Sunday, April 24, 2011

Reconsidering Ike Davis

A comment on one of yesterday's posts in this space kind of resonated. Writing stories about some of the negative things that go on in baseball are always easy and often times more interesting than the other way around.  But perhaps the negative is dwelt upon too often and writing a positive piece once in a while would lead to more balance. And being that it is Easter, let's talk about a positive story for a change in Ike Davis. The fact that he's Jewish only makes that choice kind of ironic. But Davis has been a positive story for the Mets and after the young player was kind of left off the early season projections by most people, his current play needs a re-examination of what kind of player Ike Davis is and what he can still be.

Ike Davis is only 24 years old. He was just drafted a mere three years ago in the first round by the Mets after his play at the Arizona State University. Carlos Delgado played his last few years as a Met and served that team terrifically, but last year, it was obvious that his body would no longer allow him to continue his borderline Hall of Fame career. The Mets had no other real answers at first base after starting the 2010 season disastrously with Mike Jacobs. Davis was given the call on April 19, 2010 and ended up as a rookie, getting 601 plate appearances.

Looking at Davis and his minor league numbers, it's easy to assume why the Mets weren't gun shy about turning to Davis. The former first round pick rose through the minors spectacularly, performing better with each rise in the system. It was obvious in this case that Davis and his college experience left little use for more minor league experience.

Davis started off really well for the Mets. He collected two hits in his major league debut and by May 19, was still hitting .311 with a .952 OPS. A slow and steady slide in performance began after that and by the end of the first half of the season, his average slipped down to .258 with an OPS of .773. His second half was only slightly better and his final numbers of .264/.351/.440 were okay for a rookie just getting his feet wet, but far and away from the standard for most first basemen in baseball. Those final numbers also led to meager projections by all of the big projection systems. Davis, it seemed, was destined to be a run-of-the-mill kind of first baseman and not much more.

And this writer has to admit falling for it. After all, 601 plate appearances are a pretty good sample size. It was easy to forget that it was only his first season and only three years removed from his being drafted. It was easy to think that pitchers found some weaknesses in his approach and learned to exploit them. What we didn't take into account was that Davis could be filing all this early information away and was making his own adjustments.

So now we jump to 2011 and Ike Davis's second big league season. While cautioning that it remains early with a small sample size and while also cautioning that he started well last year, it seems that Davis has grown from his first campaign. He looks like he belongs now. His body language is different. Heck, he even has facial hair now. And after hitting one of the longest homers this writer has ever seen yesterday (take a look at this mammoth shot!), Ike has now homered in three straight games. Among's leader board, Ike Davis currently ranks fifth among all major league first baseman, behind only great names like Joey Votto, Cabrera, Fielder and Teixeira. His current slash line stands at: .301/.384/.562. But are those numbers fluky early numbers? This Fan doesn't think so.

First, Davis started to get benched a few times last year against lefty pitchers. That thinking led to the idea that he is somewhat lost against left-handed pitching. That thinking is wrong. Davis actually had a higher OPS against lefties last year than right-handed pitchers. Those numbers are somewhat mixed this season. Overall, against lefties, he appears to be struggling. But against left-handed starters, his OPS is 1.150. His success against southpaws last year combined with early success this year against lefty starters shows that his numbers should remain consistent moving forward.

Plus, there are indications that Davis is controlling the strike zone. He has swung at 19.9 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. This is a nice improvement over last year when that number was over 27 percent. Ike's walk percentage is solid and consistent with last year. He will get even better as the year goes along (that's the prediction here). His strikeout rate is still too high at 26 percent, but that's down slightly from last year. Fangraphs shows that he was really vulnerable last year against sliders and curveballs. He has improved a lot so far this year on those pitch types. His massive homer yesterday was on a breaking pitch. And Ike's line drive percentage is up nicely as is his homers to fly ball rate. And his wOBA is a healthy .402 and could also improve. Ike's BABIP is not overly out of line either.

The bottom line here is that perhaps we forgot about how young Ike Davis was. Perhaps we viewed his results last year too skeptically. He remains a well-above average fielder at first, which is a lot more important than people realize. Someday, this writer is going to find a way to increase the view of how valuable good fielding first baseman are. If Miguel Cabrera was a little better in the field, Brad Penny might have had a no-hitter yesterday. This Fan sees no reason to doubt Ike Davis and his current numbers. And just perhaps, a star resides in the New York Mets' dugout.

There, now isn't that a lot more positive?

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Good to see Ike getting some love here. I see a slash line of .285/.370/.500 in 2011.