Tactical genius or over-managing nonsense?

Cast your mind back to Friday 14th September, 2018. I’ll remind you if you can’t remember. The Baltimore Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox in front of 18,000 fans.  The two teams had combined for 194 losses, and there were still a couple of weeks of the season to play. It was a 24℃ Friday evening for drinking and socialising at the ballpark.

With a three-run lead, White Sox starter James Shields returned to the mound in the bottom of the second inning. He gave up a solo homer to designated hitter Trey Mancini. It was the first of two long balls Shields would concede to the rookie in this game.

Next up was first baseman Chris Davis. 2018 would be the worst season of his career, and one of the worst in history. In fact, no player with at least 500 plate appearances has ever hit lower than Davis’ .168.

But Davis came to the plate almost enjoying a hot streak, having hit .223 over his previous 100 plate appearances; a significant improvement on the .160 over the first 400 plate appearances of the season.

Anyway, Shields tossed a changeup which Davis hit to right field for a double. This was an unremarkable hit in the most unremarkable of games.

Much has been written about Davis’ contract being the worst in baseball, but no-one could have predicted such a precipitous fall in production.

When he agreed the seven-year, $161 million pact with the Orioles, Davis was just 29 years old and coming off a season where he led the league in home runs and was voted the Orioles Player of the Year.

  • Player A (age 26-28 seasons): 226 runs, 97 home runs, 293 RBI, .273 AVG, .929 OPS
  • Player B (age 26-28 seasons): 268 runs, 127 home runs, 327 RBI, .252 AVG, .891 OPS

It’s a sloppy comparison, but it illustrates just how good Davis (Player B) was when the Orioles tied him up for the rest of his career. Player A is Giancarlo Stanton.

Davis’ $161 million pact was the largest in Orioles history, far eclipsing the six-year, $72 million deal given to Miguel Tejada in 2004. Baltimore thought they were tying up a franchise player, but instead, they have their rebuilding hands tied with $23 million for each of the next four seasons going to a negative-WAR player.

Fast forward to Tuesday 3rd April, 2019. The Orioles, fresh from their opening series victory over the Yankees, travelled across the border to face the Toronto Blue Jays.

Having narrowly taken the first game 6-5, they now faced Marcus Stroman in game two.

In Davis’ first at-bat, he struck out looking on four pitches. In the second, he struck out swinging. In his third at-bat, the slugger faced lefty-killer Tim Mayza and lofted a weak flyball into centre field.

In the top of the ninth inning, with the Blue Jays still down 0-2, relief pitcher Javy Guerra struck out Rio Ruiz but allowed Joey Rickard to get on base.

When Davis came to the plate, he was mired in an 0-for-32 hitless streak. He hadn’t registered a hit since that cloudy September evening in Maryland last year. Behind him in the lineup were veteran catcher Jesus Sucre and infielder Hanser Alberto; they had combined for three hits in the game.

Despite Guerra being a right-hander without particular platoon splits, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo indicated that they will intentionally walk Davis.

It worked out fine because Guerra struck out Sucre and then got Alberto to line out to third, and although Rowdy Tellez homered in the bottom of the ninth, the Orioles clung on for the victory.

I don’t know whether this was over-managing or tactical genius, but I doubt there will be too many occasions when Davis is intentionally walked during the rest of his career.

As everyone knows, Davis is creating history with a hitless-streak, which on Thursday 11 April, stretched to 0-for-53. So it begs the question, given the same situational position, how long does Chris Davis’ hitless streak have to extend before Montoya would have pitched to him?

The Blue Jays face the Orioles in June. If Davis is enduring a historic 0-for-168 stretch, does he get walked? There must be a number where a player’s performance trumps the traditional bullpen usage.

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