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.
(Via Getty Images)
NASCAR is great. It's been kind of niche for a good while, but its fanbase is still there and still dedicated. Despite that, NASCAR is determined to get a new fanbase that probably isn't there, existing fans be damned. It has turned away so many actual fans you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for Major League Baseball. But NASCAR isn't a lost cause. At least, it isn't a lost cause yet. It can be fixed, and here's how.
Market your stars
For the love of everything this sport used to represent, please NASCAR, if you do nothing else on this list, market your superstars. Every other era of NASCAR has had a national superstar even non-racing fans knew, be it Richard Petty in the 70’s, Bill Elliott in the 80’s, Dale Earnhardt in the 90’s, or Dale Earnhardt Jr in the 2000’s. The 2010’s haven't really had that guy to be the face of NASCAR. Sure, guys like Dale Jr, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson tried to really fill that role, but by now, they're all retired or at least washed up. As we enter the 2020’s, find a star and market the hell out of him. Don't choose one of the old guys like Johnson, Kyle Busch, or Martin Truex Jr. Pick someone who will could define a decade. Basically, what I'm trying to say is this: market Chase Elliott. Please.
Like most other sports, NASCAR has a de facto “minor league” system, namely, the Truck Series and the Grand National Series. Now, unlike those other sports, NASCAR not only lets the drivers in the big leagues compete in the minors, up until 2011, they actually encouraged it, allowing full-time Cup Series drivers to win championships in the lower series. Even now, NASCAR still allows Cup Series drivers to race in the lower series. End this as soon as possible. I've said this before, but if the MLB allowed Mike Trout to play a season in Triple-A while he was in the majors or if the NFL allowed Tom Brady to play a full season in college while he was still with the Patriots, every fan of every team would have a problem with it. So, why is it okay for someone like Kyle Busch to race in all three series? Not only does it hurt the development of younger drivers in these series, it makes the races less entertaining to watch. For example, this weekend's Xfinity Series race at Bristol was awesome because the only Cup Series regular in that race, Ross Chastain, wrecked out early.
End the Dash for Cash
Let's stick with the minor leagues. The Dash for Cash is at best confusing and at worst is absolutely terrible. Basically, NASCAR has four races where four drivers compete for a cash bonus, with said bonus going to the top finisher among those four. That isn't so bad. Don't get me wrong, it's pointless, unnecessary, and changing something just to say you've changed something, but ultimately it's relatively harmless. The problem is that beginning in 2016, it also decided which of those four would make the playoffs. So, in theory, a driver could fail to qualify for 32 races but finish better than three other drivers in the last four races and make the playoffs. That's just wrong.
Stop messing with the schedule
In 2020, NASCAR has decided to shake up the schedule for… no reason in particular. Now, being fair to NASCAR, there are some changes they made that are actually positive. Martinsville getting a night race will be considered fun until it's proven otherwise. Pocono getting Cup races on back to back days was something I personally wasn't a fan of, but I'll admit that the novelty of it has grown on me and I'm excited to see how it turns out. My biggest problem with the whole schedule change is changing the location of the championship race for no reason. Nobody really had any problem with the season ending at Homestead. I will gladly admit that ISM Raceway will make a good racetrack to end the season at if it's a good racetrack to end the season at. Some, most notably reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano, thought it would be cool if the Championship race was at a different racetrack every season, like how the NFL plays the Super Bowl at a different stadium every season. I just think it's a pointless change and is trying to appeal to a fanbase who couldn't care about racing.
Bring back Dodge as a manufacturer
When Toyota joined NASCAR in 2007, some old school fans left, as a foreign manufacturer had invaded a distinctly American sport. However, due to the successes of drivers like Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone still vehemently anti-Toyota. However, when Team Penske made the move to switch back to Ford in 2012, it marked the first time since the late 1940’s that Dodge was not represented in the NASCAR Cup Series. As recently as late 2018, NASCAR has shown interest in adding a fourth manufacturer for the 2021 Cup Series season. And there have been multiple manufacturers that have expressed interest in being said fourth manufacturer, most notably Nissan and, you guessed it, Dodge. Re-adding Dodge, an American manufacturer, to the Cup Series would definitely bring back some of those fans who left when Toyota joined twelve years ago.
NASCAR is a long way away from coming back, and these are nowhere close to the sport's only problems. But these are a good start to bring back some of its former fans. I love NASCAR. I grew up watching it, and I've spent all of my life watching this sport. I don't want to see it die a slow, painful death. Unfortunately, given how the France family and NASCAR itself is handling things recently, it’s looking like we're much closer to the final race in the history of NASCAR than the first.
The Baseball Hall of Fame is great. If possible, every baseball fan should make the trip to Cooperstown at least once in their lives. But it isn't perfect. There's numerous players that shouldn't be in but are, and even more that should be in but aren't. Let's look at some borderline players to see if they should have made the cut.
Ozzie Smith (Padres and Cardinals SS, 1978-96)
Ozzie might just be the greatest defensive player of all time. But is that enough to earn him an induction? Looking at the five tools, we know Ozzie’s defense is off the charts, so we can skip that, since nothing else needs to be said. His arm is alright, he would've gotten more if he played third base or any outfield position, but as it stands, it's good enough. He doesn't have blazing speed, but it's still above average, stealing 580 bases in his career. That's really good, good for xth all time. I'll give him credit where credit is due here. Offensively though? That's a diffrerent story. How does he hit for contract? Only .262 for his career. That isn't good by any means. However, it can be excused with power. Harmon Killebrew’s batting average was lower than that at .256, but his 573 home runs are more than enough to get him inducted. Ozzie has the most famous home run in Cardinals history this side of David Freese, but he hit only 28 for his career. I can't ignore his offense when it's such a big part of the game. My verdict is: he doesn't deserve induction.
Kenny Lofton (Indians, Astros, Braves, White Sox, Giants, Pirates, Cubs, Yankees, Phillies, Dodgers, and Rangers CF, 1991-2007)
In recent years, Lofton has been a sabermetrics darling. However, he got only 3.2% of the vote his first and only year on the ballot, leading to his dropping off the ballot. Did he deserve better? Just like with Ozzie, let's start with the positives. Lofton had blazing speed. His 622 stolen bases are 15th all time. His defense was also a plus, as he was one of the best defensive center fielders of his era. He wasn't too bad on contact either, hitting a respectable .299 for his career. That's even higher than Mickey Mantle’s. However, just like with Ozzie, it's Lofton's power numbers that bring him down. So, Lofton played 17 years in the major leagues. How many dingers did you think he hit in that time? You can probably tell he's not a huge power guy, but how many did he hit? Maybe 250? Maybe 300? More than that? No. He hit 130. There's no excuse for a player who played that long to have that few homers. Nolan Arenado already beat him in less than half the time. And besides, look at his ballot: Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell, Mike Piazza, and even more who made it to Cooperstown. My verdict is: the BBWAA made the right choice. Lofton shouldn't get in.
Barry Bonds (Pirates and Giants LF, 1986-2007)
Barry Bonds is one of the most controversial players in any sport of all time. Statistically, he is a Hall of Famer. 762 home runs (the most all-time), 162.8 WAR (the most all-time), 2558 walks (the most all-time), and countless other records. However, he has yet to be inducted due to the cloud of steroids hanging over his head. It's as clear as day. No player who is clean can hit much more than 60 homers in a season. Hitting 73 in a season? That's essentially impossible for a clean player. He must have been on something. And that's why I agree with the BBWAA. The Baseball Hall of Fame is a sacred place, and it shouldn't be tainted with cheaters. My verdict is: the BBWAA is making the right decision keeping him out.
There are more borderline cases than just these guys, but they're the most famous. And at the end of the day, none of them deserve to be inducted.
We are so close to baseball season. In fact, tomorrow is Opening Day for most teams, if we discount the Ichiro Retirement Tour that was the Tokyo Series. So, why not look at some bold predictions for the oldest professional league in sports, the National League?
Clayton Kershaw will win the Cy Young
It's incredible that only a few years ago this wasn't bold, but a foregone conclusion. Kershaw has accomplished everything in the game of baseball with the notable exception of winning the World Series (which he very well could still do). Kershaw had his “worst” full season since 2010 where he still posted a 2.73 ERA but missed the All-Star Game for the first time since that 2010 season. However, this year he'll be (mostly) healthy and back to being Clayton Kershaw, winning his fourth Cy Young over finalists Max Scherzer and….
Josh Hader is a Cy Young Finalist
Josh Hader is the best relief pitcher since Mariano Rivera retired. Who else can even compare? Hader's 2018 was just straight dominance, leading to his first ever All-Star appearance. He completely (almost singlehandedly) changed the ways relievers are looked at in Major League Baseball. No more will relief pitchers be judged on how will they finish the job like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, but rather how they can come in whenever and how they can shut down an offense in a jam. I call this the Josh Hader revolution, but that's a story for another time. Expect Hader to have the greatest season of any reliever since Zach Britton was in his prime.
Craig Kimbrel goes unsigned until May, then signs with the Brewers
If Josh Hader singlehandedly revolutionized all relief pitchers, then Craig Kimbrel is the last hope for outdated “traditionalists” who still think closers are necessary for a good team to do anything successful. For what it's worth, Kimbrel is a good relief pitcher. Sure, if this was fifteen or twenty years ago, Kimbrel would be rivaling The Great Mariano as the best reliever in the majors, but he's still solid. His fatal flaw is his lack of versatility. While Hader can come in whenever, Kimbrel is only useful in the ninth or extras, and only then in save situations. Still, he could help a team, but not for the first month. He will sign with the reigning NL Central Champions, the Milwaukee Brewers. Why? The Brewers have a pretty good bullpen including Hader and fellow 2018 NL All-Star Jeremy Jeffress. They're the only team (except the Braves) to show real interest in Kimbrel, and they don't have a real “closer” in case they think that's important, for some reason. Signing Kimbrel will give the Brewers a 1-2-3 punch out of the bullpen and would probably be the best bullpen in at least the National League.
The Rockies win the NL West
The Rockies are very much on the rise. German Marquez and Kyle Freeland look to be blossoming, which is great news for a team that claims its best pitcher in franchise history as Ubaldo Jimenez. Trevor Story is blossoming into an MVP candidate, guys like David Dahl and Raimel Tapia have untapped potential, Daniel Murphy replaces DJ LeMahieu at second, which is at worst a wash and at best an improvement, they have the National League's best manager in Bud Black, and that's not even mentioning their franchise faces of Charlie Blackmon and especially Nolan Arenado. Don't be surprised if the Dodgers start to slip after back to back World Series losses, despite having won the NL West for six consecutive seasons.
Lorenzo Cain wins MVP
In the AL, the best center fielder is obvious: Mike Trout. But what about the National League? That's not so clear. I know nobody cares about defense, but I believe it's Lorenzo Cain. In Milwaukee, Cain has been even better than he was in Kansas City. But didn't a Brewers outfielder win MVP a year ago? Yes, Christian Yelich did. But here's the thing: for a lot of the season, Cain was just as good as Yelich. After the All-Star break though, Yelich flipped the switch. His OPS was 1.219 over the second half of the season. To put that number into context, only six players have ever OPSed 1.219 in a full season: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Rogers Hornsby, Lou Gehrig, and Mark McGwire. Before the break, Yelich would OPS .823, still good, but nowhere close to his second half. Cain's first half OPS was .820, just below Yelich. In fact, in that first half, Cain posted a higher OBP than Yelich did. It's more likely for Lorenzo Cain to keep on keeping on than it is for Christian Yelich to post a historically great season. Don't be surprised if Yelich has another good season, but Cain will outperform him in 2019.
The Milwaukee Brewers win the World Series
That's what, four Brewers predictions? Well, they should be optimistic after what they've done over the past few seasons, going from 73-89 in 2016 to 86-76 and the brink of the playoffs in 2017 to 96-67 and one game from the National League Pennant in 2018. They've taken a massive step forward every season ever since Craig Counsell got the interim tag removed, and there's isn't really any reason to believe they won't do more of the same in 2019, especially since they retained most of their same players. So, amazingly, the Milwaukee Brewers are my pick to advance to their second World Series in franchise history (remember: they won the American League Pennant back in 1982 before losing to the Cardinals) and they will capture their first ever World Series championship. And just for good measure, your 2019 World Series MVP will be Travis Shaw, and they'll win the series in six games.
So those are my bold predictions for the National League. Remember to check out my American League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.
(Via Mike Strobe/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, baseball is almost here. 2019’s Opening Day is on Thursday (well, except for that Japan Series which existed solely to pad Ichiro's stats and send him into retirement) so why not take a look at some bold predictions for the league of the reigning World Series champion, the American League?
The Red Sox don't produce an MVP Finalist
The Red Sox are very good, and barring something unforeseen, they will still be great in 2019. A huge part of that is Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up for the AL MVP in 2016 before winning it in 2018. JD Martinez also got some MVP talk last season although he wasn't named a finalist, finishing fourth in the voting. Now, they're both great players, but even for all-time greats (which, I should say, neither of them are yet) it's difficult to repeat an MVP-caliber season. So, if the Red Sox don't have someone make it to the finalists, who does? Well, Mike Trout is a given, considering he's never finished lower than second in a season where he was fully healthy. Another finalist is Alex Bregman, which sounds bold, but really isn't considering how good he actually is, and the last one….
Giancarlo Stanton is an MVP Finalist
Here's something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, but is very much true: Giancarlo Stanton is good. Like, really good. “But he wasn't that good last season” you say. Well, you're not looking at the stats and instead choosing to follow a preconceived narrative created by a former Stanton fan and parroted by Red Sox fans who think Sweet Caroline is a good song, it's okay to wear pink hats to games, and that Dustin Pedroia should have his jersey retired. But I digress. Stanton still hit 38 homers and scored 100 runs in 2018, so if that's bad, then when he has a “good” season, watch out. A “good” season for Stanton is like his 2017 season, where he hit 59 home runs, OPSed 1.007, and won NL MVP. It's the only fully healthy season he's ever had. Even in 2018 he was injured down the stretch but still played due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In 2019, he'll return to healthy form and begin punishing AL pitchers like nothing the league has seen since the days of prime A-Rod.
Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer gets traded
On the surface, this doesn't make that much sense. Why would a team fresh off three consecutive playoff appearances trade one or both of their All-Star pitchers? Well, it was a possibility this offseason. It was rumored one or both of them were on the block, but ultimately they held on to both. The Indians are well behind the rest of the league when it comes to this whole “spending money for good players” thing, saying it'll take a contract over $1 billion for them to even consider a $300 million contract, so it does make sense for them to clear more money for Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to turn down.
Dallas Keuchel signs with the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays won 90 games last season thanks to the revolution of the opener. Despite that, they had an ace going every fifth day in your reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They added 2018 All-Star Charlie Morton, but you really need two great starters to contend. Let's just quickly look at the last three World Series winners as proof of that: the 2018 Red Sox had Chris Sale and David Price, the 2017 Astros had Justin Verlander and Keuchel, and the 2016 Cubs had Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The Rays have one great starter in Snell, and they very well could add another Cy Young winner in Keuchel.
Yusei Kikuchi pulls a Valenzuela
Firstly, what is a Valenzuela? This has only been done by Fernando Valenzuela with the 1981 Dodgers, hence the name. Now that we got that out of the way, who is Yusei Kikuchi? You can probably deduce he's a starting pitcher and a rookie, but what about beyond that? Well, he throws and bats lefty, he's 28 years old, and this past offseason, he signed with the Mariners after eight seasons pitching for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese league, Nippon Professional Baseball. That team is the same team that produced former major leaguers Kaz Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka. So, am I saying that just because his team also produced a couple former big leaguers who aren't really that great? Well, Yusei Kikuchi is actually good. He's posted an ERA of 2.80 in his Japanese career, and he's just entering his prime. I know it's more popular to pick Chris Sale or Justin Verlander for the Cy Young and Vlad Jr for the Rookie of the Year, but last time the Mariners signed a late-20's Japanese rookie it turned out alright.
Chris Sale does not start the All-Star Game
Chris Sale is great. Historically so. He's made seven consecutive All-Star games, and for the past three seasons, he's been the American League starting pitcher in the Midsummer Classic. But that streak will come to an end this year. Barring a major injury or something else completely unforeseen, he will make his eighth straight All-Star team, but for the first time since Dallas Keuchel started in 2015, another pitcher will start the All-Star Game for the American League. Who will it be? Well, Yusei Kikuchi would be in line with my Cy Young pick, but I doubt a rookie will actually be given the starting job, even in an exhibition game. More than likely, it'll be someone like Justin Verlander, maybe his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole, or even someone like the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
So those are my bold predictions for the American League. Remember to check out my National League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.