In a piece of news that would have seemed impossible at one time, there’s scuttlebutt that New York Mets might be open to trading Ike Davis this offseason. A source told Adam Rubin of ESPNNY that the option of moving Davis in order to both upgrade the team elsewhere and move Lucas Duda to his natural position is on the table. Though much of Queens would be dismayed — “We like Ike” T-shirts abound — it’s definitely possible that this is the right move for the Metropolitans.
In Rubin’s post, one of the reasons given for the idea is that Davis is unwilling to “make changes based on coaching advice” and that “he is out too late after games.” The first is slightly concerning, given a player with his strikeout rate and hitch-filled swing, but the second casts a poor light on both pieces of reason. All sorts of players enjoy the night life — they aren’t due back to the stadium until most people’s lunchtime, and they have expendable cash to spend in a bustling metropolis. Adding Davis’ social life as a negative on top of a supposed lack of coachability suggests a hint of personality clash and the chance that this rumor is entirely the result of one source’s personal desire for change. Davis was (rightly) confused by the pot-shots today as he responded to the story, as well.
None of that changes the core problem of having both Lucas Duda and Ike Davis on your roster, one that has been obvious for some time — they are both first baseman defensively, and playing them both on the field at the same time is part of the reason that the Mets’ defense has been the worst in the National League by UZR/150 (third-worst by DRS). The hope that Duda could fake it in the outfield has waned with every muffed can of corn. Though the player himself has been working doggedly on his glove, and his team has tried him at both corner outfield spots, the eye test and the numbers agree — he hasn’t improved.
And so now comes the big decision for the Mets. Which first baseman do they keep? Or, rather, since Davis’ counting stats and proven defensive work at first base are more likely to be sought after than Duda’s more mellow offensive profile and undecided defensive value at first, the big question is — how do they decide whether it’s worth it to trade the incumbent at the position?
Though Davis has hit counting stat threshholds that Duda has never approached — 27 home runs so far this year is a great example — their bats are actually more comparable than it might at first seem. They’ve already combined for over 2000 plate appearances, and Ike Davis has a better wOBA than Lucas Duda… by .001. One point of weighted offense separates the two. Even if Davis does it with more power and more walks, he also does it with more strikeouts. If those 27 home runs are worth more on the open market — and most assuredly they are — then by bat, and bat alone, it makes sense to shop Davis and install the similar, lower-profiled bat at first once he has departed.
The asterisk comes from the other side of the ball. Davis’ defensive numbers are down a bit this year — worse than scratch for the first time by UZR/150 and DRS — but by the eye test, he’s not far from the asset with a glove that he’s been over the balance of his career (+4.3 UZR/150, +9 DRS). Duda has barely played more than 300 innings at the position, so his close-to-scratch defensive numbers are not so useful. His larger-sample (1300+ innings) outfield work has been so bad, though. Worst in the league among outfielders with 1000+ innings since 2010, that’s how bad he’s been. Ten runs per one-fifty worse than second-worst even.
The defensive spectrum suggests that first base is only about five runs easier than left field, which would in turn suggest that Duda would also be a terrible defensive first baseman. But there is such a thing as not being suited for the outfield. Near the end of his career as an outfielder, Adam Dunn was a -30+ corner outfielder, and since then he’s been something like a -5 first baseman. Shawn Green was a -20 corner outfielder before being a better-than-scratch first baseman for a few seasons late in his career. Duda is no graceful gazelle, but his issues — foot speed in particular — are mitigated at first. Let’s call him a -5 first baseman.
That’s still value he’ll give away compared to Ike Davis. Davis has played 324 games and accrued 5.9 WAR. If you guesstimate him as at true-talent three-win player, and give Duda credit for about the same offensive value despite his different offensive profile, it’s possible that the Ox is no better than a two-win player at the same position. There’s a bit of upside for the 26-year-old Duda, but the same could be said for the 25-year-old Davis. The relative difference between the two, at this stage in their careers and at first base, is somewhere around a win above replacement.
That’s a lot of back-of-the-envelope guesswork, but there’s your number. If the Mets can improve by a win or more at any other position, it would absolutely make sense to trade Ike Davis and replace him with Lucas Duda. If not, the team will have to ask for another year of hard work from the defensively-challenged Duda while also abiding with a short-term defensive caddy in the outfield and putting off the decision for another offseason.