If the Orioles’ 2017 season was to be encapsulated into one player, it might be Chris Davis. Davis finished the year with a .215/.309/.423 batting line. That’s good for a .732 OPS and a 95 OPS+. Another way to look at that is that the player with the largest ever Orioles contract couldn’t even manage to be a league average hitter in the second year of the contract..
In case you thought his defense at first base could save him, unfortunately, it can’t. His bat put him too deep in the hole. According to the Fangraphs version of WAR (fWAR) Davis was worth 0.2 wins in 2017. The Baseball Reference version (bWAR) graded him at -0.4 wins. Either way you slice it, Davis was a bad player for the Orioles in 2017.
On top of all of that, Davis only hit 26 home runs in what was a league record setting season for not only the total number of home runs, but the home run rate as well. If anyone could have done well in that environment, it should have been Davis.
Davis did set a career high in strike out rate and was barely his above career average in his walk rate to try to offset that. His plate discipline numbers are truly a sight to behold. Davis posted a career low rate of swinging at pitches in the zone (Z-Swing%) at only 60.0 percent. Of players with at least 500 plate appearances Davis posted the 13th lowest Z-Swing% rate.
Meanwhile pitchers are throwing him pitches in the zone 43 percent of the time which is highest rate since his days in Texas. This is exemplified by his astonishing 75—of 195 total—strike outs looking. This lapped the league for the highest total put up by a player despite Davis only playing in 128 games.
His contact rates remained basically stable as did his batted ball numbers and hard/soft hit rates. The only thing that did not change is that Davis did not swung the bat far less often than he usually does.
It was an ugly season for Davis in the second year of his monster contract and last year, while better, was still not what the Orioles signed up for when they inked Davis’ lifetime contract. At 31, Davis—who will be 32 when the 2018 season kicks off—is showing definite signs of decline. Unlike last year, there is not a convenient injury excuse.
Davis himself said it best when he told reporters, “It’s been extremely frustrating for a number of reasons, but one of the main reasons being that I just feel like there were so many nights out there when I was just a name in the lineup.” Most of his season-ending remarks were acknowledging problems that everyone who was looking could see.
The frustrating part is how this lasted the entire season. Simply look at the headlines from Camden Chat this year “Orioles’ Chris Davis continues to hit for power and not much else” or “Chris Davis’ game-ending K sets new low in tough season for the Orioles baseman” or “Chris Davis isn’t giving much hope that his struggles will end” or last but not least “The Orioles can still salvage Chris Davis’ and Mark Trumbo’s contracts”.
Well, you’re thinking to yourself, maybe they’re a just a bunch of haters over at Camden Chat. So I looked around at some others, from our friends over at Camden Depot “Another Fall for Chris Davis” and “Will Chris Davis keep declining.” Lastly, how about something by a national publication, from The Ringer “Chris Davis has become MLB’s caught-looking King”
Chris Davis had a very bad, no good, rotten 2017 and everyone from everywhere knows it, even Davis himself. The Orioles needed Davis to be better in 2017. He posted a 3.0 bWAR in 2016 and a 5.2 bWAR in 2015 and could only muster a -0.4 bWAR in 2017.
Davis was not the sole or even main cause of the Orioles failures in 2017. But, he was emblematic of their struggles. Most of the Orioles key players from 2016 had disappointing 2017 seasons. This unsurprisingly led to the decline of the team’s record and their first season below .500 since 2011.
The hope moving forward is that the 32 year old Davis can still remake himself into a better player. There is a shred of hope to be found in his contact rates. When he actually swings, he can still hit the ball enough.
That is the hope for Chris Davis going forward. Again, Davis says it best himself when he said in the above interview, “You can’t say: ‘I understand you’re frustrated,’ and not make an adjustment. As far as that’s concerned, I have several years left here and hopefully a lot of good baseball still in front of me. I look forward to the challenge.”
For the Orioles sake, they better hope he meets that challenge.