It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of FanFest and emerge from the event feeling positive about nearly every aspect of the “new Orioles.” That includes the potential of Chris Davis to rebound from his nightmarish 2018 season and become a (somewhat) productive member of the lineup once again.
The reason for much of that optimism regarding Davis stems from comments he made to reporters at FanFest when discussing how he was attempting to overcome whatever it was that caused so much trouble for him last season.
Davis will be working with a new hitting coach in Don Long, and said he’s open to incorporating the data that will likely be available via the Orioles’ new analytically-inclined front office.
Both changes figure to run parallel with the larger theme of Davis’ offseason, which was defined by reevaluation and overhaul. Over the course of the past few months, Davis revamped his workout regimen, consulted old hitting coaches, and spoke to sports psychologists. His goals were two-fold: relocate the swing that made him one of the game’s premier power threats earlier this decade, and relieve the mental anguish that stemmed from last season, statistically one of the worst in baseball history.
How Davis came up with this new approach to his off-season work remains unclear, but it’s safe to assume that Mike Elias and company have provided some assistance. If you recall, Davis was brought up in the new general manager’s introductory press conference. As the highest-paid player on the roster, it would behoove the O’s to maximize Davis’s ability, and Elias seemed dedicated to do just that back in November.
Per MASN’s Roch Kubatko, Elias said this at the time:
“I think the chances are good of him bouncing back and improving upon that, and I’m going to get involved in the work going into his offseason work, his preparation. And any new ideas or information that we can provide to him to help him out, we will do our best to do that. So that’s my hope.”
Elias’s first sentence there leaves a lot of wiggle room. He feels Davis can improve upon a .168/.243/.296, 50 OPS+ season. Well, that’s reassuring. One would assume Elias is actually implying that there should be significant leaps forward for Davis in the upcoming season. However, Davis was so bad in 2018, that even dramatic statistical gains could leave him in a position where he is still costing the Orioles more than helping them. If that is the case, he may no longer find himself on a major league roster by the middle of the summer.
Let’s assume Davis does elevate his game this season and pump up those garish numbers from a year ago. The odds of him returning to the level at which he was hitting back in 2015 or 2013, when he was in the MVP discussion, are remote. So, what sort of performance can reasonably be expected? And is it enough for the Orioles to hold onto him for the entire season?
Lucky for us, we don’t have to blindly guess! There are a ton of useful projections systems that exist, and they have each had their chance to predict how Davis will perform in 2019. Here is a sampling of them along with some of the more mainstream numbers:
Chris Davis 2019 Projections
Not great, is it? They all agree that Davis is going to slash somewhere around .200/.300/.380 with 25-ish home runs and about 18 doubles with all of that adding up to a 0.0 WAR. According to the FanGraphs official definition of WAR, that makes Davis a “scrub.” That’s fair.
However, a performance like that would, in fact, be a huge improvement on what he did in 2018. Couple that with Mark Trumbo potentially missing time after knee surgery and the possibility that he will be traded by the end of July, and it’s a little easier to see Davis survive another season in Baltimore. Trey Mancini and Davis would be the only first base/DH types on the roster, and the Orioles do not have any major prospects knocking on the big league door in that position.
What will be interesting to see is how Davis looks athletically this season. In Trezza’s piece, the bopper explained that he has committed himself to conditioning and reduced emphasis on arm exercises. He graded out poorly on the basepaths last year (-1.8 BsR), was the second-slowest player on the team (25.5 ft/s, Austin Wynns was slowest) and has increasingly become a liability in the field due to his evaporating range. Improved flexibility and athleticism could allow him to make up a bit for the ability he has lost at the plate by performing better in the field and while running the bases.
The other variable is what sort of impact the infusion of analytics in the clubhouse will have. Comments made by Zach Britton following his trade to the Yankees last season made it clear that Orioles players have not been receiving the best possible information on both their opponents and themselves for a while now. Improving that pipeline of knowledge from the front office to the dugout could be a huge help.
Of course, numbers, charts and video alone will not repair Davis. It’s safe to assume he would have been bad on any one of the 30 MLB teams last year. But it is also likely that other teams would have been able to provide alternative ways to improve Davis rather than simply sitting him for a few days and hoping he shook off the bad baseball demons.
It is a new era of baseball in Baltimore, and that extends to the players. Davis must evolve and show that he can still provide value to a major league team without competing for home run titles. To his credit, he seems to be doing all that he can to make that happen.