In November 1998, the New York Mets had acquired Bobby Bonilla back from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Looking for power in the outfield, they took a chance on Bonilla and his already declining offense.
What they would get in return is a .160 average and 4 home runs in 119 at-bats. They seemingly gave up on him before May, as 51 of those at-bats came in the months of March and April. Add that to clashing with manager Bobby Valentine and playing cards with Rickey Henderson during Game 6 of the NLCS and the Mets had seen enough.
The Mets would elect to release Bonilla, owing him $5.9 million. However, the Mets and Bonilla’s party agreed to defer payment for a decade (2011), and pay exactly $1.19 million for the next 25 years. By the time the payments were over, he would earn $29.8 million. Fred Wilpon, then investing with Bernie Madoff, accepted the deal, thinking the ten percent returns from Madoff would outweigh the eventual eight percent interest on Bonilla’s contract (pretty sure we know the outcome and aftermath of this).
Eighteen years later, we might be close to seeing another heavily deferred contract coming back to bite this team.
Chris Davis has just come off a good bounce-back season in 2015. After a 2013 season which saw him hit .286 with 53 homers, 138 RBI, and an OPS+ of 168, good enough for a 7.1 oWAR, Davis would regress to .196 and 26 homers in 2014, while tacking on a suspension for illegal Adderall use. Everyone thought that the 2013 showing was a one-hit wonder, and suggested that Davis was on more than just Adderall. But in a contract year, he would rebound with a .262/.361/.562 line, 47 homers, 117 RBI, leading to a 147 OPS+ and 5.3 oWAR and WAR, a season that relieved the Orioles front office. It is also worth noting that these offensive bursts happened in a game where a little less than a homer per game were hit.
After that season, Davis was expecting a gigantic payday, but it didn’t come until January when the Orioles signed him to a 7 year, $161 million contract through 2021. $42 million of that is deferred for fifteen years after he becomes a free agent (2023–2037).
This, right here, is when the complete downfall happens for Davis.
Before I get into the living nightmare that is 2018 Chris Davis, I have to talk about 2016 and 2017.
In those two seasons combined, he had a line of .218/.322/.443, with 64 homers and 145 RBI, leading to a 103 OPS+. This led to a 3.2 oWAR combined in those two seasons, but most of those numbers are aided from a decent, but still very subpar 2016, the same year in which he leads the league in strikeouts with 219 (in 566 at-bats).
The next season was mired with injuries, and that led to his statistics being among his career worsts, including a .215 average, as well as his -1.9 Wins Above Average and -19 Runs Above Average. While he’s always been a strikeout mess, in 524 plate appearances, he struck out 195 times. To put that in comparison, 2017 Aaron Judge struck out a league-leading 208 times, but in a much more respectable 678 plate appearances.
At this point, as an Oriole fan, executive, or front office personnel, watching this season for Davis as well as watching your team finish 75–87, a team worst record since 2011, you’re thinking “This is all it’s going to be right? We’re going to get the Chris Davis of 2015 back soon, right baseball gods?”
What if I told you that Chris Davis in 2018, about five years coming off one of the better breakout stories we’ve seen, would be on pace to have one of the worst seasons in baseball HISTORY?
To say that he started the season slow would be an understatement, as in his first 90 at-bats between March and April, he hit .167 with 2 homers and 33 strikeouts for a OPS+ of 45. For someone who typically ends the first month of the season with a respectable .246 average, this was a concern from the beginning.
Somehow, Davis has progressively gotten WORSE, slumping to .144 with only 2 homers and 39 strikeouts in May, and is currently hitting .129 in 8 games in June after a long benching. It has gotten to a point where Bartenders Pub, a Baltimore bar, is offering free shots for every Chris Davis hit.
In total, Davis is hitting .152 with 5 home runs and 17 RBI. He is slugging an unheard of .242, collecting only 51 total bases. How much is he striking out? At a clip of 36.7%. Is he taking his free bases? Nope, BB% is at 8.9%? How about ISO power? .089? How many times has he crossed the plate? 11 (6 not on home runs). His OPS+? 33. If you look at his player value, it only gets worse. His WAR ranks at -2.1, his RAR at -20. All of those numbers rank among the worst in baseball by a long shot.
By the way, did I mention that before his recent eight games off, he had pretty much been an everyday player? He has played in 58 of his teams 74 games, partially because the Orioles have to get something for the $21.1 million they’ll be paying him this year.
According to Baseball-Reference.com WAR, the worst season in history is from 1977 Jerry Royster, who hit .216/.278/.288 in 491 plate appearances. Baseball Reference has him on pace to finish with -5.2 WAR. In terms of fWAR, he would be on pace for the worst season of all time, 81892 out of 81892 to be exact, according to ESPN’s Dan Szymborski:
It's pretty frightening to be on an "on-pace-for" the worst season of all-time by a large margin when you're nearing mid-June. Chris Davis's on-pace-for in fWAR would rank him 81892 out of 81892 player-seasons since 1901. By NEARLY A FULL WIN.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) June 7, 2018
You look at past awful seasons in baseball history, like 1933 Jim Levey, 1997 Jose Guillen, and 1985 George Wright. Levey was out of baseball after that season; Wright was done within another season. Guillen’s season is at -3.3 WAR because of his defense (-3.4 dWAR). Neither of them had the track record of Davis and none of them, inflation or not, were making anywhere near the $21.1 million paychecks Davis will be cashing in.
In case you haven’t been convinced that the Orioles are in a poor situation, think about this. Manny Machado is likely gone after this year. Adam Jones will likely leave. Zach Britton, either by trade or free agency, will be gone. Meanwhile, Chris Davis is signed for four more years on a limited trade clause. Oh, and we can’t forget that wonderful 15 years of paying off the $42 million in deferred money.
As our own Jeremy Frank put’s it:
The Orioles will pay Chris Davis $1.4 million in 2037… on the bright side, he’ll probably be worth more WAR in 2037 than he has been this year (-2.1).
— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) June 12, 2018
The glimmer of hope here is that this is a different era. At some point, with the support of the Orioles coaching staff, Chris Davis will have a stretch when he’s putting the barrel on the ball and driving it like he did in 2016, at the very least. Fangraphs ZiPS projects him improve to .205/.297/.405. That sort of stretch would be enough to save him from being put on the wrong side of the history books.
As of now though, Davis is a complete liability and is supporting the laughing stock that is the Baltimore Orioles. The more unfortunate part is that if his errors don’t get fixed, we will hear Oriole fans groaning four more years, something you wouldn’t have heard three to five years ago.
Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14).