Chris Davis can’t buy a hit

Photo of Chris Davis can’t buy a hit

Orioles first baseman is in the worst slump in MLB history

Chris Davis is flailing his way to a dubious piece of baseball history, setting records for futility on a fledgling Baltimore Orioles team that will likely find its way toward the bottom of the standings again in 2019.

Davis hit a double off James Shields last September 14, but doesn’t have a hit to his name since. He ended 2018 on an 0-for-21 slump, and entered Thursday at 0-for-29 in 2019. The 0-for-50 for Davis is the longest hitless streak by a non-pitcher in major league history.

Strikeouts, always a large part of Davis’ game, are the main culprit for Davis, who has 29 strikeouts in his deficient stretch. There has been some bad luck, too. Based on his batted-ball data this season, Davis’ expected batting average should be .119, per Statcast. Keep in mind that’s still a terrible, unacceptably low performance, but by sheer luck he probably should have maybe three hits in 2019. He has zero.

Davis simply can’t buy a hit.

Davis set the record for most consecutive hitless at-bats on Monday at home, surpassing journeyman infielder Eugenio Velez, whose 0-for-46 stretch in 2010-11 ended his major league career. Technically, Velez’s streak is also still active, and there would be some perverse pleasure should he come out of retirement to try to battle Davis claim back his record.

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At this point a Davis at-bat seems more and more like a baseball tragedy waiting to happen, the conclusion horrific for the batter and so predictable yet we are drawn to each miniature failure, unable to look away.

When Davis set the record Monday, he took it in stride, with an occasional smile or a shrug of his shoulders. Orioles fans helped, supporting the slugger who is in his ninth year in Baltimore through cheers and supportive signs at Camden Yards.

A restaurant in Baltimore even got in on the act, with Lee’s Pint & Shell offering a free two-hour open bar to fans after Davis finally gets his first hit.

Davis didn’t start on either Tuesday or Wednesday, but has started eight of Baltimore’s 12 games this season.

On Wednesday, Davis pinch hit in the ninth inning and flew out to center field, extending his record streak to an even 50 at-bats without a hit. With six walks and a hit by pitch, Davis has actually gone 57 plate appearances without a hit, tying the MLB record set by former Indians infielder Tony Bernazard in 1984.

“I don’t want to hide anything, and I don’t want to try to mask his struggles,” Orioles first-year manager Brandon Hyde said Monday, per Dave Shenin of the Washington Post. “So we’re taking this thing head-on. And I appreciate that from him, too, in that he’s open to talking about things with me.”

Davis is entrenched with the Orioles thanks to his seven-year, $161 million contract signed after the 2015 season. He is making $23 million this year, and is due that same amount annually through 2022. But with the way Davis has been playing, that $90 million remaining on his deal is looking more and more like a sunk cost every single day.

It wasn’t supposed to end like this. Sure, Davis always struck out a ton. Two of the top nine strikeout seasons by a batter belong to Davis, who averaged 198 whiffs per season from 2013-18. Those strikeouts were easier to tolerate because of his power, with Davis averaging 34 home runs per season during that same period.

“Chris Davis” and “home runs” is synonymous, especially audibly, with the Orioles slugger leading baseball in long balls from 2012-15, and A’s outfielder Khris Davis leading MLB in homers from 2016 to the present.

Chris Davis led the majors in home runs in both 2013 (with 53) and 2015 (with 47), in the middle of a five-year run (2012-16) that saw Baltimore make three playoff appearances and lead the American League in wins.

The Orioles were a far cry from competitive in 2018, hitting rock bottom with 115 losses. Davis crashed and burned too, hitting a paltry .168/.243/.296 over a full season. The home runs dropped as well, to just 16, to go with an anemic 12 doubles.

Davis’ adjusted OPS+ last season was just 50 — an average OPS+ is 100, with the higher the number, the better — a depth of futility reached by hitters with enough qualified plate appearances roughly once every two years in the live ball era, and just the third time this century.

His on-base percentage (.243) was the seventh-worst in the live ball era, which stretches back to 1920.

Davis’ 2018 season was so bad that he was sub-replacement level. No matter whether you use Baseball-Reference (-2.8 WAR) or FanGraphs (-3.1), Davis was so bad last year that his presence cost the Orioles roughly three wins they could have had by simply using the available talent they had available on the bottom end of their organizational roster.

Since 1871 there have been 89,884 hitter seasons with even a single plate appearance. Davis last year had the eighth-lowest WAR by FanGraphs and the 14th-lowest by Baseball-Reference.

It sure seemed like things couldn’t have gotten any worse for Davis after such a putrid year. But his start of 2019 has proved that quite wrong.

Baseball’s scheduling has even conspired against Davis this season. Trevor Rosenthal of the Washington Nationals failed to retire his first eight batters this season, and all eight scored though he finally recorded an out (three of them!) on Wednesday. The beltway rival Nationals and Orioles don’t face each other until July 16 in Baltimore, robbing us of of a chance to see a stoppable force versus a very moveable object.

Davis is bound to get a hit before then. Right?

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