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J.D. Davis was a pleasant surprise for the Mets in 2019

The young slugger enjoyed a breakout season with the Mets.

Cleveland Indians v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

On January 6, 2019 Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen was busy. He traded Kevin Plawecki to the Indians, and then he made what was deemed an unnecessary move at the time. He sent prospects Ross Adolph, Luis Santana, and Scott Manea to Houston in exchange for J.D. Davis and Cody Bohanek.

Davis was an odd fit to say the least. As a right-handed bat, he would not be platooning with Todd Frazier or Pete Alonso, and at the time, Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo were two outfield locks with Keon Broxton and Juan Lagares serving as depth.

For his career up to that point he had hit only .194/.260/.321 at the major league level and hadn’t play defense particularly well. The only things really intriguing about him were that he could also pitch and did hit well in the minors. The move continued to deplete the Mets’ farm system without a lot of payoff—or so it seemed at the time.

Then everything changed. Davis made the team out of spring after Todd Frazier and Jed Lowrie were hurt to start the year, which made Jeff McNeil the team’s third baseman and left Broxton and Lagares platooning in center. But additional injuries continued to test their depth, as Nimmo crashed into a wall making a catch and sustained a neck injury and Conforto suffered a concussion crashing into Robinson Cano.

On top of those injuries, both Broxton and Lagares were vastly underperforming. That left Davis, who got off to to a great start in April and never looked back. His bat became invaluable, especially at home.

There was a great mystery of Citi Field. What was it about the stadium that caused offense to die? The Mets spent the offseason trying to figure it out, and the antidote to whatever ails hitters at Citi Field was apparently Just Dingers Davis. In 71 games at home, he hit a sparkling .354/.413/.665 with a 1.078 OPS, a new Mets record.

In total, Davis hit 22 home runs over the course of the season, making him one of five Mets players to finish the season with over 20 home runs, the first time in franchise history that had been accomplished.

Davis’s bat was also a big reason why the Mets got hot in the second half. He hit .335/.395/.584 and blasted 13 of his 22 home runs after the break and was in the top five in the league in almost every offensive category for outfielders. He was second among outfielders in average, OBP, and wRC+, trailing only Ketel Marte. He was third in wOBA and fourth in slugging. And his 156 wRC+ ranked twelfth in all of baseball among qualified hitters—at any position. Simply put, Davis was one of the best offensive outfielders in the National League in the second half.

Davis’s bat wasn’t the only thing that stood out. Then-manager Mickey Callway noted repeatedly the 26-year-old’s tireless work ethic and preparation, which paid off handily. Davis did not shy away from the big moments and had several that stood out. When the Mets were in the middle of their run, it was Davis who got the rally started against the Marlins in the night game of a doubleheader. He led off the seventh as a pinch-hitter and blasted a home run to inch the Mets closer. Of course, Scooter and the Big Man followed suit to bust the city in half, but it was Davis got things started.

Davis did it again a few days later as the team was getting mowed down by Stephen Strasburg. Pete Alonso broke the ice with a two-run home, run but Davis tied it one batter later with an opposite field blast. Frazier and Conforto’s heroics are what are remembered from that game, but Davis led off the ninth with a double to get that comeback started.

Finally, it was Davis who seized the spotlight when his walk-off hit against the Indians sealed another victory for the home team and his jubilant postgame interview with Steve Gelbs won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Dubbed “Sun Bear” by Pete Alonso, Davis was the team’s Energizer Bunny, bouncing and jumping as a greeting to teammates after a home run, throwing his arms up in celebration in the dugout, and just generally acting like a goofball whenever the camera found him. He was the complete package, and an argument could be made he was Van Wagenen’s best move this past offseason.

Of course, it wasn’t all sunshine. Davis’s defense never improved, even in left field. FanGraphs had him at -4.7 UZR and -11 DRS. It’s hard to accurately judge defense, even with the defensive metrics in place, but the eye test backed it up. He misjudged fly balls and could not quite get to others that perhaps natural outfielders would’ve caught.

Defense aside, the exuberant youngster should have a place on the Mets next season. He proved he could hit at the big league level and should be considered an invaluable piece of this team’s core. He is without a position but could round out a good young offensive outfield with a healthy Nimmo and Conforto, which would move Jeff McNeil back to the infield. He won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2022, making him a player the Mets can build around for years to come.