Before the 2012 season, if someone said “Ike Davis will hit like Albert Pujols this year”, Mets fans would have taken that in a heartbeat.
Well he has…just not in a way anyone could have expected or wanted.
The Mets first baseman has been abysmal this year, hitting .164/.221/.303. He has struggled against both lefties and righties, hitting .191 versus southpaws and a jaw-dropping .153 versus the latter.
It is a significant departure from his injury-shortened 2011 season, in which he put up a .302/.383/.543 line with seven homeruns and seemed poised to become the Mets next superstar.
Some might suggest Ike has simply hit into bad luck so far. That isn’t the case. He has a terrible 37/9 K/BB ratio, and he only has seven extra base hits in 122 AB. For some perspective Los Angeles Dodgers first baseman James Loney, someone who is regarded as having absolutely no power, has nine extra base hits in 110 AB.
According to Fangraphs, Davis is hitting 51.8% of his balls on the ground, a significant increase of the 42% GB rate he had in 2011. He has also been prone to pop ups this season, with 15.4% of his batted balls resulting in them.
“Clutch” is an overused term used way often to justify small sample size bias, but in 2012, Ike Davis has come as close to being “anti-clutch” as humanly possible. A May 7th article by ESPN Insider said that Ike Davis had the second most baserunners in baseball while at the plate with 95. According to the article, Davis had only driven in 6% of them, well below the league average of 14%. His numbers with RISP reflect just as poorly, as he is hitting .157.
A lot of people will suggest Ike’s struggles come in part because A) he’s still recovering from his ankle injury last season and B) he’s still dealing with the effects of valley fever. The latter sounds especially reasonable when you consider the struggles Conor Jackson had in 2009 when he had valley fever. However it’s not a very apt comparison, as Jackson’s peripherals aside from his power didn’t change much and the way pitchers approached Jackson didn’t change much either.
The way pitchers have approached Ike has changed significantly from last year. In 2011, Davis saw fastballs in 53.4% of his plate appearances. That number has dropped to 41.8% of his plate appearances this year. Conversely, the number of curveballs Davis is seeing has increased from 8% in 2011 to 19% in 2012.
We are in mid-May and the “it’s early” mantra can no longer be applied. Ike Davis has struggled the entire season and has shown virtually no signs of breaking out of it. The Mets cannot pretend that Davis will simply find his way out of it without any changes. Pitchers are not going to start throwing him fastballs for charity. They will continue to throw him two-seamers and off-speed pitches until he shows an ability to hit them. Pitchers will continue to throw him pitches in the dirt until he recognizes that they aren’t strikes.
Having Ike work his way through his struggles at the big league level isn’t acceptable. Yes, the Mets probably won”t be going anywhere this season and thus they should place their emphasis on developing young players. However, what will Ike learn by consistently failing in the big leagues? Having Ike start off 0-2 every at bat and being out in front of every pitch will not help his long term potential at all.
In any case, the kind of offense Davis is providing for the Mets is simply unacceptable at the big league level. Marginal offense can be accepted at certain positions if good defense is provided. However, there is no position on the field where a .524 OPS should be tolerated, especially at first base. First baseman are supposed to be the offensive anchors of teams. While Davis is still playing good defense, first base is the least important defensive position on the field, and it doesn’t come close to making up for his offensive deficiencies. The Mets at the end of the day are still a baseball team trying to win games, and they cannot do that with Ike Davis struggling so badly.
Sending Davis down to AAA Buffalo can only help him. At that level, he can work on his mechanics and adjusting to off-speed pitches while not dealing with the pressure of the big leagues. Meanwhile, the Mets can do a little shifting around to fill Davis’ hole. For now, the Mets could platoon Scott Hairston/Mike Baxter in right field while moving Lucas Duda to first base. Given Duda’s defensive struggles, that would help him too. They could also just keep Duda in RF and platoon Baxter/Justin Turner at first base. That isn’t an ideal situation, but it’s bound to be an upgrade over the production they’ve gotten from first base this year.
I believe Ike Davis is still a good player and an integral part of the Mets’ future. Having him spend two weeks-a month in the minors may be a small hitch in the road, but it could provide invaluable down the line. The Mets need to get Davis right sooner than later, and that just will not happen at the big league level.