Chris Davis: Comeback Player of the Year?

Earlier this year, I penned a post evaluating Chris Davis as an American League MVP candidate. The Baltimore Orioles were still holding tenuously to a playoff berth at the time. A dreadful late-August to early-September slump, however, torpedoed the chances of both of those things happening. Chris Davis will not win the MVP, although he should get a few votes, and the Orioles will not make the playoffs.

There is another award Davis should be considered for, however. Comeback Player of the Year.

Let’s flash back to the epic 2013 season turned in by Chris Davis — .286/.370/.634 with 53 HR and 138 RBI. He led the league in homers, runs driven in, and total bases. For his efforts, Davis was rewarded with a Silver Slugger and a third place finish in the MVP voting. Had the Orioles been able to make the playoffs that year, Davis may have wrestled the award away from Miguel Cabrera.

While that 2013 season was an epic one for Davis, he did most of his damage in the first “half” of the season. I’ll utilize air quotes on “half” because Davis played 95 games before the All-Star break that year. Before the Midsummer Classic, Davis hit 37 of his 53 home runs and drove in 93 of his 138 runs. He slashed .315/.392/.717. What Bryce Harper has been for the Washington Nationals this season, Davis was for the Orioles — historically good.

Davis was not historically good for the Orioles in the second half of 2013, a sign of things to come. Over the final 65 games of the year, Davis slashed only .245/.339/.515 with 16 HR and 45 RBI. He struck out 89 times in 65 games.

The 2014 season saw Davis fall into a colossal slump. He batted below the Mendoza Line in 127 games and struck out 173 times in 450 at-bats. To make matters worse, Davis tested positive for Adderall and missed the playoffs entirely due to his suspension.

Things weren’t that much better for Davis to start this season. On May 26, his batting average bottomed out at .208. Over the 240 games starting at the 2013 All-Star break and spanning all the way through the first two months of the 2015 season, Davis was a .215 hitter with 331 strikeouts in 859 at-bats. Nearly 40-percent of his official at-bats ended in a strikeout. After looking like the sport’s hope for a truly clean 60-homer season for the first half of 2013, Davis turned into Dave Kingman with an even lower batting average.

Davis could not have looked more lost at the plate during the early going this season. He was, at one point, on pace for over 250 strikeouts, a pace that would have obliterated the single season record. Somehow, though, he found a way to flip the switch. Davis now leads the league with 43 home runs, and could have as many as five more were he not robbed by highlight reel catches. He’s been clutch too, knocking 12 of his home runs in late and close situations. Strikeouts will always be a concern, and Davis has racked up over 200 of them this year, but he has resurrected his batting average from .208 all the way up to .256 while also showing an ability to hit left-handed pitching.

In any other year, Chris Davis would be a great candidate for Comeback Player of the Year. The comeback player of the year does not necessarily have to be coming off injury. Cliff Lee and Fernando Rodney have won the award in the past by bouncing back from inconsistency. Davis looked lost at the plate for nearly a season and a half, but has looked like the most dangerous hitter in the league for much of the second half of this year. Unfortunately, players like Kendrys Morales and Prince Fielder faced even more adversity and are playing on better teams. Davis was expected to return to form in 2015, but neither Morales or Fielder was expected to ever come close to duplicating their All-Star form. Then there’s Alex Rodriguez to consider although there is no way of predicting how eager the writers will be to vote for him coming off a 162-game suspension. Davis has the best numbers of the bunch, but comeback player of the year is an award that is also based on narrative, and Davis just comes up a little short when compared to the others.

Chris Davis would make a compelling comeback story in most years, but in 2015, he’s the third- or fourth-best option for the voters to choose from. Davis is unlikely to claim a postseason award this year, but that should not take anything away from the monster return to form he has produced this year. The Orioles will have to think long and hard about bringing Davis back as he enters free agency. On the heels of this season, it’s hard to imagine the franchise going forward without its most dangerous power threat.

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