Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Orioles Should Offer Chris Davis an Extension, Despite His Lackluster 2014

As an Orioles fan, it’s been a bit of a source of concern for me that Chris Davis isn’t repeating last year’s breakout numbers. Granted, I wasn’t expecting him to repeat those, since they were probably the extreme end of what he could produce. At the same time, though, I don’t think anyone expected him to post a .206/.327/.401 slash line half way through the season. The 28-year old first baseman was supposed to be a contributor going forward, not posting a 98 weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+, meaning he’s hitting 3% below league average).

Which is why what I’m about to say might sound crazy, but just here me out: if I were the Orioles, I’d be making every effort to resign Chris Davis right now.

Davis is under contract for this season and next, at which point he becomes a free agent. Now, given his early struggles, one might be tempted to say that they should wait and see if he can rebound. However, therein lies the problem: just a half-season ago, the team was worried that Davis might have priced himself out of their range with his 53-home run season. If you’re trying to maximize your investment, it’s best to, er… strike while the iron’s cold, I guess you could say?

But what if Davis’s downturn is his new normal? Then wouldn’t the entire investment be a bust? Well, I would argue that he hasn’t taken much of a downturn at all. This Beyond the Box Score piece goes very in depth on something that I didn’t think I would be able to stretch into a full piece. The summary, though, is that Davis’s weak 2014 is more a function of luck than a noticeable change in skill.

The big reason is his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). This year, he’s posting a .255 mark. Last year? .336. The year before that? .335. The year before that? .366. Maybe he’s not hitting the ball as well? Well, his line drive percentage is up to 26.1% from 21.9 last year, so he’s hitting even harder if anything. Also, his expected BABIP is .347 (the article I linked to says .344, but it’s a few days out of date).

What would Davis’s numbers look like with a .089 swing in BABIP? Well, let’s assume that all of the extra hits will be singles, to start with. They probably wouldn’t all be, but it gives us a baseline. Taking a .347 BABIP gives us 13 extra hits for Davis this season. That may not sound like much, but that would raise his batting line to .259/.370/.453, which is a lot closer to his .286/.370/.634 line from last year. It would get him into the top 30 in OBP for the league, and the top 50 in slugging percentage. And again, that’s assuming that none of the extra hits falling in are doubles down the line, or fly balls that land in an alley or over a shallower part of the outfield fence. If his extra 13 hits fall in at the rate his current hits are distributed, his slugging percentage goes all the way up to .498. He’s probably never going to hit like he did in 2013 again, but he still seems to be an above-average hitter.

Now, there’s a chance that Davis doesn’t want to accept an extension no matter what. Maybe he wants to wait until after this season so that he has more negotiating power. But I think it makes sense to at least try now, and if you can get him for something like 4 years (buying out his last arbitration year next season), $50-60 million? Given that the current price of a single win above replacement is $5.5 million on the open market, and given that I think he can easily be a 3-win player going forward, I would absolutely take that deal.

That’s really it for today; hopefully, something a little bigger I’ve been working on will be out in the next few days.

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