard probably wanted to collect the additional $75 million coming his way.
  • Curtis Granderson is still around, but he has other facets to his game. He can play the outfield, he runs the bases well, and he owns both an above-average walk rate and a below-average strikeout rate.
  • The 2010 version of Raul Ibañez was in a similar place.

I know Davis is having a rough time right now. Manager Buck Showalter told Rich Dubroff of Pressbox that “[His struggles are] eating at him. He wants to be everything for everybody.” He isn’t having fun, and Jim Palmer’s recent commentary attacking his work ethic is sure to add to the misery.

I hope the Orioles and Davis do what they need to turn him around. The two are stuck together; Davis’ contract is untradeable and the Orioles are in too small of a media market to eat any money by releasing him. Nor would owner Peter Angelos do that to Davis, the man he went out of his way to sign because he felt Davis meant so much to Charm City.

But the signs are pointing in the wrong direction. If Davis doesn’t turn his performance around this year, he risks being Baltimore’s version of Ryan Howard: a once-beloved power threat with some great peak years who rides out the last years of an absurdly large contract on the bench.