#48 - Chris Davis, 1B, 3B, OF, P (2011 - Present)
Recency bias seems to be hardest at work in the world of sports, and Orioles slugger Chris Davis has arguably been the game’s worst player over the last three seasons, a time in which he has posted -5.4 bWAR, a 69 OPS+ and slashed just .188/.276/.350. The massive contract he signed (seven years, $161 million) prior to the 2016 season has become a scarlet letter that gets amplified every time he goes 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, which in recent years has been a far too common occurrence.
Even still, Davis deserves his spot among the greatest Orioles of all time. In fact, there is a case to be made that he deserves to be even higher on this list, and perhaps he will get there once some time separates us from his late-career struggles.
Davis came to Baltimore along with pitcher Tommy Hunter on July 30, 2011 in a trade with the Texas Rangers that sent reliable reliever Koji Uehara and $2 million in the other direction. Davis had been an offensive monster in the Rangers minor league system, but struggled through parts of four major league seasons. The Orioles, who were also about to unload their starting first baseman at the time, 35-year-old Derrek Lee, were ready to give Davis a full-time role.
A shoulder injury a few weeks after that trade limited Davis to just 31 games with the Orioles for the remainder of that season. He split his time between first and third base and hit .276/.310/.398 with two home runs and nine doubles.
It was the 2012 season that saw Davis begin to turn the corner towards becoming a productive hitter at the major league level. Orioles manager Buck Showalter continued to move Davis around the diamond. He started games at first base, left field, right field and DH. It didn’t seem to impact his bat much. His power took a noticeable leap forward. In 139 games, Davis smacked 33 home runs, posted a .501 slugging percentage and 121 OPS+.
The 2012 season, as an whole, was a lot of fun to be an Orioles fan. Davis contributed to that fun quite a few times, including his broken bat home run on June 13. But by far the game he is best remembered for from that entire summer came on May 6 at Fenway Park, when he pitched two scoreless innings, struck out two batters and got the win as the O’s beat the Red Sox 9-6 in 17 innings.
Even now, watching those highlights makes you smile. He struck out Adrian Gonzalez on a change-up with no outs and two runners on base. That sentence sounds like a Mad Lib, but it is completely true. What’s even better is that every game that season mattered. The Orioles snuck into the playoffs as the first ever second wild card team, and took the Yankees to five games in the ALDS.
The statistical peak of Davis’s career, however, came the next year, in 2013, when he would be named to his first (and so far only) career All-Star team, win a Sliver Slugger award and finish third in the voting for the AL MVP award.
Davis’s numbers that year can best be described as beefy. He led the league with 53 home runs, 138 RBI and 370 total bases. The 53 home runs were also an Orioles franchise record, eclipsing the 50 that Brady Anderson hit in 1996. Davis posted career highs in batting average (.286), on-base percentage (.370), slugging percentage (.634), OPS+ (168) and doubles (42) among other categories.
The 2014 campaign would see the Orioles win their first AL East crown since 1997, but it would prove to be a difficult season for Davis personally. He missed time early on with an oblique injury, and the injury seemed to put him into an offensive funk that he could never really get out of. Over 128 games, he hit .196/.300/.404 with 26 home runs.
Then, on September 12, Davis was suspended for 25 games following a positive test for an amphetamine. Reports indicated that the positive test was a result of Davis using Adderall, a drug often used to treat ADHD, and something that Davis was given a therapeutic use exemption for prior to 2014. Those 25 games Davis missed covered the remainder of the regular season and proved to encompass the entirety of the Orioles playoff run, which ended in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS.
Davis would receive an exemption for the use of another stimulant, Vyvanse, prior to the 2015 season, and although he would lead the league with 208 strikeouts, the Orioles first baseman was back to his slugging ways. Over 160 games, Davis hit a league-leading 47 home runs and improved his OPS+ by 51 points up to 147. This bounce back even led to some down-ballot MVP consideration.
The off-season that followed was when Davis would hit free agency and eventually sign back with the Orioles in January. Although the Davis contract only keeps him with the Orioles through 2022, the O’s will be paying him through 2037 due to the structure of the agreement.
You know the story from there. Davis was good in 2016. He hit 38 home runs and posted a 110 OPS+. But since then, he has seen a precipitous drop in performance. By far, his lowest point came in 2018, when he finished the year with -3.6 bWAR, slugged just .296 and drew the ire of Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
At the time, Palmer said this, among some other terse words:
He’s just in a prolonged slump. You know, they say he works hard. Ehh. He told everybody in spring training that he worked with [hitting coach] Scott Coolbaugh. I asked Scott in spring training, I go, ‘Hey, you must have really put in a lot of work.’ He goes, ‘We didn’t work.’ So, you know, I don’t believe anything.
Davis struggled again in 2019, but his performance was not as detrimental to the team. His offensive numbers took a small step forward across the board, but his new manager, Brandon Hyde, also limited his time on the field by playing him in just 105 contests and giving him just 352 plate appearances.
Spring training stats mean almost nothing, but Davis was doing well down in Sarasota this year before the league shut down on account of the ongoing pandemic. Maybe he will bounce back and put together a somewhat valuable 60-game stretch.
Davis is not going to have his number 19 jersey retired, he won’t be enshrined in Cooperstown, and the last three seasons have sullied his reputation among the Birdland faithful. But he will be an Orioles Hall of Famer, and he is a big reason why the club returned to the playoffs three times between 2012 and 2016.