Ike Davis and the Malfunctioning Parachute

Ike Davis homered in the season’s second game. He homered twice a couple weeks later, then he homered again a week after that. That makes it sound like Davis hit a flurry of home runs, which he didn’t. He hit four over a handful of weeks. But then, after going deep on April 25, he didn’t go deep again until the beginning of June. On June 2, Davis took Kevin Slowey deep to center in Miami, and Ron Darling chimed in innocently enough:

Well let’s see if that can get Ike going.

Davis singled in his next at-bat. Then he went 1-for-14. Finally, after weeks of speculation and strong denial and halfhearted denial, the Mets gave Davis a demotion to Triple-A, his OPS standing at an even .500. It’s been Davis’ contention that he can’t learn to hit major-league pitchers in the minor leagues. The Mets, though, would like to see him at least hit minor-league pitchers. They’d like to see him at least hit someone.

Davis, much of the time, has looked terrible. It’s tempting to conclude that baseball is littered with busted or busting young first basemen. Aside from Davis, Eric Hosmer has yet to figure things out. Justin Smoak has three home runs, and we still don’t know if there’s going to be more to Brandon Belt, and Brett Wallace is in the minors after striking out 17 times in 26 plate appearances. But then, Anthony Rizzo‘s doing just fine, and Paul Goldschmidt is hitting like an MVP candidate. Freddie Freeman‘s been fantastic. We recall more easily those who don’t meet expectations. We recall more easily the disappointments.

But this isn’t about the landscape of first basemen. This is about Ike Davis, and what’s become of a talented and productive young hitter. It’s not enough, I don’t think, to say simply that Davis has accrued a -1.0 WAR. It’s not sufficiently powerful to note that Davis has been worth negative one of something. Open up Notepad and start typing numbers. Begin with one, and go from there, counting upward until you hit 207. This is the amount of times Davis has come to the plate for the Mets in 2013. I hope you didn’t actually perform that exercise, but I trust that you can imagine it. That’s a lot of plate appearances, even if it’s only about a third of one full season. Over that many plate appearances, Davis has done this:

  • .161/.242/.258

Zero National League pitching staffs have hit for a higher wRC+, which is good. Two have come close, which is bad. Two have a higher slugging percentage. Four have a higher batting average. Seven have a higher BABIP.

Davis is 26. He debuted in the majors when he was 23, and between the ages of 23-25, Davis was decidedly above-average at the plate. He was miserable out of the gate a year ago, but he recovered, a strong second half carrying his numbers into more-than-acceptable territory. We’ll talk a little more about that later on, but first, to what degree is this statistical collapse unprecedented, or, precedented? Using the Baseball-Reference Play Index, I examined the window between 1970-2013, and found players who posted an OPS+ of at least 110 over at least 1,200 plate appearances between the ages of 23-25. We find Davis at 118 and 1,334. Then I looked at how those players did when they were 26. I was left with a sample numbering 190, and here’s a meaningful image:

davisgraph

That’s Davis, with the OPS+ of 42. The only other guy close to him, as it happens, is current Alex Avila. Avila’s at 54, after coming in at 112 the three seasons previous. But, Davis has lost 75 points of OPS+. The next-biggest drop in the sample is -57, then -55, then -47. Davis, of course, probably isn’t done being a major leaguer in 2013, as it stands to reason he’ll show up again in September at the very least. That’s one of the problems with blending current in-season stats with historical stats. But Davis doesn’t have much company, in terms of sudden collapses. Davis was good, and more recently he’s been a disaster.

Now, about that 2012 slump. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that Davis has done this before, and come out of this before. Last June 5, Davis had himself a .501 OPS. The rest of the way, it was over .900. There was all the same talk about Davis, but he started hitting for consistent power and everyone forgot that he’d earlier been a black hole. But, first, Davis might have been recovering from illness, as he later opened up about his fatigue related to valley fever. That’s high on the list of acceptable excuses. And, second, just because a guy has bounced back from a slump before doesn’t mean he’ll do it again. You’d rather a guy just not get into terrible, unwatchable slumps. Good hitters don’t let that happen.

It would be arrogant and presumably misleading to try to identify the cause of Davis’ problems. I mean, the surface stuff is easy enough. He’s striking out more than ever. He’s hitting for less power than ever. He’s hitting the ball less hard than ever. Something is up, either with Davis’ swing, or with his eye, or with both. It’s unhelpful to compare 2010 and 2013 screenshots, since there are countless similarities:

davis2010

davis2013

Davis has a big hitch in his swing, but that’s always been there, and he’s hit with it before. Maybe pitchers have found a way to expose him, but why did it take until year four for that to happen? The actual issues with Davis are going to be subtle, and they might not even be visible. What we see might be symptoms of an essentially invisible problem. I don’t know, and that’s on Davis and the Mets to figure out. I certainly can’t know more than they do.

But what’s clear is that, in some way, Davis is broken. It’s unlikely that this would be a step on Davis’ path toward becoming an elite, franchise first baseman. The good news is that there can still be good news. Between 23-25, Mickey Tettleton was about average. He was awful at 26, but then he was a solid hitter all the way through 35. J.T. Snow was also awful at 26, and then he hung around for more than a decade. Historically, players have bounced back from dreadful seasons, and Davis has already bounced back from a partial dreadful season, and Davis is his own man so history means only so much anyway. It’s important that Davis has been bad, but it’s perhaps equally important that Davis has been good, for years. In the big picture, Davis does still have a 107 career wRC+, and that can’t be forgotten on account of a couple terrible months.

But the big question is whether Davis’ career wRC+ will ever again be higher than that. The only thing we know for sure is it won’t be changing soon.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

28 Responses to “Ike Davis and the Malfunctioning Parachute”

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  1. Blastings! says:

    From watching him right now, it is difficult to imagine him ever succeeding again, even though I know that’s possibly wrong. Just all flailing arms and out in front and dropping his hands through the floor and jerking his head everywhere and standing at the extreme end of the batter’s box and opening up his stance more and more ridiculously with each AB as the game progresses. I’m glad the Mets finally put him out of his misery.

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    • Dylan says:

      I think going down will help him. You’re right, he’s looked incredibly lost. But I think of the guy I saw the last few years, even as recently as late last year, and I think that he can’t possibly be done. He was too good and he’s too young.

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    • LaLoosh says:

      it wasn’t too far from what he’s always looked like. He’s always been a bad ball hitter. He’s the guy that’s strong and swings very hard and so he’s always hit for a lot of HRs and XBs… but he’s never had much room for error and we’re seeing that manifest now.

      Thing about Ike is that while he’s a likable guy, he’s clearly stubborn about his swing bc he hasn’t made any perceptible adjustments. His swing needs a complete overhaul and I just hope he has the humility to deal with that.

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  2. Dylan says:

    Anyway you can post the data set for that graph? Just wondering who a couple of other players are (specifically the guy at around (125,55) and the guy all the way at the top right).

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    • Wobatus says:

      The guy at the top right is Frank Thomas I think. 206 wRC+ in 1994 at age 26.

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      • Wobatus says:

        And the other guy over 200 wRC+ at age 26 on the graph is Jeff Bagwell, also 1994.

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      • steex says:

        Something magical about that birthday. Worth reiterating, of course, that 1994 data is SSSS (strike shortened sample size).

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        • wobatus says:

          I hadn’t noticed the birthday thing. Same birthday, same year for 200+ wRC+ at age 26. Like Adams and Jefferson both dying on the same July 4th.

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        • David says:

          They were best friends, Adams’ last words were “Thomas Jefferson still survives”, Jefferson died 5 hours before Adams…

          Also, Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas are the same person.

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        • Dylan says:

          Wow, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks.

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  3. Brian says:

    I have literally never seen a human being so lost at the plate. There are plenty of guys who you watch his and just know that they’re terrible, or tiny, or slow. But Davis — I mean — Davis was taking the worst swings I have ever seen, and doing it every day.

    The Mets’ radio guys were so overcome with grief yesterday at a swing Davis took they were saying things like “I can’t remember the last time I saw a swing like that,” and “he was completely flat-footed” and “I have no idea what that was.”

    If I’m the Mets, I tell Ike to take an entire week off from baseball. Then spend a week in the cage with the coaches. Only then, try to hit actual pitching again.

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  4. Steve says:

    poor NYM :(

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  5. payroll says:

    I have not watched Davis much but glancing at his Player page, it sure looks like he has trouble with breaking pitches. And changeups. Basically anything but a fastball.

    In which case, the hitch probably is a problem.

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  6. redcyclone says:

    So wait, he ALWAYS stood that far off the plate?

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  7. Brian says:

    No stats can convey how horrible it’s been to watch this guy in action. It’s a deflating experience to say the least.

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  8. JuanPierreDoesSteroids says:

    The best Ike Davis momenet of futility of the season was on defense. I don’t recall the specifics of the play… I think it was Brandon Philips who was hitting. But he literally watched a ball go by him for a double. Here is the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTRLL42LWjg

    As others have said, statistics do not accurately convey the clusterfuck that is Ike Davis.

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    • Hank says:

      the look on Brandon Phillips’s face in that video is priceless. he just cannot contain his glee at getting that freebie handed to him on an Ike Davis-shaped platter.

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    • wobatus says:

      It was a bad decision, but he said he thought it would go foul, and if fair he wouldn’t have completed the double play anyway and the go ahead run would score from third before the second out. It’s not that he was just jaking it.

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  9. Ben says:

    Meanwhile, BJ Upton has a .158/.257/.277 slash and continues to plague the Braves’ lineup. And he argues every time he strikes out (which has happened 71 times this year, 5 more than Davis). It’s painful to watch.

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    • LaLoosh says:

      yep BJU is a much more expensive flop. At least Ike Davis isn’t costing the Mets much dinero.

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      • Balthazar says:

        BJ in center, Ike D. at first, Ackley on second. I don’t know who’s on third. But I do know MOntero’s in the catcher’s gear watching balls in the dirt go by . . . .

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  10. Jon L. says:

    I think it’s a good sign for Davis that Avila (another active age-26 player) is the closest player to him. It suggests that they are statistical outliers. Presumably if we cut the age-26 season of everyone on the list off in early June, Davis and Avila would have a little more company in the absolutely terrible range. And when we play out the season, it seems probable that the two of them will regress in the direction of acceptability.

    Then again, I had in my mind Ike Davis recovering from valley fever and claiming superstardom, and that’s looking more than ever like wishful thinking.

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  11. David says:

    You could replace the name Ike Davis with Danny Espinosa, recalculate the stats, and republish this article verbatim.

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    • Bryan says:

      Well, Espinosa’s article would carry an asterisk, since he’s been playing hurt. We would expect players to not be able to replicate their healthy performance levels while injuried. The Nats are at least partially responsible for his struggles, as they consistently downplayed his shoulder and wrist injuries until finally putting him on the DL last week. Just a really weird organizational move, especially considering they were already carrying a natural second baseman in Lombardozzi on their bench throughout this time, and odds are that even a somewhat less talented player would do better than an injured one. And would probably strike out less.

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    • David says:

      Yeah, its really hard to hit with a broken wrist.

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  12. Hitch-O-Rama says:

    Ike had always had that hitch in his swing, but I don’t recall it being
    as exagerated as it has been this year … hands go up, hands go down, then up again, then back then the swing – it’s been very hard to watch, and it’s amazing he even can make contact with that ridiculous hitch.
    And I also don’t recall Ike’s head being up his azz like it has been this year in the field … plus he plays with little to zero intensity. He is broken on many different levels, and it’s time for the Mets to move on, whether he gets it together or not.

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  13. Curtis says:

    “Freddie Freeman‘s been fantastic.” — Freddie Freeman is Captain Marvel, Jr., so that’s hardly a surprise. (Billy Batson, which is a pretty good baseball name, is Captain Marvel, so keep an eye out for him.)

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