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For One Former All-Star, The Hits Stopped Coming

You have to feel for Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis. Yes, Davis is being paid handsomely ($23 million) this season, and he’s had a solid 12-year major league career. But he currently finds himself mired in one of the most inglorious streaks in baseball history: zero hits in his past 49 at-bats, a new MLB record for futility.

Davis broke the nearly 8-year-old mark set by former Dodgers infielder Eugenio Vélez, who went 0-for-46 over a 30-game span that lasted more than a calendar year. Vélez himself “surpassed” a record (45 at-bats) that Craig Counsell had tied earlier the same summer; the original 45-at-bat mark was set by Bill Bergen in 1909 and matched by Dave Campbell in 1973. Here’s a progression of all hitless streaks (among nonpitchers) that lasted 40 or more at-bats over time since 1908, the earliest season in Baseball-Reference.com’s game-level data:1

Before the season, FanGraphs’ depth chart projections called for Davis to hit just .200 this year, largely by virtue of the awful .168 mark he posted last season — already tied for 34th-worst ever by a hitter in a season that qualified for the batting crown. After Davis’s 0-for-28 start in 2019, FanGraphs now see him with a .193 projected batting average over the rest of the season, implying that they believe his true batting-average talent to be 7 points below the Mendoza Line. (Most of the time, players with extremely low batting averages have substantially higher true talent but are also very unlucky.) Combining that with the at-bats he’s already banked, Davis projects to finish the season with a .181 average, which would once again give him one of the 75 or so worst batting-average seasons in MLB history — for the second time in as many years. (So much for reversion to the mean!)

But the irony is that Davis is actually hitting the ball better this season, at least according to MLB’s Statcast tracking system. Davis’s average exit velocity of 91.3 miles per hour is higher than it was in 2016 (90.8), when he hit 38 home runs and was a meaningful contributor to plenty of Oriole victories. The big problem is that Davis strikes out so much that he doesn’t have a chance to make use of those powerful swings. So far this season, he has struck out in 47 percent of his plate appearances, more than double the MLB average rate. (Last year, he struck out 37 percent of the time.)

Although Davis ought to have broken out of his hitless streak by now — Statcast reports an expected batting average of .119 for Davis this season, based on the quality of his batted balls — his strikeout totals have made it impossible for him to be a functional hitter. The only real question is how much longer the Orioles will continue to pencil him into the lineup and give him more chances to extend the now-record streak of ineffective hitting.

Check out our latest MLB predictions.

CORRECTION (April 9, 2019, 7 p.m.): A previous version of this story incorrectly characterized the hitless record tied by Craig Counsell. The record was 45 at-bats, not 45 games.

Footnotes

  1. This data set was compiled in part using Baseball-Reference’s Streak Finder but may be incomplete for streaks before 1973, when Baseball-Reference’s play-by-play data coverage begins.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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