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Chris Davis on pace to join rare company

In this downward spiral of a season, Chis Davis has become the poster child for the Orioles’ lack of success. But just how bad has he been? We take a look at a couple of similiar players to get a better idea.

Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles

Chris Davis entered play Wednesday with a .173 batting average in 410 at-bats.

Among qualified hitters in the majors this season, Davis’ average ranks last. Texas Rangers infielder/outfielder Joey Gallo is second to last on that list with a .210 average in 428 at-bats. But Gallo has more than twice the home runs that Chris Davis has, 34 to 16.

Kansas City Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar’s average is third to last, at .212 in 419 at-bats. But he is known for his strong defense up the middle, first and foremost.

It’s hard to think of players who have experienced such a precipitous fall-off in performance as Chris Davis has. His career year came at age 27, when he hit .286/.370/.634 with 53 home runs and 138 RBI. He was an All-Star, Silver Slugger and finished third in MVP voting. That season seems like a lifetime ago now.

The season after that record year, Davis hit .196. He bounced back in 2015, hitting .262/.361/.562 with 47 home runs and 117 RBI, which would help him earn the seven year, $161 million contract he signed the following offseason. But the following two years would see him hit .221 and .215, which brings us to this current season.

So far in 2018, Davis has a -1.9 rWAR and a -2.4 fWAR. He is only slugging .316 and his on-base percentage is a meager .249, well below the league averages of .411 and .319, respectively. And then we have the .173 batting average of course, which was previously mentioned.

But come to find, the lowest single season batting averages in major league baseball since 1920 belong to Rob Deer (.179 in 1991) and Dan Uggla (.179 in 2013), according to Grant Brisbee of SB Nation.

Going backward from this season to Dan Uggla’s record breaking year in 2013, the following hitters ranked last in baseball in batting average:

  • 2017: Jose Bautista, .203
  • 2016 Danny Espinosa, .209
  • 2015: Joc Pederson, .210
  • 2014: Chris Davis at .196

But back to Dan Uggla. He was a Rule 5 draft pick with the Marlins in 2006 and he had his career year in 2010 at age 30, when he hit .287/.369/.508 with 33 home runs and 105 RBI. The next three years he would hit .233, .220 and .179, never again coming close to that career batting average he set in 2010.

The first five years of Uggla’s career were spent in Miami, after which he was traded to the Atlanta Braves in 2011 at age 31. His first year with the Braves, when he hit .233, Uggla made a little over $9 million, according to Baseball Reference. The following three years with the Braves he would make $13 million per year.

In Uggla’s second to last season, he would hit .149 in 141 at-bats between the Braves and the San Francisco Giants. His final year in baseball came with the Washington Nationals in 2015, when he hit .183 in 120 at-bats. Uggla finished his career with a batting line of .241/.336/.447 over the course of 10 years.

Rob Deer, on the other hand, was a right fielder and first baseman who played for five different teams over the course of an 11-year career, from 1984 to 1996. Important to note, his final season in 1996 with the San Diego Padres came after a two-year absence from the game.

Because Deer played in a different era, it’s hard to compare salaries between him and the other two players previously mentioned, but in his age 30 to age 32 seasons, Deer made $1.96, $2.01 and $2.06 million, per Baseball Reference. From 1986-1993, Deer averaged about 26 home runs per year while hitting .221 over that time span.

His career year came in 1988, at age 27, when he hit .252/.328/.441 with 23 home runs and 85 RBI. The closest he would come to that batting average over the rest of his career was when he hit .247 in 1992.

It’s interesting to note that these three players — Davis, Uggla and Deer — accumulated the sheer number of at-bats they did while hitting for such a low average. Why did their managers keep running them out there if they were performing so poorly?

The Tigers finished above .500 (84-78) when Deer hit .179 in 1991, good for a second place finish in the AL East at the time. The Braves won first place in 2013 with a record of 98-64 when Uggla hit .179. So these teams were much better overall than the Orioles are this year.

But with very little going right for the O’s this season, why do they keep running Chris Davis out there? If it all comes down to dollars and cents, then we have our answer. But there has to be a better solution in terms of decreasing his playing time and/or batting him lower in the lineup, so as to accrue fewer at-bats. It’s hard to watch him on a nightly basis, as Davis is on pace to join rare company for the wrong reason.