It would seem about the only way that could happen would be for Davis to once again become one of the most productive hitters in the American League or something reasonably close to that. He can only win fans back by playing better. A lot better.
After his performance of the last two years, that seems like a longshot and it seems more likely that Davis is just no longer a player capable of such stats.
He is coming off a season where he hit .168/.243/.296 with 192 strikeouts, 16 homers and 49 RBIs. The player that hit 53 homers with an OPS of 1.004 in 2013 and 47 homers with an OPS of .923 in 2015 posted a 2018 OPS of .539.
Here is a look at Davis from 2015 through 2018 in batting average: .262/.221/.215/.168. Now in OPS: .923/.792/.732/.539. Now a look at homer totals: 47/38/26/16. And in FangGaphs WAR: 5.4/2.8/0.1/minus-3.1.
Over the last few years, Davis has been hitting the ball on the ground more and in the air less. Not a good thing for a power hitter who sees so many defensive shifts and hammers grounders into that shift time after time.
I looked at one of his strong years in 2015 and then last year 2018. In the first, his groundball percentage was 31.8 and that went up to 39.6. His flyball percentage dropped from 43.5 to 39.3. His average exit velocity dropped from 91.9 mph in 2015 (when it was among the best in the league) to 89 mph.
There is a theory that Davis can’t catch up to premium velocity on the inner half of the plate anymore. That may be true. But Davis is only seeing a few more fastballs now than in 2015 when he saw them 54.3 percent of the time. The number last season was 55.4 percent.
While some fans in Birdland clearly want the club to release Davis, the large amount remaining on his contract makes that unlikely, but keeping an underperforming Davis is a problem. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, he’ll get $23 million per year over the next four years with $17 million paid each season and $6 million deferred each year. Cot’s calculates that at $21.1 million per season. With $68 million still coming through 2022, and a total of $42 million coming in deferred payments, the Orioles still owe Davis $110 million. The hopes that he will just retire and walk away from that seem nothing more than false hopes.
Davis debunked a lot of theories about his struggles in this interview. He said his eyesight is 20/10, that he does take medication and that is not the issue.
On that topic, Davis said: “It’s the same thing I’ve been taking for years. It’s the same thing, it’s made by the same guy. It’s just under a different name. I’ve had success years I didn’t take anything, I’ve had success years I was on medication. That’s an easy fix to me if that was the case. If I thought that was the reason I was struggling, I’d do whatever I could to not have to worry about it. I just think that’s too much of an easy fix.”
Beyond producing at a level near his previous norms, in my opinion, Davis needs to do two other things to help his cause with Birdland. One, make more hitting adjustments. His swing and approach never looks different. Something needs to look different next year to show he is at least trying to make adjustments that will take. Two, he needs to take more accountability for his performance. In that August interview, Davis talked about the many times he squared up the ball, but it was caught. But there were not that many more times. Sometimes you just need to look into the camera and say you’ve been terrible and you are hurting the team. Because everyone can see that that is true.
Davis ended the 2018 season going 1-for-37 over his last 10 games with 20 strikeouts. He didn’t play in any of the season’s last 10 games and that was clouded in mystery. The reason why was never really explained.
At the Orioles move more fully into their rebuilding phase they’ve got an obvious problem at first base. Whether Davis can change that is the issue at hand.