When the 2015 season got underway, I had no idea what to expect from Chris Davis. I'm not sure that anybody else did either. After his disastrous injury-plagued and suspension-riddled 2014 season, how could there be much confidence that he would turn back into the home run champion of all the land? Davis, for his part, never wavered from his confidence in himself.
From FanFest in January on through spring training, Davis was consistent in expressing a belief that his sub-Mendoza 2014 season, in which he batted only .196, was brought on in large part by an oblique injury that landed him on the disabled list early last year and never fully healed. Baseball players say and believe a lot of things, not all of which are based in fact. You can't always take them at face value. Sometimes they say things that they want to be true.
The Orioles were practically obligated to make a $12 million bet on Davis being correct about himself. What kind of idiot team would non-tender the guy who was only one year removed from hitting 53 home runs? There were many bets the Orioles just "had" to make through this season, as we will explore through this series of player reviews. Not all of them worked out.
Davis was the one that worked out for the best, maybe the only one that worked out as well as the Orioles could have hoped. As we sit here with the season behind us, Davis is once again the MLB home run leader, a crown that, for the second time in three years, also led to his being chosen by the local media as the 2015 Most Valuable Oriole.
The final season tally of 47 home runs, 117 runs batted in, and a batting line of .262/.361/.562, is nothing short of impressive. Using a weighted stat like wRC+, Davis was one of the ten best batters in all of MLB. With his easy power, he can destroy any pitcher over any fence at any time. His are the home runs that wake the sleepers; his bat, the shield that guards the realms of Birdland.
Maybe I shouldn't have doubted him. After all, when the Orioles hired their hitting coach for this season, the new hire turned out to be Scott Coolbaugh, who had worked successfully with Davis back in the minors in the Texas system. It's hard to imagine they would have hired him solely because of a prior rapport with Davis, but it surely didn't hurt.
The Orioles may well have deemed that it was a priority to get Davis fixed for 2015 because without him back among the league's best they wouldn't be going anywhere. Had Davis repeated his 2014, surely they would not have. There would have been no wild card position that stretched into mid-August, no mathematical wild card chances staying alive all the way to late September. Bleak as it is to envision next year with no Davis, it's even worse to imagine THIS year with no resurgent Davis.
What's even more remarkable about the bounce-back season for Davis is that he accomplished it heavily in the second half. His first half was somewhat pedestrian. While he was hitting home runs at a nice pace and not hitting for as low of an average as last year, he hit the All-Star Break with a batting line of .235/.318/.469.
That's not a bad guy to get in a lineup. The Orioles, in fact, would have given quite a lot to get some of their underperforming positions hitting like that. But it's also not a guy who is going to blow the doors off of teams' bank vaults on the free agent market, strolling out with stuffed bags full of unmarked, non-sequential $100 bills.
That version of Chris Davis showed up in the second half of the season. His July was better than his June, his August was better than his July, and his September/October was even better still. With his 3-4, two homer performance in the final game of the season, Davis' Sept/Oct batting line over 31 games looks like this: .318/.463/.748. Imagine how great that might have been if the Orioles had something to play for down the stretch. Ah, well.
A big reason for Davis' bounce-back in 2015, although certainly not the only one, was his vastly improved hitting against left-handed pitching. He had a better platoon split against lefties than any other full season of his big league career. That was good for a .799 OPS against LHP. You could not negate the presence of Davis in the lineup by saving your best lefty in the bullpen to face him in the late innings.
It wasn't like Davis was just racking up these numbers in garbage time, either. If you look at his page for this season on Baseball Reference, his numbers with men on base were better than the bases empty. His "Late & Close" OPS was 1.016 and when the game was tied he batted to a 1.023 OPS. Broken down by inning, his ninth inning OPS of 1.102 was topped only by his OPS in 10 extra innings at-bats - 1.233. People like to call him Crush Davis. You could also call him Clutch Davis.
If the 2015 season does prove to be the end of the line for Davis as an Oriole, he will go down as one of the best O's sluggers of the franchise's history. His slugging percentage in an Orioles uniform, .523, is second only to the .543 mark of Orioles legend Frank Robinson. We will surely come to know other good and great Orioles, but I don't think there will ever be another Oriole quite like Davis.
Will he come back? That's the $100+ million question. Many teams will want the man who has hit 126 home runs over the last three seasons combined. He sounds like a man who would like to come back if the Orioles can get close on the money or length of contract. Will they? They have to have noticed that their plan to cobble together cheaper replacements for Nelson Cruz was a total failure. Don't try to pull off that caper again. But it may be that even knowing all of that, he'll still go beyond what they are able to pay.
That would be sad for O's fans and awful for the chances of the team next year and into the future. If he does depart, the consolation prize of a compensation pick at the end of the first round won't be much of a consolation after all.
For Davis, 2015 was a great season. He has been a great Oriole who's been a big part of their return to relevance over the past few seasons. I'll be crossing my fingers that we haven't seen the last of him.