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Chris Davis’s hitless streak should have ended sooner

He’s not a good hitter, but he’s not this bad.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

As you’ve likely heard by now, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles broke #ForeverGiant Eugenio Velez’s hitless streak last night. To set the record, Davis hit a low liner the other way that looked like it might fall in, but it went right to Robbie Grossman.

Velez’s record stood at 0-for-46, a streak he maintained between two seasons on the Giants and Dodgers. Davis’s record now stands at 0-for-49, and he could extend it tonight against the A’s.

For Davis to break this record, there needed to be a perfect storm of events. First, he’s owed another $68 million over the next four years. Second, the Orioles are very bad. Any other player on any other team would have been DFA’d by now or optioned to the minors to either figure something out or fade away.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, he’s needed to get extraordinarily unlucky. If a player puts a ball in play, he should expect to get a hit roughly a third of the time. Baseball fields are large, and there are lots of places a player could put a ball that would make it impossible for the defense to make a play. The player doesn’t even need to do something right to get a hit. Javier Báez threw his bat at a ball that bounced yesterday and got a hit.

Put the ball in play and good things will happen, right?

In Chris Davis’s 0-for-49, he’s put the ball in play 20 times. That means that he’s struck out 29 times, which is bad. It hasn’t all been bad luck, but there have been a few times where he’s gotten hosed. Per Statcast, his average exit velocity on those balls in play is 92.3 MPH. His xwOBA on balls in play is .314. Half of those balls were hit at 95 MPH or higher. Some of those could have fallen in for hits and we wouldn’t be piling on Davis any more than we were for his -3.1 fWAR season.

Which of these should have been hits? The headings are links to video on Baseball Savant. We may have access to video of every pitch last year, but it can’t be embedded yet.

September 17, 0-for-9: Ryan Borucki knocks it down

If Ryan Borucki doesn’t knock the ball down, it likely gets scooped up by a middle infielder behind second, but there was a little bit of hope when it squirted behind the mound. If Davis were just a step faster, he could have had a base knock. He’d still be hitless in 2019 though.

September 22, 0-for-18: The shift taketh away

Davis hit this ball at 109 MPH, but Gleyber Torres didn’t even have to move. This is one of several hits that the shift took away from Davis last year, and during the shift, Davis hasn’t tried to bunt for a hit. You have to admire his refusal to go for the easy* hit.

*Bunting’s not easy. Just ask the Giants pitchers.

September 22, 0-for-20: Luke Voit keeps Davis from being a hero

This is probably the best defensive play that robbed Davis of a hit. If Voit were just a bit slower, it could have gotten under his glove and Davis could put the Orioles ahead in the tenth. With a little better luck, Davis might have even had a multi-hit game.

March 31, 0-for-24: Too high

The hitless streak could have ended in the first series of the year had Davis hit the ball just a couple degrees lower. This was one of Davis’s two barrels in the streakand it died at the warning track.

April 3, 0-for-34: Davis hits it right to Billy McKinney

This is in the same genre as his lineout to Robbie Grossman to set the record. This was Davis’s other barrel in the streak, and McKinney had to move what, two steps? The Blue Jays had McKinney way out towards the gap. Maybe this is a double four or five years ago when defensive alignments were less extreme.

Davis will probably never be a good major league hitter again, but he’s had to be unlucky to be this bad. He deserves better than this.