Deciding Whether or Not to Trade Ike Davis

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.




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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


39 Responses to “Deciding Whether or Not to Trade Ike Davis”

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  1. Jack says:

    The Mets could ship the I Like Ike t-shirts to Brooklyn, where all the hipsters can wear them ironically.

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  2. Izzy Hechkoff says:

    I think you have to consider that Ike’s performance this year is the result of his low BABIP. If you look at his batted ball data, he should be around .300 on balls in play and .270ish overall.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      He had a sweet BABIP the two years before, so I just took his career as one data point with my calculations, and over his career, he has a .293 BAbIP.

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    • Bill Petti says:

      Sometimes a low BABIP isn’t just luck and we shouldn’t assume it is. Davis has fallen into bad habits this year and largely failed to make adjustments, especially in the early part of the season. Squibbers and softly struck ground balls turn into outs. His IFFB% also jumped to 13%+, reflecting poor approach and mechanical issues–that isn’t luck, that’s poor hitting. Maybe these are things that he can change in the offseason, but we shouldn’t just chalk up his BABIP numbers to luck.

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    • jcxy says:

      two interesting sides of the babip coin here. it’s worth noting that xBABIP calculators use IFFB as an input…and davis still pans out at .308…

      i don’t think eno’s wrong at all to use a conservative .290 here.

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  3. E says:

    Hmmm, Duda’s strikeout rate is marginally higher than Davis’, but it’s higher none the less. Seems like a substantially incorrect argument to categorize them the way you did. It looks like they are virtually the same player, except Davis has more power. I don’t buy the trading Davis argument, especially with Davis looking babip unlucky this year.

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  4. Preston says:

    Davis is a superior player to Duda, and would probably yield less in a trade because he’s coming off a bad year. Trading him would be short-sighted.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I think it’s all about what they get, so I tried to quantify ‘how superior’ Davis has been, using their careers as the sample to avoid the babip-unlucky first half. Over their careers, Davis and Duda very similar at the plate, with .290ish BAbIPs for both.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      You think Duda would yield more via trade than Davis? Personally, I figured Davis would get much more in return, and that’s the reason why they’d trade Davis instead of Duda.

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      • Madoff Withurmoni says:

        I’m pretty sure running his work ethic into the ground through the NY media isn’t going to help his trade value either. Although, I have no problem with Ike “staying up late”. At least someone on this team tries to stay away past the 7pm start time these days. .

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  5. Andrew says:

    Shouldn’t some consideration be just how dreadful Ike was in the first half of this year, coming off of Valley Fever? Seems like an outlier with a legitimate excuse, yet killing his career rates. .859 OPS post-ASB.

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    • Andrew says:

      *be taken for

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    • vivalajeter says:

      That’s my thought as well. It’s very difficult for them to evaluate the future of Davis and Duda with any level of certainty – although I guess that’s why their front office makes several million bucks per year.

      Davis was horrendous in Apr/May (low 500′s OPS), but from Jun through Aug it was in the high 800′s. Considering he missed almost all of 2011 and had valley fever in spring training, it’s easy to discount Apr/May when you look at his talent level going forward. If he’ll perform like the June-forward Ike, then it’s tough to trade him since teams might not be willing to give up enough for him.

      On the flip side, one of them should go and I can’t imagine Duda would net much of a return after the season he’s having. Coming into the year, I expected big things from him. He regressed so much though, that I doubt they’d get anything worthwhile for him. It might be worthwhile to play him at 1B in AAA at the beginning of next year, then evaluate them a little more before making a decision.

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    • Jon L. says:

      I think this is the most important point to be made in response to this article. The writer is taking Davis’ season performance as a whole as an indicator of his potential, and I don’t it is. He returned from not playing a single game after May 10th of last year, and couldn’t hit a lick for about two months. Over his last 339 plate appearances he’s .260-.335-.544, damn good numbers for a 25-year-old playing half his games in Citi Field.

      I don’t project him as a 3-win player, and I don’t think the Mets do either. If that’s all other teams think of him, the Mets need to hold on tight.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        Hold on, I only treated this year as a whole in that I treated his career as a whole. The data I used in this article was career data, since both have played less than three years. I used .251/.335/.453, you want to use .260-.335-.544, now we’re not talking as big a difference.

        I wouldn’t believe that +10 defensive year from Ike, he’s great with the glove, but +10 defense from a first baseman doesn’t exist year-in and year-out. So if he’s +5 like his career says, and he’s .251/.335/.453 with a .290 BABIP, then I feel pretty comfortable with the three-win label, even if he might have more potential.

        Given his volatility and strikeout rate, I wouldn’t parse his already short career down into half-seasons.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Eno,

        If you change his +10 to +5 in 2010, then he was a three-win player as a 23 year old rookie in 2010.

        Last year he was a 1.4-win player in 1/4 of a season. Obviously you can’t just push that forward and expect 5.6 wins out of him, but he was already halfway to being a 3-win player with 75% of the season to go.

        Starting this June, he’s been playing better than he did in 2010, so he’s been better than a three-win player (I wish there was a way to find monthly WAR to know for sure though).

        To me, unless you think he’ll miss another full season or he’ll get Valley Fever again, I think a three-win season is more of a floor than an expectation. The only time he hasn’t been a three-win player is April/May this year, when he had a legitimate excuse.

        I do like the idea of using career numbers, but the problem in Ike’s case is that he was *so bad* in April/May, and they’re weighting his #’s down because he doesn’t have enough years under his belt to offset it. April/May was, what, 1/7 of his career?

        There’s no way to say which # is right, but I think he’s more of a four-win player going forward, and a three-win player in a down year.

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      • Eno Sarris says:

        I see the four-win upside, vivalejeter, I do. But this is a down year, and it won’t have three wins in it.

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  6. The salary difference alone will help narrow that gap. Duda will definitely play 2013 at a league minimum salary, and possibly 2014 as well. If he’s up all year in 2013, he’ll have (by my count) 2 years, 136 days of ML service. The Super 2 cutoff this year is projected at 2 years, 139 days. Meanwhile, Ike Davis heads into arbitration this winter as a Super 2 who, despite the low average, has (as you mentioned) the HR and RBI counting stats that tend to play up for first basemen in arbitration. And he’ll again be arb eligible next year. A couple million in savings, even for a cash-strapped team like the Mets, shouldn’t be the main reason you move one of your more productive hitters. But coupling that with the return you’d get in trade, as well as the space in the lineup it opens up at 1B for Duda (and perhaps later Wilmer Flores) makes it a lot easier to float the idea and see what happens. They’ve gotta do something, and this seems like a reasonable place to start.

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  7. Bryan Grosnick says:

    Great article, Eno.

    Once again, I’d like to bring up the option of moving Davis to somewhere else on the diamond, specifically right field. He’s played right field before, has (had, I suppose) an absolute cannon for an arm, and while he’s a plus defensive 1B, there’s a non-zero chance that he could be above-average to plus in RF, right? Wouldn’t that solve the Duda glove issue on some level?

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Isn’t he extremely slow though? I doubt he’d be an above-average to plus RF with no foot speed. Yeah, his arm is mostly wasted at 1B, but he has a big wingspan and is very good at scooping balls in the dirt, so I think his talents are made for 1B.

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  8. sturock says:

    The Mets need to stockpile value and rebuild. If they can get a good deal for Davis, they should consider it. If not, they shouldn’t. Same with everyone else on their roster right now.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      I can agree with this sentiment, but with the second wild card, Wheeler and Harvey, and the fact that the Mets are losing money and have debt coming up… I think this is a way they could become competitive in the short term.

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  9. JayT says:

    It seems to me that Davis has at least a little bit of upside, but Duda is never going to hit enough to play first, especially if he’s a below average fielder.

    But, the Mets are rebuilding, and if they can get something decent in exchange for Davis it might be worthwhile, because even though he has some upside, I don’t really ever see Davis being anything more then a second division starter Adam LaRoche type.

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  10. Spike says:

    The negative on Davis is that he struggles vs. LHed pitching. Aside from that, he’s very solid. The team can compensate for that weakness by using a RHed hitter facing certain tougher lefties. Frankly, Duda is solid DH material, eos. As a Met fan, I am tired of watching players who don’t do anything well. The team should focus on upgrading the defense at the least, with the pitching figuring to be a strength going forward. Move Duda for whatever is out there this winter. And there could be a few AL teams who’d like to give him a try as DH.

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  11. Calvin says:

    Nobody’s BABIP can drop 100 points true talent in a year without a major injury. Even if he’s legitimately done bad things, he’s also been unlucky and he’ll probably stop doing those things as much (see Heyward’s BABIP and IFFB% in his 2nd year.. he DESERVED a lot of his drop in BABIP because his batted ball profile went to utter and complete shit, and it still wasn’t as big a drop as Davis’, whose batted ball profile din’t change nearly as much for the worse) Davis is a year younger, If you had to roster exactly one for the next few years for the same contract, it’s Davis and it’s not even a question IMO. Addressing inefficiencies in arbitration salaries is beyond the scope of my knowledge, but projecting them to only be about half a win apart on bat and half a win apart on 1b defense seems clearly optimistic for Duda.

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  12. wobatus says:

    While Ike is a more valued trade chip and it may make sense, saying he parties too late and ignores coaching is an odd way to build his trade value. this source probably isnt directly with the team.

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  13. Dan says:

    Me and a couple friends ran into Ike Davis a month ago at a pizza place on the upper east side at about 3 am, walking out with a couple slices of buffalo chicken pizza.

    Thought it was funny at the time, now not so much…

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  14. chuckb says:

    I just don’t see either of these guys as having much value. First basement as good as these 2 just aren’t hard to find. The Meg’s ought to trade whichever one — probably Davis — will bring them more in return and work on filling one of their other holes.

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    • hk says:

      Do you agree with Eno’s valuation of Davis as a true talent 3 WAR player, a figure is below the 3.5 WAR that Ike produced at age 23 in his only full and healthy season? If so, are you aware that only 7 1B’s will produce 3 WAR this year?

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  15. Doug B says:

    shouldn’t Duda be in the AL as a DH? Is he a competant fielder even over at first?

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  16. payroll says:

    I don’t see Ike improving his K-rate. He is never satisfied with any strike two or strike 3 call. His eye is impeccable. There may be a slant from the writer, but judging by what I see on t.v, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ike was hard-headed towards his coaches.

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  17. RaptorsAddict says:

    The Jays make a good trade partner – they’ve got catcher depth, and they’ve also got the albatross known as Adam Lind at first for, thankfully, the last year of his contract. Perhaps a JP Arencibia challenge trade?

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