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— A Timely Look at Transactions as They Happen

Thursday, February 24, 2011

ZiPS Time Machine:  Eric Davis

Eric Davis finished his career with 6147 plate appearances, a 125 OPS+, 3 Gold Gloves in center and earning votes in the MVP balloting for 6 seasons.  A career that most players would be extremely happy to have, but as an end result from one of the brightest young stars of his time, a disappointment.  Davis serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks that their favorite superstar will continue to be one forever.

So for this exercise, I went back and had ZiPS project the rest of Eric Davis’s career (in Cincinnati) based on his play through the 1990 season (after the season, he required surgery for both a kidney injury and a knee injury).  To simulate Davis being a healthier player, I gave him a 15% playing time boost prior to 1991 to simulate him being a more durable player who could play 140-150 games a year.  In the opinion of ZiPS, Davis’s abilities justified the early belief that he was heading for Cooperstown.

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Dan Szymborski Posted: February 24, 2011 at 09:29 PM | 43 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Dan Szymborski Posted: February 24, 2011 at 09:44 PM (#3757597)
Doh, forgot to adjust for the strike years like I usually do for this.
   2. Dan Szymborski Posted: February 24, 2011 at 09:56 PM (#3757623)
OK, all fixed now.
   3. Moe Greene Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:04 PM (#3757631)
Having spent much of my youth in Cincinnati, I have very fond memories of Eric Davis. While I sensed that he was generally liked by Cincinnatians, throughout his career in Cincinnati there was always a large amount of fans' grousing about his inability to stay healthy and questions about how tough he was. As a youngster at the time I didn't think much of it -- honestly, I probably laughed at the jokes -- but in retrospect, I kind of feel bad for the guy. In that sense he was like an earlier version of Adam Dunn: despite the fact that they were both great players, a large portion of the local fans spent a huge amount of energy complaining about what ED & Dunn couldn't do. As a result, I felt like neither received the appreciation in Cincinnati that they should have while they were there.

Davis spent his final season -- 2001 -- with the Giants. His final series in Cincinnati was in early August. At that point, he'd already announced he was planning on retiring at the end of the season. A friend of mine and I decided to go to the stadium to catch the first game of the series. It was nice to see Bonds in 2001, sure (and he did hit a homer in the game); but our biggest reason for going was to see ED play one more time and pay the respects that I felt like maybe he hadn't received enough of in the earlier part of his career. When he stepped to the plate for the first time, the Cincinnati crowd gave him a minute-long standing ovation that stopped the game. I was so proud of the fans, so happy that I could be a part of it, and I hoped that Davis appreciated it. One of my fondest baseball memories.
   4. vortex of dissipation Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:21 PM (#3757650)
Eric Davis's two-run home run off Dave Stewart in the first inning of the 1990 WS was one of the most stunning events I've ever seen in baseball. It was assumed by many that Oakland was going to streamroll the Reds, and that home run deflated the Athletics' balloon. Stewart's glare just didn't seem intimidating after that.

I remember calling my Mum on the phone right after the home run, and telling her "It's over". After that home run, at least to this diehard Reds fan, Cincinnati wasn't going to lose...
   5. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:30 PM (#3757666)
I don't know quite what I was expecting but those numbers still feel a bit underwhelming to me. Considering the addition to his pre-1991 time you made I expected...more.
   6. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:32 PM (#3757667)
I was so proud of the fans, so happy that I could be a part of it, and I hoped that Davis appreciated it

I'm positive that Davis said during that series how much the ovations meant to him. I'm also positive that those ovations are a large reason why he decided to come back and work with the Reds in Spring Training and over the course of the season (I have no idea what his current role with the club is).
   7. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:38 PM (#3757679)
He was very well-regarded in his Baltimore tenure.

A guy with 30 home runs and 90 stolen bases would be something to see. Has anyone actually done that?
   8. James Darnell's #1 Fan Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:41 PM (#3757680)
Loved seeing this guy play when I was younger and one if the reasons I started playing baseball also. That 1990 World Series with ED, Sabo, Larkin, O'Neill, Morris, Duncan, Hatcher, Braggs... didn't really liked Joe Oliver, tho... And the pitching of Rijo, Myers, Dibble, Charlton; that was a good and exciting team, man.
   9. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:44 PM (#3757683)
Even without the bump in playing time, Davis was ridiculously good in 1987. A good CF with 50 SBs (and very few CS), 80+ walks, and 37 HRs...craziness.
   10. kthejoker Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:44 PM (#3757685)
In '86 Rickey hit 28 and stole 87. He and Eric Davis are the only people who have even 16 home runs and stolen 70 bases.
   11. AROM Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:46 PM (#3757686)
He was very well-regarded in his Baltimore tenure.


He certainly was. How on earth could you not cheer for a guy who came to the ballpark straight from a chemo session and hit 327/388/582?
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM (#3757693)
One of my favorite players as a kid. I loved guys with a power/speed combo like that. Always seemed like a class act too, even before the cancer. But yea, in the late 80s it seemed like he and fellow Crenshaw High alum Daryl Strawberry were pretty much slam dunk HOFers.
   13. The Good Face Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:52 PM (#3757696)
Loved seeing this guy play when I was younger


Same. Young Eric Davis was unique. He somehow melded explosive power with a sort of smooth gracefulness that was something to behold... everything he did on the field was faster than the other players, but he never looked hurried or jerky.
   14. Johnny Sycophant-Laden Fora Posted: February 24, 2011 at 10:56 PM (#3757698)
I don't know quite what I was expecting but those numbers still feel a bit underwhelming to me. Considering the addition to his pre-1991 time you made I expected...more.


ditto, his OPS/OPS+/PA looks to be in Jim Rice territory (of course with significantly greater defensive and baserunning value to add to that)...

and of course as a Mets fan I'd like to see one of these for Strawberry....
   15. BDC Posted: February 24, 2011 at 11:11 PM (#3757707)
those numbers still feel a bit underwhelming to me

Unless you change his birthdate too, Davis still has the bad luck to be getting old just when the huge-high-offense era begins. He's about a year older than Fred McGriff, and his raw numbers are subject to roughly the same context.
   16. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: February 24, 2011 at 11:38 PM (#3757723)
In that sense he was like an earlier version of Adam Dunn: despite the fact that they were both great players, a large portion of the local fans spent a huge amount of energy complaining about what ED & Dunn couldn't do. As a result, I felt like neither received the appreciation in Cincinnati that they should have while they were there.

I was also just a pup back then as well, but as I remember it Davis didn't get nearly the backlash as Dunn. More importantly, he didn't get nearly the backlash from Marty Brennaman.
   17. Los Angeles El Hombre of Anaheim Posted: February 24, 2011 at 11:47 PM (#3757728)
Unless you change his birthdate too, Davis still has the bad luck to be getting old just when the huge-high-offense era begins. He's about a year older than Fred McGriff, and his raw numbers are subject to roughly the same context.
His defense in centerfield would push him over the top.

Eric Davis was such a freak. He's the only player other than Bo Jackson who awed me just running around in the outfield.
   18. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: February 24, 2011 at 11:53 PM (#3757732)

In '86 Rickey hit 28 and stole 87. He and Eric Davis are the only people who have even 16 home runs and stolen 70 bases.


In case anyone was wondering, as I was, both Kenny Lofton and Marquis Grissom came up two home runs short and Juan Samuel and Lou Brock each came up one home run short.
   19. Yoenis Cespedes, Baseball Savant Posted: February 25, 2011 at 12:07 AM (#3757745)
Dan, out of curiosity, what would his career look like if you projected Davis forward from 1989? Given his off-year in 1990, I get the feeling he'd clear 500-500.
   20. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: February 25, 2011 at 12:36 AM (#3757757)
Davis' long term problems started to surface well before 1990, but back in 1987 there was nothing else quite like him that I've ever seen in baseball.

It wasn't so much that Davis had power and speed, I've seen that before. It was the way Davis approached the game, particularly in the field. Maybe like Lynn and Reiser before him, Davis would have had a better career without the Evil Knievel act out in the outfield but it sure wouldn't have been as interesting.

My favorite Davis memory was him laying on the outfield grass in Wrigley with the final out in his glove on a ball that would have at least tied the game. There was only one way to catch it: headfirst into the bricks at Wrigley. And he caught it and paid for it.

It's generally the guys with a shortage of athletic talent who get labeled "scrappy" due to an excess of effort. The amazing thing about Davis was he had as much raw athletic talent as anybody _and_ combined that with absurd levels of effort. That said, I'm not sure his technical baseball skills were ever all that great, as even when he was at his best he wasn't like a Bonds or Mantle or Cobb. Davis was never a slam dunk MVP or even close, even ignoring the time he would always miss with injuries.

It's also interesting at how little Total Zone likes his glove even back when he could run at his peak speed. -4, 7, -7, -21 in the four years from 1986 to 1989. From 1987 to 1989 is when Davis won his three gold gloves. Even that '7' from 1987 seems about 15 runs too low from the effect you got watching him.
   21. Walt Davis Posted: February 25, 2011 at 12:40 AM (#3757760)
In the opinion of ZiPS, Davis’s abilities justified the early belief that he was heading for Cooperstown.

HoM for sure, not so sure about HoF.

It's still only 8500 PAs of a 127 OPS+. Through age 35, Dawson had 8480 PA, 124 OPS+, 283/329/490 -- very close to Davis (lower in OBP) -- and Dawson added 2000 more PA (not very good but useful to draw voters' attention). Dawson didn't have too easy a time with the HoF or HoM. Davis' 400+ HR and 400+ SB would have held a lot of sway but fewer than 2000 hits and a 260 BA would have been held against him.

Jimmy Wynn, 8000 PA and a 128 OPS+ with a much higher OBP didn't sniff the HoF but then he wasn't winning GGs. Puckett, 7800 PA, 124 OPS+ sailed into the HoF but doesn't get much HoM respect (he should probably do much better in HoM voting than he does). Jim Edmonds at 8000 PA and 132 OPS+ -- interesting to see how he goes. Andruw Jones at 8200 PA -- much worse hitter, otherworldly fielder early, something of a joke lately. Lynn, 7900, 129; Cedeno, 8100, 123; Burks, 8200, 126 -- not a sniff. Short-career CF haven't done great with the voters -- Puckett, DiMaggio and, after a long wait, Snider made it.

I suspect Davis's mix of HRs and SBs and defense would have been enough to put him in the Dawson class with the voters but it's far from certain. Cedeno is a very good comp for pseudo-Davis (many fewer HR, more SB, 5 GG, the most exciting player I've ever seen) and he got under 1%.
   22. John DiFool2 Posted: February 25, 2011 at 01:24 AM (#3757776)
those numbers still feel a bit underwhelming to me


The other end needs adjusting too-his kindly manager decided to only give him a handful of ABs in his age 22 & 23 seasons-instead Rose trotted out Eddie Milner and his 88/90 OPS+ in center for most of those two years.
   23. Ok, Griffey's Dunn (Nothing Iffey About Griffey) Posted: February 25, 2011 at 02:30 PM (#3757949)
In '86 Rickey hit 28 and stole 87. He and Eric Davis are the only people who have even 16 home runs and stolen 70 bases.


That same year Eric had 27 and 80 (with only 11CS). My favorite ED stat is that it took him only 46 games (53 team games) to reach 20hr/20sb in 1987. I'm pretty sure he took the fewest games ever to reach both 20/20 and 30/30 (his 90th game, the team's 105th) that year.
   24. AROM Posted: February 25, 2011 at 04:18 PM (#3758026)
It's also interesting at how little Total Zone likes his glove even back when he could run at his peak speed. -4, 7, -7, -21 in the four years from 1986 to 1989. From 1987 to 1989 is when Davis won his three gold gloves. Even that '7' from 1987 seems about 15 runs too low from the effect you got watching him.


Agree. The formula seems to work more often than not. But I watched Davis, and in this case I don't believe those numbers. Looking at RF/9 compared to league average, he was a bit above average in 1986, way above average in 1987, but below average in 1988-1989. Looking at CF only, and TZ only (not arm rating) he's 0, 11, -6, -15 in that span.

The detail of the data from the 1980's is much less than what we have to work with today. I would hope that having bbtype, hit location, hangtime, etc. would produce much better ratings for Davis, but I doubt we'll ever know.
   25. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: February 25, 2011 at 04:26 PM (#3758034)
Davis was never a slam dunk MVP or even close, even ignoring the time he would always miss with injuries.

Do you mean the voters didn't acknowledge him, or that he never deserved it? Because he was pretty clearly one of the top 2-3 players in the NL in 1987, even though he didn't finish in the top 5 in the voting. And if he hadn't missed so many games he would have been a slam dunk choice.
   26. Ron Johnson Posted: February 25, 2011 at 05:03 PM (#3758059)
ARom, DA (PBP, Grid based) doesn't like his glove much either. He's 10th worst in fielding runs between 1988 and 1995 (Not available before 1988 which means we miss the very best of him)

However, he's not the only guy with a good defensive rep to grade out poorly. Put another way, DA sees Davis as basically equal to Ray Lankford, 15 runs better than Willie McGee, 20 runs better than Andy Van Slyke, 71 runs better than Junior Griffey and 116 runs better than Kirby Puckett.

So whose glove did DA like? Marquis Grissom and Devon White top the list for overall value. Lenny Dykstra grades out very well too. As do Lance Johnson, Dave Henderson and (considering how little he played) Chuck Carr. Jim Edmonds ranks 7th.
   27. ecwcat Posted: February 25, 2011 at 11:29 PM (#3758369)
"those numbers still feel a bit underwhelming to me"

Not to me. It's a whole lot better career than real life.
   28. Sweatpants Posted: February 25, 2011 at 11:40 PM (#3758374)
DA (PBP, Grid based) doesn't like his glove much either.
Sorry if I should know this, but what is DA and where can I read about it and look at leaderboards (obviously, searching for "DA" doesn't help much)?
   29. Dan Szymborski Posted: February 25, 2011 at 11:42 PM (#3758375)
DR (the old school DA-derived one) has Davis at +4 for 1988, +12 for 1989, I don't seem to have Davis 1990, and +6 for 1991.
   30. robinred Posted: February 25, 2011 at 11:50 PM (#3758380)
E.D.!!!
   31. bjhanke Posted: February 26, 2011 at 09:28 AM (#3758613)
Back in those early 1990s, when I was doing the BBBAs, I used to refer to three players as "overbodybuilt." The three were Davis, Strawberry, and Jose Canseco. My contention was that, if you looked at their basic bone structures, especially in the minors, they didn't look like their bones - their frames - could handle the extra stress of all the muscle that weight room training had added to them. Nowadays, of course, if you say something like that, people will think you're making steroid accusations. But that wasn't it, certainly not at that time. They just didn't look, when young, like their slender frames could handle all that muscle mass. And I also don't mean that they were "musclebound", either. None of the three lacked flexibility, they just had an awful lot of well-built muscle for their bone structures to handle. As a prediction of the three careers, it's one of the best I've ever made. All three had joint and bone problems throughout their careers, and all turned out to have lesser careers than they looked to have when they were young. BTW, when I wrote about this, I contrasted the three to Mark McGwire, who, even in college, looked like his bones could easily handle a huge load of muscle.

Now, the real question about Davis is whether he would have had all that power if he had not put on all that muscle. I don't know. Same with Strawberry. There may be a balancing act that players with slender fames have to make to really maximize their careers. But I still think that this is what happened to Davis, and it cost him the Hall, IMO.

- Brock Hanke
   32. smileyy Posted: February 27, 2011 at 07:42 AM (#3759021)
I wonder if Davis would have been more durable if SBs hadn't been (conceptually) valued as much as they had been in the mid-80's. I figure there's a hamstring pull somewhere in there, but maybe there's not...
   33. Ron J Posted: February 27, 2011 at 09:56 AM (#3759039)
#28 DA is something that came out of one of the Project Scoresheet splinter groups. Conceptually similar to ZR (which came from another splinter group -- Stats) with much larger (and overlapping) zones.



The big advantage of the method is that it gave the information to allow you to count not only the plays not made, but the value of those plays. For instance I'm reasonably confident that TotalZone underrates Tim Raines' glove. Because ZR shows him as being a fair bit better than average at preventing doubles and triples (though his range was nothing special) - something that TotalZone is blind to.

Also there's enough info in there to grade infielders on the DP better than any system I've seen. Basically it only considers ground balls in the fielder's area of responsibility with the DP in order.

Sherri Nichols produced the initial reports. Dale Stephenson converted them to runs (And the reason Dan can't find particular years is that Dale didn't report players who didn't get enough playing time)

DA ends in 1996. Sherri had a baby that year and oddly enough her priorities changed. And the data gathering project took a different turn. Gary Gillette merged the Baseball Workshop with a couple of other projects to form Total Sports. (Not a disaster in the long run -- I believe Gary eventually provided the raw data to Retrosheet)
   34. Sweatpants Posted: February 27, 2011 at 01:39 PM (#3759046)
Thank you, Ron.
   35. AROM Posted: February 27, 2011 at 04:29 PM (#3759077)
"preventing doubles and triples (though his range was nothing special) - something that TotalZone is blind to."

Actually, it does look at doubles and triples. At least now. Not 100% sure I did that in the early runs, which 1980's defense is based on.
   36. PanRains Posted: February 27, 2011 at 04:58 PM (#3759092)
So looking at Davis' stats, I'm reminded of Kal Daniels, who I loved back then. What happened to him? I have to assume he got badly hurt, but an OPS+ of 169 in his first full season at 23 (throwing in 26 of 34 in SBs as well)? Leading the league in OBP at 24? A career 138 OPS+, but only 1500 PAs after his first 3 seasons, playing his last game at 28? And in those 1500 PAs, still putting up a 125 OPS+.

Man, that Cincy team had some fine young players.
   37. smileyy Posted: February 27, 2011 at 06:10 PM (#3759120)
Kal Daniels shredded his knees over the first few years of his professional career.
   38. Darren Posted: February 27, 2011 at 06:54 PM (#3759141)
I'm in the underwhelmed camp. Not even 2,000 hits? The only number that looks impressive is 442 HR. Dan, did you add the 15% before for his pre-1990 time before you did the rest of the simulation or after? Maybe that would have made a big difference?

I'm sure Davis would have liked to have better health, but it's sounded to me like he's appreciated his unique journey too. I remember him saying at one point that he thought every player should take a year off like he did because it realigned his priorities or made him appreciate the game or some such.
   39. Jose Canusee Posted: March 02, 2011 at 07:49 PM (#3761490)
Remembered a radio promo for an upcoming series in SF that went something like this:
Some guys in a western saloon talking.
"Heard Cincy Pete [Rose, of course] got a new hired hand"
"Heard he's faster than lightning"
"Nobody's faster than him"
"Nobody...til he met Bob the Gunner"
{closing music, announces tickets for Reds games on sale}
My guess is it was 1986 and it referred to this event promoting their Sep series.
The Giants had two Bobs behind the plate, both future Diamondback managers (Melvin and Brenly) of which Melvin was the one referred to. After a long period without getting caught and two steals in the game, Melvin threw out Davis (batting cleanup) trying to steal 3rd in this game
They had played again in August with Davis not attempting to steal, but during the two games in SF, Davis picked up 3 SB and no CS. That year he had a Raines-like 80 SB and only 11 CS.
Melvin was no slouch though, throwing out 43 runners against 66 SB (at least 6 of which were Davis) in 1986.
   40. Dunn Deal Posted: March 05, 2011 at 03:23 AM (#3763941)
I grew up in Cincy (born in '79) and as a result, Eric Davis is my favorite player of all time. This thread was great to read, but my judgement is affected so much by my childhood hero worship that I can't even approximate an objective opinion - so here it is: Eric Davis's voice sounds like a cross between Fergie and Jesus. And for a while there, it looked like he turned in to a unicorn.
   41. depletion Posted: March 07, 2011 at 09:19 PM (#3765558)
Extra points for suffering a lacerated kidney while winning the World Series, then having the team refuse to pay for the flight home from the hospital.
   42. AndrewJ Posted: March 29, 2011 at 11:39 PM (#3780893)
I distinctly recall watching this NBC Game of the Week in June 1987. I swear every commercial break intro and outro focused on Eric Davis. He didn't even have a great game that day, but Vin and Joe were determined to turn him into baseball's next big superstar -- and for the first half of '87 at least, he was.
   43. sunnyday2 Posted: May 24, 2011 at 01:59 AM (#3835966)
There must be a curse of some kind. Whatever you can say about Eric Davis, you can also say about Vada Pinson and Bobby Tolan, all similar players.

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