Chris Davis and the world’s worst case of homesickness

Chris Davis and the world’s worst case of homesickness

In a sad state of affairs, the Washington Capitals closed out the Vegas Golden Knights in five games to win the Stanley Cup last night. I had them in six. Tonight, the Golden State Warriors can sweep the Cleveland Cavaliers, the thought of which curdles Charlie Red‘s blood. If that happens, sports fans who can’t make it through 45 minutes without a commercial and will thus skip the World Cup, will be left with two options: Major League Baseball or going to the drive-in every night to binge-watch the new Halloween reboot.

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One is a frightening prospect. Assuming you’re not an Orioles fan, that would be the drive-in. Baroness Haden-Guest, aka Jaime Lee Curtis, is still kinda hot at 59, but shouting “Don’t open the damned door!” might get old after a week or so. There’s always going to be a lunatic in a mask behind it, and he’ll never say a word.

Jaime Lee Curtis in the 2018 Halloween reboot.

Baseball gives us two lunatics in masks. The umpire speaks but its gibberish. Mostly, you understand what he means by the violent gestures he makes. The catcher crouches in front of him, frantically signalling for help that never arrives.

The most frightening thing in the 2018 baseball season, however, is seeing Chris Davis at the plate. The Baltimore first baseman is on pace to have the worst batting season in baseball history. Through 55 games his line is .152/.232/.232. His slugging percentage is equal to his on-base percentage, which is sabermetrics for the slugger is not slugging.

He has four home runs and 15 rbi, meaning he has driven in 11 teammates. ESPN’s David Schoenfeld helpfully relates 109 runners have been on base when Davis has batted. Worse, he has scored only five times when not driving himself in. That’s from 22 singles, four doubles, 19 walks and one base reached on an error. In other words, he’s picking up runners roughly 10% of the time and being driven in by his teammates at an 11% [rounding up]. Davis is bad but his teammates aren’t much better.

Baltimore is probably reluctant to send their slumping infielder to the minors on a one-way $23 million/year contract. They are hoping the problem can be solved at Camden Yards. If it isn’t, Davis may produce the worst negative Wins Above Replacement score the game has seen. Worse, he may break Leo Cardenas’ 1972 record for fewest runs scored in a season. The Angels Cuban-born shortstop touched home plate 25 times that year. Davis projects to only 24.

It’s one thing to say you can never go home in life. In baseball, though…

The data shifts on shifts

Today is my day for learning from ESPN writers. Stat geek Bradford Doolittle reported on the data upgrade for shift analysis in MLB. Before the addition, numbers were only available for balls put in play when a shift was on. Now, every pitch is documented.

Whereas the consensus had been defensive shifts produced more outs by overloading whichever side a pull hitter favors, the new numbers show more walks are surrendered than hits saved.

Seeing four infielders in their hitting zone has intimidated hitters into being more selective about swinging at inside pitches. With an imbalanced defence behind them, pitchers are reluctant to throw strikes the batter can send the opposite way. Instead, they throw off the plate and put the runner on.

Unless pitchers can find a way to get pull hitters to bite, the new numbers may result in fewer shifts being put on, if any at all. If it results in more pitches put in play, that can only be good for the game.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.


How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

How the Baltimore Orioles can win the World Series next year

I know, I know. The Baltimore Orioles are bad. They’re 13-30 one game into their four-game weekend set with Boston. That’s the second-worst record in Major League Baseball. What am I doing talking about them winning it all next season?

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Hey, it’s not like worst-to-first doesn’t happen now and then. The Amazing Mets pulled it off in 1969. Kirby Puckett’s Minnesota Twins managed it in 1991. The Red Sox fired Bobby Valentine, hired John Farrell and did the deed in 2013. It’s at least a generational thing. Of course, that could mean it’s too soon for the O’s, but there’s another interesting trend that suggests they might have a chance, even though it isn’t something a sane person would put money on right now.

David Price looked like his normal pre-All Star self in the first game of the current series. He pitched the full nine innings against Baltimore. Manny Machado ruined his bid for a complete-game shutout by crushing a two-run shot with two out in the ninth. The Bosox were already up six when the shortstop took Price yard for his 14th of the season.

If Buck Showalter was Rich Renteria, we might be talking about his job being on the line. That is the difference between owning a 1517-1432 record and being 151-213. The O’s boss has roughly ten times the experience of his Chisox counterpart.

While that experience counts him in good stead, it can also work against him. With Showalter, what you’ve seen in the past seems to be what you get in the present. He can lay the foundation for a contender but can’t seem to build the roof. Maybe we should be talking about the team cutting ties with the skipper.

In his first three seasons with the Yankees, the then-30-something maverick led the Bronx Bombers to fourth, second, and first-place finishes in the American League East. He did it by relying more on the farm system than free agency. When the team fell back to second in his fourth season, George Steinbrenner panicked, firing Showalter and hiring Joe Torre. The former catcher and first-baseman took Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada et al to a World Series title in his first campaign.

Even though the expansion Diamondbacks wouldn’t begin play for two seasons, Arizona immediately hired Showalter to help them design their minor league system. Again, the club improved in his second season, winning 100 games before falling to the Mets in the playoffs. A regression to 85 wins in his third season left him looking for work again while Bob Brenly delivered the franchise’s only World Series title on the strength of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling’s pitching, and Luis Gonzalez’s clutch hitting.

Another manager wins a World Series on the back of Buck Showalter's good work.

Following another three-year hiatus, Showalter spent four seasons in Texas. Once more, the best year was the second, although the Rangers never rose above third in the AL West during his tenure, and successor Ron Washington needed another four years to build the Arlington club into two-time American League champions.

The first of those pennants coincided with Showalter’s arrival at Camden Yards. After short spells with his previous clubs, Baltimore has shown more faith in the 61-year-old. This is his eighth campaign yet, despite CEO Peter Angelos’ trust, Showalter hasn’t taken his game or the Orioles’ to the next level.

It’s been the same old Buck in Baltimore. The first season was a write-off followed by a strong 93-win second year. Predictably, year three was a step back. Angelos stuck with Showalter, though, and the manager produced his best season in year four, going 96-66. Then, he failed to maintain that level. The O’s played .500 ball in 2015, won 89 the next season and 75 last year. With this season’s woeful start, the pattern of one good season, one bad isn’t even sustainable anymore.

Manny Machado's bat is the one good thing about the Baltimore Orioles in 2018.

Despite a decent roster, the Orioles don’t look like bouncing back in 2018. Machado is the only player producing. He’s on the early-season AL MVP radar with a .339 batting average, 14 HRs, 40 RBI and 26 runs scored. He’s earning a base on balls for virtually every strikeout (23:24) and sports a ridiculous .418/.661/1.079 line. The problem is the rest of the order is letting him down.

Centerfielder Adam Jones is not getting on base enough. In a season where pitchers are walking more batters than ever, Jones is hitting .253. He hasn’t drawn enough walks to boost that number by 20 points. His on-base percentage is only .271. Compare that with the 79-point bump Machado is providing.

Slugger Chris Davis has a pitiful .248/.275/.523 line, his batting average below the Mendoza line. Mark Trumbo has better numbers but just 60 plate appearances. Showalter is showing the same misplaced faith in Davis that the owner has in him.

Meanwhile, Tim Beckham and Anthony Santander are on the 60 and 40-day DLs respectively. Colby Rasmus is on the 10-day version. Caleb Joseph has been sent down to Norfolk.

The pitching is no more encouraging. The staff is carrying a 5.09 ERA and 1.496 WHIP. They’re 10th in the Al in walks, 11th in strikeouts. The busier rotation is the movement between the DL and active status.

Overall, it’s a bleak picture. So, why do I think the Orioles can win it all next year? You may have noticed what happens to teams after Showalter leaves. The Yankees and Diamondbacks both earned trips to the White House. Texas took longer but won two pennants under Showalter’s replacement. Like Meatloaf said, two out of three ain’t bad.

Admittedly, I’m grasping at straws, but sometimes you just need to get out of your own way. Peter Angelos has had seven years to see that Buck Showalter has nothing more to offer. If he decides to let him go while there are still talented, hopeful pieces for a new man to work with, there’s a 67% chance the club can put a championship run together.

And why not? It’s not like the Orioles are going anywhere now.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.