Orioles hope Chris Davis can 'start over' after worst season at plate in baseball history

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun

Perhaps he knew at the time, but Chris Davis' season ended a week before his Orioles teammates after a hitless day Sept. 22 at Yankee Stadium, his ninth such performance in 10 games that lowered his batting average to .168.

Manager Buck Showalter said after Davis sat the entire series at the Boston Red Sox that the first baseman would play once on the homestand. But instead, Davis and the team reversed course, sending the 32-year-old slugger into the offseason after the third year of his seven-year contract with only questions about what they can possibly do with him and get from him going forward.

Showalter tried to put a positive spin on it, but cautioned that a week of watching his teammates fight and compete down the stretch might not be the remedy Davis needs.

"Reboot," Showalter said. "Start over. Actually, Chris, we've had a number of conversations this year, and I had one with him here recently a day or two ago, where he was talking about this time — the first time other than the time he took some time off to try to restart a little bit [in June], how he sees some things. Without getting too deep or revealing some of the things we talk about, this last week or two, or whatever it's been, might be real beneficial to him this offseason. Sometimes, you go, ‘Is it this, is it that? Is my bat too heavy? Is my bat too light?’ Sometimes, that never gets corrected. But I know that Chris will do whatever he possibly can to do that.

"Believe me, he's not happy. Sometimes, we think that they're not just 'Que sera sera. I'll go home and this never happened.' That doesn't happen with people, especially Chris. People say, ‘I'd love to have a job with a week off and get paid X amount.’ But I think he's able to really reflect on a lot of things. Now, does he still have the talent or whatever, the skill set to do those things again? We'll see. But it's been a long period of tough times for him and those pulling for him.”

Davis has plenty of aspects that change might benefit. His .168 batting average was the lowest of any qualifying major league player in a century, and of any player since the league adopted its current 162-game schedule. Washington Senators catcher John Henry hit .169 in 309 plate appearances in 1914, but that doesn't qualify by modern standards.

Davis hit 16 home runs this season, his fewest since he joined the Orioles in 2011. And though his week on the bench left him with 192 strikeouts and below the ignominious mark of 200 for the second straight year, his 36.8 percent strikeout rate was the highest in the majors. The only qualifier to ever post a higher one was Davis last year at 37.2 percent, while the Texas Rangers' Joey Gallo matched the 36.8 percent rate last year as well.

This past season alone, Davis had that June reboot where he sat out for over a week and worked with vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson to rediscover his form. But that came after Showalter's ill-fated decision to bat Davis leadoff the first five games of the season, which among other things contributed to their 1-5 start as the offense never got going. Davis also somewhat regularly sat against left-handers and got frequent time off to stay fresh.

As he sat down the stretch, though, the Orioles were able to get Trey Mancini out of the outfield to play first base, a trend that started when Mark Trumbo went out in August with a knee injury that required surgery. Mancini ceding left field gave the team a chance to play as many of Cedric Mullins, DJ Stewart, Adam Jones, Joey Rickard and John Andreoli in the outfield as possible. While Jones is unlikely to return after reaching free agency, the likes of Austin Hays and Anthony Santander could rejoin that mix next season, making it imperative for the Orioles to free up a third outfield spot and keep Mancini at first base.

But Davis' contract, which has $68 million in present-day money remaining over four years plus $42 million in deferred money owed after the deal ends, means the Orioles will have to either make an unprecedented buyout attempt to move on from him or rebuild their team around him — and hope Showalter's uncertainty about his ability to regain his old slugging form is unfounded.

Chris Davis’ season by the numbers

Batting average: .168 (lowest in baseball’s modern era by a player with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title)

Home runs: 16 (his fewest in seven full seasons with the Orioles)

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