Chris Davis is now in the record books for his hitless streak of 49 at-bats. While you wait for the Orioles first baseman to get his first hit since Sept. 14 (and for your free orange crush at Power Plant Live!), here’s what sports writers and others around the country have to say about his current streak of futility.
“Would you take $23 million a year to get booed into oblivion like Chris Davis?” Ted Berg, USA Today: My colleague Charles Curtis posed this question to me the other day, and I still can’t come up with a good answer: Would you switch places with Chris Davis right now? Would you put on a brave face and flail at Major League breaking balls, and swallow your pride and endure the constant booing and mockery of thousands of angry fans in exchange for butt-tons of money?
Part of me wants to say “oh hell yes,” and insist that I could go out every night, whiff wildly in every at-bat and wear my golden sombrero without shame due to the knowledge that I could afford an actual golden sombrero. Maybe I’d even make the John Manziel “Money” gesture on my walk back to the dugout amid thunderous boos.
But I’m a fairly competitive guy, it’s hard to figure how difficult it would be to perform so poorly and so publicly in any arena in which I once achieved such remarkable success. Chris Davis knows what it feels like to be great at baseball, and I have to guess that makes it significantly harder to stomach being bad at baseball.
“How a Hitless Chris Davis Is Like a $15 Dessert,” The New York Times: Considering the amount of money the team has committed to Davis, his situation might be less suited for a manager like [Brandon] Hyde than it is for someone like Richard Thaler, the Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
To Thaler, the Orioles’s refusal to sideline Davis is a classic example of the sunk cost fallacy, an economic principle he detailed in his book “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics.”
“A classic example is you order some dessert at a restaurant and it costs $15,” Thaler said in a phone interview. “You take a couple bites and you realize you were already full and this dessert is really rich, but you feel like you can’t waste the whole thing. So you eat more of it than you should.”
Ideally, Thaler said, the correct decision is to ignore any cost that has already been paid and evaluate the situation strictly on its own merit.
“How Should Fans React to Chris Davis’s Historic Struggle,” Sports Illustrated: Watching Chris Davis has felt like watching a player who has become truly, unequivocally, pathologically lost.
There can be a fine line between poor luck and poor performance; baseball inherently includes so much of the former that it can be tricky to definitively distinguish it from the latter. There is an entire suite of metrics devoted to uncovering this difference — stripping away luck and context to determine the truest version of the player underneath. After all, even the best hitter will have an extended slump at one point or another. It’s often just noise. But Davis’ recent performance has seemed very much like a signal. It does not feel like there is very much to peel away. It feels like this is the truest version of the player, right now, at least. What can be underneath the longest hitless streak in history?
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“The Cruelty of Chris Davis’s Record Hitless Streak,” The New Yorker: The options now are all pretty grim. The Orioles could release Davis, paying him a salary to go away. Davis could quit, taking the drastic step of forfeiting nearly a hundred million dollars, which he is still owed. Or he could agree to go to the minor leagues — per his contract, he can’t be demoted by the team without his consent — and there try to discover something that might lead to a return to form. Yet it’s hard to see what exactly he might do to get better. Some of his drop-off is a result of the increasing use of defensive shifts against him; as a dead-pull hitter, he’s had hits taken away by fielders stacked on the right side of the infield. As a viewer, it’s maddening to see a player continue to hit into the shift while there is a gaping hole on the other side — but it’s harder than it looks to suddenly overhaul one’s approach and start hitting the other way, especially for a power hitter like Davis, who earned his contract for hitting home runs, not singles.
“Chris Davis can’t hit, but the Orioles have little choice but to keep playing him,” The Washington Post: The Orioles have a mess on their hands that may have no real precedent in baseball history: a $161 million hitter who can no longer hit, a franchise-cornerstone slugger who can no longer slug — a player who is too unproductive to trade, too expensive to release, too tenured to send to the minors without his consent and too healthy, prideful and accustomed to guaranteed yearly salaries of $23 million to walk away. At stake is the $92 million still owed to Davis over the next four years. (Because of deferred money in Davis’s contract, the remaining payments are actually valued at $84.4 million in present-day dollars.)
The Orioles have little choice, in other words, except to keep working with Davis in hopes he can return to something close to his old form.
“Lessons from the Orioles' Chris Davis catastrophe,” The Baltimore Sun op-ed page: What now should be done about that commitment? The economic logic is clear but cold: Mr. Davis must go. His remaining salary — $92 million — is a “sunk” or unavoidable cost; it must be paid no matter what. The only relevant consideration is whether, going forward, retaining Mr. Davis might yield incremental benefits greater than incremental costs.
It’s tempting to hope that Mr. Davis’ bat comes back from the dead and a contending team might take on some of his salary. But even if Mr. Davis’s output ticks upward, there will be no takers for his contract: his erratic performance in recent years makes him a bad risk for contenders, which highly value dependability.
And keeping Mr. Davis on the roster in this vain hope carries a cost: He is blocking [Trey] Mancini from his best position, and therefore preventing promising young outfielders from getting valuable experience on a rebuilding club.
So it’s smart both baseball- and economics-wise to part ways with Mr. Davis. Given the haunted look in his eyes these days as he searches for his lost game, it just might be the merciful choice as well.