Chris Davis had an exceptional 2015 campaign for the Orioles.
Leading the majors with 45 home runs and ranking fourth with 112 RBIs entering the weekend, the first baseman would have been the obvious choice as Most Valuable Oriole in most seasons. Despite being named just that by the local media on Friday, Davis wasn’t the club’s most valuable commodity this season.
That distinction belonged to All-Star third baseman Manny Machado.
While Davis may have edged Machado as the club’s best offensive player, the 23-year-old infielder did it all for the Orioles at the plate, in the field, and even on the bases as the biggest positive in an otherwise disappointing season for the 2014 American League East champions.
Machado entered the weekend ranked second on the club with 33 homers and tied for second with 82 RBIs. His .287 batting average and .360 on-base percentage lead the club while Davis has hit .258 with a .355 OBP. In other words, you can make a sound argument that Machado wasn’t terribly far behind the first baseman as Baltimore’s best offensive player.
And considering the Orioles lacked a true leadoff hitter all season, Machado did an admirable job in the top spot in the order, hitting .300 with an .877 on-base plus slugging percentage in 111 games there this season. He’s also the only player in all of baseball to play in each of his team’s games in 2015, an impressive feat after undergoing two serious knee surgeries in the last two years.
But the third baseman’s value goes far beyond his bat when you consider his superb defense — 1.8 defensive wins above replacement, according to Baseball Reference — and 20 stolen bases to lead the club. In contrast, Baseball Reference says Davis was worth minus-0.8 wins defensively while the slugger stole only two bases.
There’s no arguing that Davis displayed superior home run power this season, but the difference in RBIs is something that needs to be examined further. Considering he hit leadoff for much of the season and suffered from the woes experienced at the bottom of the lineup, one could argue that Machado’s 82 RBIs are as impressive as Davis’ 112 as the latter remained in the heart of the order all season. Through the first 159 games of the season, Machado received 55 fewer plate appearances with men on base and 32 fewer plate appearances with runners in scoring position than Davis.
According to Baseball Reference, Machado was worth 6.9 wins above replacement while Davis owned a 4.6 WAR.
The voting by local media likely reflects the difference in opinion in the value of RBIs, which remain the Cadillac of old-school baseball statistics but are viewed by modern stat-heads as a reflection of a batter’s opportunities more than his true run-producing ability. If you’re all about home runs and RBIs, Davis was your guy in 2015 and he certainly performed at a high level in what could be his last season with the Orioles.
But if you dig deeper and recognize the value Machado brought to all phases of the game, he was the rightful choice as Most Valuable Oriole this season.