Ron Darling Thinks Highly of Ike Davis


Former Mets pitcher and current SNY analyst Ron Darling attended the first annual Queens Baseball Convention (QBC) this past Saturday at Citi Field.

Darling spoke for an hour during the event, and told lots of cool stories.  Of all of Darling’s comments,  what stood out the most were unsolicited ones he made about current Met Ike Davis:

"I still believe he’s gonna be great, I’m surprised he’s not yet…the greatest thing that might happen to the Mets (is not trading Ike Davis)."

At first (and second) glance, Darling’s comments seem a bit hyperbolic.

However, I was at the QBC when Darling made his remarks about Davis, and I can say that the look in his eyes while he was delivering them weren’t those of a man who was saying something in jest.

Davis, who most thought was a lock to be dealt before the 2014 season began, is a polarizing figure among Mets fans.  He’s showed tremendous promise, but his last two seasons have largely been messes.

July 22, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis (29) hits an RBI single in the 4th inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Earlier in the offseason, I was on board with the Mets dealing Davis provided that the player(s) they got in exchange merited it.

As the offseason dragged on and no team seemed willing to meet Sandy Alderson’s demands, I started warming to the idea of Davis getting another chance to prove himself.

In 2010 and 2011, Davis was viewed as someone who might be a cornerstone player.  A freak ankle injury ended his 2011 campaign, and both 2012 and 2013 have been highly disappointing.  Still, this is not a player who is a lost cause.

Davis won’t turn 27 until March, and while he’s looked lost at times at the plate over the last two seasons, he’s also been massively unlucky.

In his two best seasons (2010 and 2011), Davis had BABIP’s of .321 and .344 respectively.  In 2012 and 2013, Davis had BABIP’s of .246 and .268 respectively.

When a player’s BABIP declines that sharply, it’s often due to a decreased line drive rate or an increase in balls being hit in the air.  However, that isn’t the case with Davis:

Davis’ line drive percentage by year: 16.4% in 2010, 17.0% in 2011, 21.1% in 2012, and 19.8% in 2013.

Davis’ fly ball percentage by year: 40.5% in 2010, 41.0% in 2011, 40% in 2012, and 35.0% in 2013.

So, Davis hit line drives at a much higher clip in 2012 and 2013 than he did in the two prior seasons, and his fly ball rate has been pretty much the same over the course of his major league career (save for 2013 when it dropped 5 percent).  His results, however, have dipped in a big way.

If Davis maintains the same patience he had after he was recalled from Triple-A last season (he reached base at an incredible clip) and cuts his strikeouts down (he struck out a career high 26.8% of the time last season), he should be in good shape.

This is a player in his prime, who has hit 30 home runs in the big leagues, has prolific power potential, and the ability to play gold glove defense at first base.

Ron Darling‘s bold comments about Ike may sound crazy.  If you examine every angle, though, they seem much less so.

Thoughts from Dan Haefeli:

Looking at Ike’s Batting Average on Balls in Play, we see a clear divide. That alone doesn’t tell us much, as there’s often an explanation for it.

Below is a chart breaking down Ike’s BABIP by year and by batted ball type (ground / fly / line drive). What stands out is a shocking amount of fluctuation. I didn’t remove 2011, but the numbers there shouldn’t be given equal weight due to sample size issues.

Ike has performed terribly on ground balls over the past two seasons. Part of this has been the combination of his slow foot speed and a propensity to make poor contact at times, but these things alone aren’t enough to cause such a significant drop off. Were Ike Davis to have had a league-average BABIP on ground balls the past two seasons, he’d have had 17 additional hits – enough to raise his batting average 20 points over the past two seasons!

Ike’s future ultimately comes down to the strikeouts, which dropped significantly after his return next year. It’s difficult to pinpoint the reason behind the high K rates, especially given that his overall contact rates haven’t changed much over the course of his career. He reached fewer pitches outside the zone (57.4% vs. a career 60.3%), but he also swung at fewer of them than at any point of his career.

Despite all this, Ike Davis has shown flashes of dominance over the past two years. On June 8th, 2012, Ike reportedly met with Reggie Jackson at Yankee Stadium. Though it’s hard to argue causation, he hit .265/.347/.565 over his last 100 games in 2012. This past year, he came back from the minors to the tune of .267/.429/.443 in 170 plate appearances – overall, he’s hit .252/.362/.503 with 32 home runs in the months of June, July, August, and September the past two seasons, in a total of 605 plate appearances.

April and (especially) May have been miserable for Davis the past two seasons, and it’s certainly possible that he has a bad day or two out of the gate this year. It’s important to be patient, though, because of the incredible potential Ike possesses. Ron Darling hit the nail on the head with his comments, and it’s important for Mets fans to recognize that the benefits of giving Ike Davis a legitimate chance in 2014 far outweigh the risks.

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