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Players have good years, bad years and in-between years, and in 2016 Chris Davis had an in-between year. He was a productive major leaguer, worth a lineup spot on a good team. But he will most likely be named on no MVP ballots this week, after finishing 14th in voting a year ago and third two years before that. Taken together its all OK, except that Davis was playing the first year under a $161 million contract that will almost assuredly take him into that phase of his career where theyre eventually all bad (and expensive) years. The Baltimore Orioles needed this one to be good.As teams prepare this month to sign players to new $161 million contracts (or thereabouts), its worth looking at what makes for an in-between season. In one sense, Davis drop-off from 2015 to 2016 is remarkable: By OPS+, Davis (at 107) was more similar to Erick Aybar (at 69) than he was to the 2015 version of himself (147). In another sense, the margins between superstar and expensive, average player are slim enough to straddle.To appreciate this, dont think of a season as a single product, built in a factory somewhere and rolled out to the marketplace in its final form. It is a series of hundreds of individual events, each one with the potential to be good, bad or in-between. Consider it, in fact, like this:Thats what were calling Chris Daviss 2015 season, his good season. Thats the jar of dry black beans, unpopped popcorn, gummy fish, gummy half-fish, mini marshmallows, knockoff M&Ms, semi-sweetened chocolate chips and unshelled pistachios that were going to literally unpack today.Within that jar are the 47 gummy fish, 31 halved gummy fish, 66 knockoff M&Ms, 84 marshmallows and eight chocolate chips that Davis delivered in 2015. These are all delicious treats, and they are all excellent outcomes for a hitter. Within that jar are also 208 uncooked black beans, 214 unpopped corn kernels, and six pistachios. These are bad outcomes for a hitter, and no matter how many home runs a major leaguer can realistically hit, hes going to fill the spaces in between with outs. As Chris Davis did.So Davis went from a near-MVP season to a merely OK season, but not everything changed. For instance, he was hit by exactly as many pitches in both years, so the Orioles got just as many chocolate chips as they might have expected. He grounded into exactly as many double plays, so the Orioles got just as many of those as they have expected. If the Orioles were paying Davis to get hit by pitches, and avoid double plays -- and, in some fractional way, they were -- they would have considered him just as good in 2016 as in 2015. Since HBPs and GIDPs were a wash, lets remove those 14 outcomes from the season, because to the extent that Davis failed to repeat his excellent 2015 season, it happened in the other 650-plus outcomes.Our new jar, free of pistachios and chocolate chips:He drew four more walks in 2016, so to the extent the Orioles were paying him to walk (and they were) they got more than their moneys worth. He had six fewer singles, so to the extent they were paying him to single (and they were), they almost got their moneys worth. Davis repeated all of the walks and most of the singles, so remove all of the walks from the marshmallows, and all but six of the knockoff M&Ms.He hit 38 homers in 2016, down from 47 in 2015. He doubled 21 times, down from 31. So if the Orioles expected him to hit 78 extra-base hits, he lived up to that promise in 59 of 78 instances. Those 19 missing extra-base hits were, more or less, cleanly replaced by 11 extra strikeouts and five extra outs on balls in play. (He also batted five fewer times.)What got lost in the move remains in the jar; thats the 2015 production that Davis couldnt match. What he replaced it with is in the glass, on the right. Were talking about 20 plate appearances that shifted from positive outcomes to negative, fewer than one bad outcome per week. The overwhelming majority of his nearly 700 plate appearances stayed the same.This is not to diminish the value of those 20 plate appearances. Switching a home run to an out costs a team, on average, more than a run and a half. Switching a double to an out is roughly a run lost, and a single to an out is almost three-quarters of a run. The jar on the left is worth about 25 runs more to the Orioles, or about two and a half wins, which teams are willing to pay around $20 million or more for. This is why Davis wont sniff an MVP vote this year, and its why Davis gets lumped in with the regrettable signings from last winter.It does, though, stress how little has to actually change for a hitter to go from great to good, or good to bad, or valuable to albatross. That even in big samples, a small subsample can swing everything, for Davis or for any other hitter.You might wonder where those nine homers, 10 doubles and two singles went, and here again we can see how little has to be different for a lot to be different.From the time that the ball was pitched to the moment it was hit, heres what changed for Davis; a bunch of other things stayed more or less the same, and wont be mentioned:Pitchers threw slightly more pitches in the strike zone -- about 45 out of every 100, up from 43 of 100.Davis was much more patient. He swung about five fewer times per 100 pitches seen, a patience that showed up both at pitc
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