Ike Davis: Can He Save His Career?

Will Ike Davis ever become the hitter New York Mets fans expect him to be? As a rookie in 2010, Davis arrived in late April and hit .264 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI. He was off to a great start in 2011 before an ankle injury ended his season after just 36 games. Since, Davis has been capable of the long ball but little else. He looks lost at the plate. He has been dropped to as low as seventh in the batting order and often sits against lefties. The numbers say there is still hope for Davis to become the player many projected after his rookie year, but he better get it together soon.

Using Baseball-Reference’s nifty “Similarity Scores,” we can analyze players with similar statistical profiles. Davis turned 26 in March; some of the hitters most like him through their age 25 seasons are listed in the chart below (click to enlarge)*:

ike davis stats compared

*Bob Robertson (who played from 1967 to 1979) and Glenn Davis (1984-1993), whose stats were also similar to Davis’, were omitted to focus on more recent players. Stats included are home runs, runs batted in, strikeouts, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging, as well as the career BA and OPS for all players except Davis.

Mets fans have to be happy seeing those names. Delgado would be in the “Hall of Very, Very Good” if such a thing existed. Vaughn won an MVP. Karros and Clark were key contributors on playoff teams; Ortiz and Swisher still are. If Davis could progress as these players did, his career would be a success. But will he?

A key difference between Davis and the other players in the chart is that they had a breakout season—a year in which they performed close to how they’d perform over the rest of their career—at age 25 or 26. After a disappointing 2012, Davis has been atrocious this season, batting .175 with four homers.

Using Wins Above Replacement (WAR), he was one of the most valuable Mets in 2010. Last year he was the team’s least valuable infielder; 23 first basemen had a higher WAR. In other words, he has yet to match his rookie success.

Mets manager Terry Collins has often benched Davis, a left-handed batter, against southpaws, but let’s not pretend he becomes Ted Williams against righties. His numbers against righties (.258/.351/.485) are similar to Josh Willingham’s career stats.

Davis’ struggles have hurt the Mets on the field, but unlike many of the franchise’s recent flops, not in the wallet. He earned the league minimum before getting $3.13 million through arbitration for this season. He is not a free agent until 2017.

Ike Davis (Credit: dbking)

If Davis wants to post career numbers similar to his current “comparables,” this would be the year to prove it. Otherwise, he could end up like Travis Lee, whose rookie season for Arizona in 1998 is nearly identical to Davis’ 2010 but who never improved and last played in 2006.

The Mets shouldn’t give up on Davis yet, if only because their other options aren’t appealing. For a team that won’t sniff the playoffs, it makes more sense to see which of the younger players might help the team in the future, and that includes Davis. Come August, if he hasn’t improved and there are young players stuck on the bench because of him, the Mets should revisit the issue. For now, they can only hope the Delgado comparison wasn’t premature.

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