Chris Davis announced his retirement this week. An unexpected development for a player who over the last decade has experienced amazing highs, such as leading the American League in home runs and serving as a potent offensive force for a playoff team, to disappointing lows, including being labeled as having one of the worst contracts in the game.
Davis’ peak was extremely high, he was a seven win player in 2013, but also disappointingly quick. His two strongest seasons in 2013 and 2015 sandwich a terrible 2014, with the peak of his performance more of an anomaly than the league-average-at-best player he was throughout most of his career.
The Rangers drafted Davis and called him up to The Show in 2008. Despite bouncing around as a quad-A player, shuttling between triple-A and Arlington over the course of 3.5 seasons, he still ended up with a negative fWAR before Texas packed him with reliever Tommy Hunter and shipped him to Baltimore for Koji Uehara.
In just his second game in an Oriole uniform, Davis crushed a home run giving fans in Baltimore a glimpse into the power potential. The rest of his 2011 was forgettable, as he only played in 31 games for Baltimore. In 2012 he was an average regular overall, but the offensive prowess and power really shined. With a .270/.326/.501 slash line, and 33 home runs, he was a 20 percent better-than-average hitter (121 wRC+). Then in 2013 Davis put up one of the best offensive seasons in the game.
He was an absolute workhorse in 2013, playing in 160 games, mashing 53 home runs (which led the American League) and posting a .370 OBP. His 168 wRC+ was eons ahead of anything he had done previously, and anything he’s done since. Davis looked like he could be one of the best power hitters in the game, but it didn’t last.
In 2014 his strikeout rate crept up into the 33 percent range, and striking out in one-third of all his plate appearances, combined with hitting fewer than half the home runs he hit the year prior led him to a subpar year.
A brief renaissance in 2015 belied his true talent level, and since that strong 5.4 win season six years ago, it’s been a spiral downward. The Orioles gave him a monstrous nine-figure contract in a move that was loudly (and appropriately) derided by the baseball community. That seven year $161 million deal led to a negative fWAR. Often injured, the one-dimensional Davis ended up as a part-time player despite his massive salary.
Davis’ 12 year career gave O’s fans the good (briefly), the bad (often), and at the end, the ugly (at the end). Riddled by injuries, deteriorating plate discipline, and a strikeout rate that throughout his entire career was a significant liability, Davis never ascended to the perennial power hitter hoped for by Baltimore’s front office. When the power was zapped, so was Davis’ productivity.
The Orioles still owe Davis $23 million, some of which is due in 2022 and some of which is deferred. According to Dan Conolly of The Athletic, Baltimore will be paying every dollar of it.
It’s a disappointing yet predictable end to the career of a player whose star shined brightly but for a moment. No one can deny that 12 years for any player is a solid career in the Majors, but Davis’ name will likely soon go into obscurity as a player who could mash but do little else. That’s perhaps better than the alternative of being remembered and defined by a massive contract combined with a complete lack of productivity.