In Defense of Ike Davis' Defense


Ike Davis made his Met debut April 19th last season amidst much fanfare.  Ike quickly became a fan favorite in New York and posted respectable offensive numbers (.264/.351/.440 line with 19 homers and 71 RBI) for a rookie.  However, where Davis really helps the Mets is on defense.

Before I begin discussing just how good Ike was, it is important to note just how difficult it is to quantity defense.  While fielding percentage has traditionally been used, that measure has serious flaws.  For example, it is impossible for a player to make an error when he cannot reach the ball, but his fielding percentage benefits from such a play.  Most teams though would rather have the player who is at least capable of reaching the ball and making the play.  Thus, in recent years, a few different metrics have been developed to better measure a player’s defensive ability.  I will mainly stick to the measures explained in The Bill James Handbook.  These include defensive runs saved, which measures how many runs above or below average a player was worth on defense (think of its counterpart, runs created), and the plus/minus system, which quantifies defensive range.  Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which is measured in runs above or below average, combines a fielder’s range, outfield arm, double plays, and errors, is also very useful.  These metrics will prove one thing: Ike had a great year on defense.

Davis committed nine errors last year at first base, amounting a .993 fielding percentage, but as I just mentioned, that doesn’t mean a lot, so let’s look deeper.  Last season, Davis saved a total of 13 runs on defense, which was tops in the National League and second in the majors, behind Oakland’s Daric Barton, who saved 20.  There are two elements that go into runs saved for corner infielders: plus/minus runs saved and bunt runs saved.

Ike’s plus/minus number in 2010 was +14, meaning that he made approximately 14 more plays than the average first baseman (he again finished second in this category to Barton, who was +27).  Davis’ plus/minus contributions amounted to 10 runs saved.  He also managed to accumulate three bunt runs saved, which was tied for second in the majors behind Todd Helton, who had four (Adam Dunn also had three).  Sum those two categories and you get a measure of Ike’s great defense.

Ultimate Zone Rating also illustrates Davis’ fielding ability.  According to FanGraphs, Ike had 9.1 range runs above average, 0.5 double play runs above average and 0.5 error runs above average, summing to a UZR of 10.1  No matter what the defensive metric, Ike rated very well last season.

In his first year as New York’s starting first baseman, Davis proved not only that he could handle the spotlight and produce offensively, but that he could be a capable defender as well.  Both the stats and the observations (how many times did he fall over the railing into the dugout?) illustrate his defensive prowess.  If his offensive numbers improve as time goes on, the Mets will have an asset at first base for years to come.

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Tags: Adam Dunn Baseball Info Solutions Bill James Bunt Daric Barton Defense Defensive Runs Saved Error Fangraphs Fielding Percentage First Base Gold Glove Ike David Keith Hernandez Matt Kaufman Mets Minus New York Mets Oakland Athletics Plus Plus/minus Rookie Runs Saved Todd Helton Ultimate Zone Rating UZR