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Chris Davis Brings New Depth to Mendoza Line

October 6th, 2018 · 1 Comment · Baseball

Chris Davis is a bug lug of a Texan who made his way in baseball by hitting home runs.

That is why the slugger was, in years past, referred to as “Crush” Davis — a play on the name of the Kevin Costner character “Crash Davis“) in the movie “Bull Durham”.

Chris Davis, now 32, had some halcyon days. In 2013, he led the major leagues in home runs (53) and runs batted in (139). In 2015, he led baseball in homers again, with 47.

But he never was a guy who was going to reach base a lot. He is not a guy who will lay down a bunt or hit behind the runner or cut down on his swing when he is behind in the count.

It’s all or nothing … and in the 2018 season Chris Davis experienced “nothing” so often he pushed one historically relevant statistic to a new low.

With a .166 (qualified) batting average. An MLB record.

And, really, if we are going to attach a name to guys who can’t get hits, whose batting averages are plummeting below .200 … we ought to rename the Mendoza Line for Chris Davis.

Mario Mendoza was a light-hitting infielder who played for Pittsburgh, Seattle and Texas before and after 1980. He was fine on defense but he batted less than .200 in five of his nine seasons/parts of seasons.

He finished with a career average of .215, but his name became attached to the sub-.200 BA line through an infant sports news network named ESPN — and especially through the attention ESPN host Chris Berman gave to Mendoza’s 1979 season — when he was right around .200 all season, finishing at .198 in just over 400 at-bats.

The Mexican’s status as the namesake of the “Mendoza Line” also should shift to Davis because the Orioles’ infielder had enough plate appearances (522) to pass the baseball cut-off point for qualifying for a batting championship, which is 502.

Mendoza did not have even one season with 502 plate appearances. He was a slick fielder whose name should not be attached to hitting failure.

Chris Davis’s however, can.

This year he struck out 192 times in those 522 plate appearances, the seventh time in seven full seasons he has struck out at least 169 times, with a high of 208.

In those other years, however, he put more balls in play and took some walks and, of course, hit homers. This season, those final three skills deserted him.

Davis replaces, in baseball annals, Rob Deer (in 1991) and Dan Uggla (in 2013), who each hit .179 in “qualified” seasons, for “worst-hitting season” by a regular.

Davis did this for the Baltimore Orioles, contributing handsomely to their wretched, worst-in-baseball 47-115 record. Assuming the Orioles have reached a nadir, Davis and that 47-win season may remain infamous, at the once-proud franchise. (Thanks goodness for Cal Ripken.)

(All of which leads us to wonder how the Orioles could give 522 plate appearances to a guy who hit 22 points below .200 with a negative-3.4 WAR (wins above replacement) stat; do they not have a random Double-A first baseman who could better that?)

It gets even worse, for the Orioles. (If not for Davis.)

After Davis’s useful 2015 season he reached free agency, and the Orioles kept him with a seven-year, $161 million contract.

Gulp.

Yes, that contract has another four years to run, four years in which Davis may be out of baseball.

And it gets even worse. Fans, and the Orioles front office, will be reminded of Davis’s historic 2018 season when he gets paid $2.8 million annually from 2023 through 2037 as part of his $161m contract.

It was Bobby Bonilla (well, his agent) who first came up with the idea of spreading out the years of a big contract, deferring $29.8 million of his big deal with the Mets in 2010 to get checks of $1.19 million from 2011 through 2035.

But that looks like small beer, compared with the $2.8 Chris Davis will be getting for most of the next two decades.

I believe it’s time to commemorate Chris Davis’s 2018 meltdown and work it into the game. “Well, yeah, our guy is having an awful year — but it’s not Chris Davis Bad.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Oct 6, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    Truly an astonishingly bad year, for both Davis and the Orioles.

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