Friday, April 12, 2019

The "Crush" Crash

The Twins didn't play Thursday; it was yet another scheduled off day. They won't play today either, for reasons obvious to everybody living south of, let's say, Brainerd.

So let's talk something else. Let's talk about the astounding combination of incompetence and bad luck that is Chris Davis, the Baltimore Orioles first baseman who went 0-3 on Thursday. He has now gone hitless in 53 straight at-bats and counting dating back to last year.

This is the longest hitless streak for a position player in major league history. (Bob Buhl, a pitcher of the 1950s and '60s, went 0-for-88 to establish the overall record. He hit .089 for his career.)

Davis, unlike Buhl, is a hitter of some accomplishment. He hit 53 homers in 2013; he led the league in homers again in 2015 with 47, and has two other seasons with more than 30 dingers. He also has two seasons of 200-plus strikeouts and three more in the 190s and has never been known as a hitter for average. He's an all-or-nothing batter.

But "Crush" Davis -- a play on the Crash Davis character in the Bull Durham movie -- got the "all" result on his swings often enough that after that 2015 season the Orioles signed him to a seven-year contract at $23 million a season.

It would be an overstatement to blame the last two offseasons' free-agent freeze on Davis' implosion, but it would be silly to ignore it as a factor, Davis turned 30 before the 2016 season opened; in his 30s he is now .198/.295/.388.  His story is not the reason to avoid signing aging sluggers, but it has become a prominent cautionary tale.

Davis hit .165 last season, and is obviously .000 this year. He's hit a few balls hard this year, but not enough to say he's just hitting in hard luck. The .165 may be a pretty accurate measure at this point.

Cue Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler singing "Money for Nothing." If Davis were hitting .165, he would just draw scorn; .000 makes him something of sympathetic figure. And I do feel for the man. Failure on this level in the public space he occupies is not fun. He's not trying to be this bad, certainly, but he also seems unable to change that which once worked and no longer does.

The men who signed him to that contract are gone; the new Baltimore regime is without the emotional investment that Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter had in him. Much as ownership would like to get something out of the (almost) four remaining seasons on Davis' contract, there will come a time when playing him gets in the way of somebody they need to develop. I don't think that's the case yet.

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