Mets: J.D. Davis shouldn’t lose opportunities when Todd Frazier returns

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: J.D. Davis #28 of the New York Mets follows through on a fourth inning home run against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on April 06, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 06: J.D. Davis #28 of the New York Mets follows through on a fourth inning home run against the Washington Nationals at Citi Field on April 06, 2019 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images) /

J.D. Davis has had plenty of opportunities to play with the New York Mets during Todd Frazier’s absence. However, even when Frazier does return, he deserves his at-bats.

It was the bottom of the 4th inning on April 6th in a game between the New York Mets and Washington Nationals. Through the early part, it seemed like a game destined to include a low score by the end with  Steven Matz and Patrick Corbin partaking in a strikeout festival. That was until J.D. Davis came to the plate and took a middle-away 91.4 MPH fastball and deposited a line drive 406 feet over the right-center field wall of Citi Field.

As somewhat of an advanced metrics nerd watching from the field level seats down the right field line, my first thought after he hit it was ‘I need to know what that exit velocity was’. I have seen enough home runs the past two years at the minor league levels to realize that a line drive hit that low over the right-center field wall had to be hit especially hard.

The next inning my friend who attended the game with me pointed to the Jumbotron which stated that Davis’ home run was hit 114.7 MPH. I texted in a group of friends who are Met fans this fact and didn’t receive a text back. They all know baseball very well, but most likely aren’t well versed enough in exit velocity to appreciate a specific number like that. How special is that number?

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The answer is pretty special, near elite special. Out of the 5585 home runs hit last season (keep in mind all home runs are hit pretty well), only 31 home runs were hit at least 114.7 MPH by 15 distinct players. This group included Giancarlo Stanton (8 home runs of this exit velocity), Joey Gallo (4), Aaron Judge (3), Mike Trout (2), Franchy Cordero (2), Yoenis Cespedes, Kyle Schwarber, Matt Chapman, Daniel Palka, Pedro Alvarez, Marcell Ozuna, Hanley Ramirez, Nomar Mazara, Avisail Garcia and Matt Davidson. That is an impressive group of sluggers. Only 39 different batters in all of the MLB hit ANY ball in play 114.7 MPH or greater last season. So far this season, only Davis, Judge and Gallo have.

So what? Davis hit only one extremely hard home run (actually two but the other wasn’t in this territory). That doesn’t mean he is going to continue hitting them, right? Right and wrong. What this home run did prove to me was that his maximum exit velocity is elite amongst MLB players. This means that Davis is amongst the strongest players in all of baseball in terms of how hard he can hit the ball. The way I think of this is that Davis has a lot of leeway in terms of his performance.

For instance, a deep fly out for most players may be a home run for Davis. Heck, if most players hit the ball exactly like Davis hit it off the bat in the 4th inning of Saturday’s game, it would have been a double (or triple for speedy players). Some extra ground balls will find holes in the infield. Balls that outfielders will typically catch will sometimes sail over their heads for extra-base hits. Maximum exit velocity has a very strong correlation to average exit velocity, which has a strong correlation to batting average on balls in play.

The issue with Davis, as is for many power hitters, has been his knack of striking out. From 2014-2017 his strikeout rates have 23.2%-28.4% in the minors. There has been a reason for optimism lately, however. In AAA Fresno, he had a better than average strikeout rate of 18.3%.

In Spring Training this season, he struck out just 11 times in 60 plate appearances (18.3%). So far this season he has been striking out at a slightly below average clip, which the Mets will gladly take.

Davis does walk at an above average solid clip. This raises his floor in a way that it will make it more difficult for him to be an unproductive player even if he is striking out a lot.

With Todd Frazier nearing his return to the Mets, there will be a decision to make. Will they give Frazier at-bats against left-handed pitching at third? He surely won’t take away at-bats from Alonso at first base. Frazier has only been very slightly better against left-handed pitchers than right-handed pitchers over the course of his career.

Frazier is older than Davis (33 vs. 24) and has just this one year under contract, while Davis has a possible five more years of team control under his rookie deal. If the Mets decide to give Davis the available starts at third base over Frazier, they will be committing to a higher upside in the present as well as showing their commitment to identifying what they have in the future.

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Like all hitters, Davis’ potential successes will hinge on how often he strikes out and how often he makes hard contact. Unlike most hitters, his floor and ceiling as a hitter are higher than normal due to his elite power.