On September 14, 2018, with no one on and no one out in the bottom of the second inning, Chris Davis doubled to right field off of James Shields of the White Sox. He would immediately get thrown out at third one batter later. To date, it is his last hit. But to anyone who has watched him play, his decline has been shocking to say the least. Sure, any athlete declines with age. But to decline as sharply as Davis did as quickly as Davis did? That's historic. How did he get here?
Out of Longview, Texas, Davis was drafted in the final round of the MLB draft by the Yankees. He declined them, and two seasons at Navarro Junior College later, he'd sign with the team he grew up just a couple hours away from: the Texas Rangers. His three and a half seasons in Texas would be up and down, both in his performance, having his OPS go from .880 as a rookie to only .726 his second season, and literally, since he'd be consistently called up to the majors or sent down to the minors depending on the injury situation at the major league level. He'd be shipped off to Baltimore at the deadline in 2011, where he would spend the rest of his career. He'd make the team despite his struggles with the 2012 Orioles, since the year prior they only won 69 games and had nothing to lose. Davis responded with a breakout season. 33 home runs, an OPS of .827, and 75 runs scored. The Orioles would break out as well, winning 93 games before falling to the Yankees in the ALDS. The best of Davis had yet to come. In 2013, he'd hit a franchise record 53 home runs, have an OPS of 1.004, lead the AL with 370 total bases, and finish third in the MVP voting behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout. Just for good measure, he'd start at first base for the American League All-Star team. This was Chris Davis at his peak. Throughout this whole season, he'd brag about how clean he was, how if he managed to hit 62 homers he'd consider himself the all-time single-season record holder, all that stuff. This would turn out to be a lie, as just the next season he'd be suspended for 25 games for amphetamines. Due to the suspension and a couple injuries, his numbers would dip slightly. Playing in only 127 games, he'd hit only 23 home runs and post only a .704 OPS. But I wouldn't consider this the fall. Not yet, anyway. He'd rebound in 2015. Yes, he did strike out 208 times. But he returned to form doing what he did best: crushing pitches, with his 47 dingers leading the AL once again, and his .923 OPS didn't hurt either. The fall would come shortly thereafter.
Chris Davis was on top of the world. He was an All-Star, the American League’s most feared home run hitter, and he was about to get paid. Sure, he struck out a lot, and he didn't really walk enough to make up for it, but you can't teach power, and you can't get more powerful than the guy who led the AL in dingers two of the past three seasons. The Orioles made sure he'd be back once he hit the open market, so they gave him seven years and $161 million. This is where he began to fall. Sure, he hit 38 homers. But his OPS dropped to .792, over 130 points. More importantly than that, he also struck out 219 times. That is the third most in a single season, behind Mark Reynolds and his 223 in 2009 and Adam Dunn's 222 in 2012. Davis's 219 may even be worse though. For Reynolds, he still had an .892 OPS that season. For Dunn, he also led the league in walks and was named an All-Star. Davis wouldn't be anywhere close to that. His 2017 was even worse. His home runs dipped to only 26, which isn't bad by any means, but for a guy whose only real tool left is power, that won't cut it. His OPS dropped another 60 points. His OPS+, which is a good measurement of how much better or worse than average a player is, dipped below the league average of 100 for the first time in a non-suspension season since 2011. If it ended there, you could make the argument he'd declined and wasn't worth the money. But it didn't end there.
There is nothing to say about Chris Davis's 2018 season except bad things. He played rather fittingly for one of the worst teams in modern history, but his stats require context. Let's start with his batting average. Before Chris Davis, the lowest batting average in a season was .179 by Rob Deer in 1991 and Dan Uggla in 2013. Then Davis hit .168 in 2018. The lowest OBP in any season since integration was Vernon Wells, who put up a .248 OBP in 2011. Then Davis put up a .243 OBP in 2018. Add in a .296 slugging, and Davis put up a pitiful .539 OPS. For context, in the modern era, Babe Ruth in 1923, Ted Williams in 1941, and Barry Bonds in 2002 and 2004 all posted an OBP higher than Chris Davis's 2018 OPS. Davis's OPS+ in 2018 was 50. German Marquez, the Rockies pitcher, had an OPS+ of 65 that season. Of course, the season ended with the first part of his now 0 for 49 streak. He continued it into this season, and shows no sign of picking it up.
Nobody wants to trade for Chris Davis. Even if a team did for some reason, he has his 10/5 rights to decline all trades. He costs too much to release. The Orioles are paying him too much money to bench him. As it stands, Baltimore is stuck with him. Normally, I'd say to remember the good times. But Chris Davis doesn't deserve that. Instead, remember him as one of the worst players in major league history.