The early part of the 2012 season has not gone well for Ike Davis. Following a very abbreviated 2011 campaign in which he posted a .391 wOBA in 149 plate appearances, Davis has been a liability with the bat through 147 plate appearances in 2012. Among qualified first basemen, Davis’ .224 wOBA is the worst in Major League Baseball. As a result, there has been speculation that Davis could be demoted to Triple-A Buffalo when the players on the Mets’ disabled list – particularly Jason Bay – return in the near future.
When Bay returns, he will join fellow outfielders Andres Torres, Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Scott Hairston, and Mike Baxter on the roster. The Mets could demote Davis to Buffalo in an attempt to revive his bat and open up first base for Duda. In doing so, they would start Torres on an everyday basis in center field, Bay the grand majority of the time in left field, and split the right field duties between Hairston and Nieuwenhuis. In short, the Mets do not have a Carlos Beltran ready to take over each outfield position.
There are a few things about Ike’s 2012 season thus far that are not consistent with his previous production in the big leagues. His walk rate is significantly down, and his strikeout rate is significantly up. It’s a bad combination, of course.
According to the PitchF/x classifications at Fangraphs, pitchers have thrown Davis fewer fastballs and more curveballs this year. He’s swinging at more pitches out of the strike zone, which certainly helps explain the increase in his problems with walks and strikeouts. His overall swing rate is higher than usual, as Davis is swinging at more pitches in the strike zone, too.
If there’s reason for hope for Davis at this level, it lies in his extremely low .187 batting average on balls in play. While a dip in BABIP might be expected given his increased groundball rate and decreased flyball rate, Ike’s .187 is only higher than Eric Hosmer’s .169 among first basemen. At least part of Ike’s problem at the plate could simply be that his batted balls are not finding holes in the field.
Whether or not a trip to Buffalo would help Davis improve is unknown. While raking at the plate for a couple of weeks might boost his confidence, it doesn’t seem very likely to improve Davis’ ability to hit the caliber of pitches thrown by major league pitchers.
What’s best for the Mets in the short- and long-term?
In the short-term, the Mets would probably be better off without Davis in the lineup. Judging by wOBA, he has been the worst of the Mets’ hitters with at least 60 plate appearances this season. While Duda’s defensive ability at first base would be a downgrade from Davis, moving Duda out of right field would give the team a defensive boost to bridge the overall gap.
In the long-term, however, demoting Davis may not be the best way for the Mets to get the most out of their young first baseman. It is still early in the season, and despite Ike’s dreadful numbers, there are at least some signs – mainly his BABIP – that suggest he should get better with time.
When Josh Thole and Ruben Tejada return, however, Rob Johnson and another player on the current roster will have to go. Even if the Mets send Vinny Rottino back to Buffalo to make room for Bay, they will only postpone their tough decision on whether or not to demote Ike Davis.