“Analytics wouldn’t help Chris Davis because they would show he can’t hit a pitch in any of the nine quadrants,” said another texter.
These are just two examples of the love Davis receives from Orioles fans on a regular basis, either on the text line, on the air, or on social media.
It’s certainly understandable to see why O’s fans feel this way. Davis finished the 2018 season with the worst batting average in Major League Baseball history among batting title qualifiers (minimum of 502 plate appearances) at .168. He ended the year in a 1-for-37 slump and missed the Orioles’ last handful of games after former manager Buck Showalter decided to sit him.
In a sick way, Davis’s historically-bad season fit perfectly for the 2018 Orioles finishing with the worst record in franchise history, 47-115.
Davis’s struggles left many fans wondering if the Orioles would entertain parting ways with the 2013 and 2015 home run leader, even with Davis just three years into a seven-year, $161 million contract. But with the Orioles beginning a full-fledge rebuild last summer and subsequently hiring Mike Elias as the team’s new general manager, the argument of letting Davis walk lost steam. But that didn’t stop fans from voicing their frustrations.
Davis certainly didn’t do himself any favors during a press conference held at last Saturday’s FanFest event at the Baltimore convention center.
“To continue down this path that I’ve been on the last couple of years and make no adjustment and make no strides in a different direction, I don’t want to do it anymore,” Davis said. “I don’t want to go through another season like I had last year again. I don’t think that will happen this year, I really don’t.”
This quote was all the ammunition Orioles fans needed to once again point the finger at Davis for his struggles dating back to 2016. 105.7 The Fan’s Alex Woodward wrote a piece recently, calling the comments “unacceptable” and “confirming Jim Palmer‘s criticism of Davis from last May.”
“I don’t see anything,” Palmer said on MASN following the Orioles’ 11-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox on May 23. “I don’t see a wider stance, I don’t see a closed stance, I don’t see him dropping his hands. I don’t see anything. And we’re seeing the results. 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 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.”
All of this looks terrible. There’s no other way around it. I get it, I would be lying if I said I haven’t grown tired of Davis myself. If it were up to me, Davis would be off the team and Trey Mancini would be playing first base for the Orioles in 2019. But the reality is, no matter how much Orioles fans complain about Davis, nothing is going to change right now.
Davis has four years remaining on his mega contract that the Orioles gave him before the 2016 season without any teams making a significant push for the power-hitter’s services. Every year until 2023 when Davis will become a free agent, over $21 million of the Orioles’ payroll is supposed to go to him.
Barring a ridiculous turnaround for the now 32-year-old, the Orioles won’t even be able to think about trading him. Even if Davis blows the roof off Camden Yards this season, his track record indicates that a hot streak for ‘The Crusher’ won’t last for long.
Along with the massive financial burden the Orioles would suffer if they were to release Davis, the team should hold on to him for at least the beginning of the rebuild process. Unlike the past six seasons where the Orioles carried playoff expectations, there’s no pressure on the Major League ball-club to do anything noteworthy in 2019.
Veterans like Mark Trumbo, Andrew Cashner, and Alex Cobb will be motivated to put together solid first-halves in hopes of being traded to a contender in July. But for a guy like Davis, 2019 allows him to hit the reset button and find his swing without the pressure of competing for a playoff spot. Surely, there will be fans in the crowd heckling him every time he strikes out, but that will have minimal impact on Davis’s psyche at the plate.
It’s also possible that Davis’s spot in the Orioles lineup will be moved down towards the bottom. Showalter was notorious for placing Davis in the cleanup spot even with an average below .200. That will likely change with Brandon Hyde now managing the team under Elias’s watch. Being in the bottom third of the lineup, Davis can focus more on getting on-base more often than advancing baserunners.
2019 certainly won’t be pressure-free for Davis. The new front office regime will be keeping a close eye on him. If he struggles early in the season, perhaps a trip down to Triple-A Norfolk becomes an option. But without expectations of reaching the postseason, along with trade rumors no longer flooding the clubhouse at Camden Yards, there’s not nearly as much to worry about in 2019 as there has been in prior years.
At the end of the day, as hard as its been for Orioles fans to watch their 2013 All-Star first baseman regress to the worst hitter in baseball, Baltimore should be rooting for Davis to comeback from his lowest point. It would certainly be a great story if Davis hit to a respectable average and smacked 30 or more home runs while becoming a leader that this young Orioles team could certainly use.
This Orioles team has no identity right now, wouldn’t it be nice to see Davis fill that gap and give the Orioles at least a small return on their questionable investment? That’s all we can hope for in 2019. But, if Davis goes through the first two months hitting below .200 and continuing his prolonged slump, it will be okay to get the pitchforks out.
Image Credit: Sporting News