The Mets’ First Base Situation

The Mets have four first basemen in the field right now, or so the joke goes.

Well, David Wright has been a -10 fielder at third for three straight years, but he’s been scratch this year, and the eye test isn’t so harsh on him. Daniel Murphy, listed as a first baseman in our database, faked a decent second base in 2011, but has twice been felled by a perhaps avoidable accident on the turn of a double play. Now both the eye test and his numbers don’t speak well of his work in the middle infield.

But both of these guys will stay at their respective positions for the time being at least, and their long-term futures with the team are up in the air. It’s the two other first basemen on the team that may come into conflict soon. Once interleague play is complete, the Mets will be faced with a bit of a roster crunch with the way Ike Davis and Lucas Duda have been performing.

If you remove team competitiveness this year from the equation, the question is simple. Would Davis be best served by going down to work on his craft, or should he figure it out against major leaguers?

Scan across his line, and the problems become obvious. He’s striking out too much and he’s not showing even the power he did even in his rookie year, when his .176 isolated slugging percentage was modest but just enough for a first basemen with a good glove and some patience. And these problems aren’t BABIP-solvable. ZiPs projects a .229/.312/.407 line over the rest of the season with a .286 BABIP. He started the season with a .164/.237/.282 with a .207 BABIP.

Let’s focus on the strikeout rate first. He’s striking out in 28.9% of his at-bats this year after following up a 23% strikeout rookie effort with a short-sample 20.9% strikeout rate in 2011. Those numbers seem fairly diverse, but let’s instead list his contact rates for those three years, consecutively: 75.6%, 78%, 75%. The league average is about 80%, so he’s never been destined for a good strikeout rate.

On the other hand, Ike Davis’ contact rate wouldn’t be one of the worst 25 contact rates in baseball, and there are plenty of first baseman on the list in front of him. Another Davis, even — Chris Davis — has had contact issues, and his story may prove to be a template for the Mets’ front office. Chris Davis spent 2009 striking out 35.8% of the time after debuting with a 27.8% strikeout rate, and his team sent him down for 444 Triple-A plate appearances in 2010. In Triple-A, that Davis improved his contact rate, and the work carried over into the big leagues when he returned. His strikeout rate has been under 30% in the 500-plus PAs since. He hasn’t fixed it, but he’s been better than he was at his worst, and that’s something that Ike Davis would like to do.

Maybe Davis can go down to the minors and make some adjustments against easier competition. Take a look at his swing, and you might see the hitch that creates the movement that may be the problem — but Mets coach Dave Hudgens seems to think that Ike can make it work. If he doesn’t change the swing, just swinging against slower fastballs and less impressive breaking balls might make him look better, but it won’t make him actually be any better. Maybe some confidence is all he needs — but a little BABIP luck could give him that without a demotion.

The power? Not so simple. He’s pulling about the same (check his batted ball angle on the left, from baseballheatmaps.com — negative is the pull field) and hitting balls the same distance (see the batted ball distance on the right). His home run per fly ball rate (12.2%) is right at his career rate (12.9%). Maybe the problem is in his batted ball mix — he’s hitting too many ground balls right now (1.41 ground balls per fly ball this year, 1.12 career) — or maybe this all goes back to his contact issues.

The fact remains that there is still a long-term problem with the Mets’ roster construction, even if Ike Davis puts up something similar to his .248/.333/.422 career line going forward.

Lucas Duda has similar patience, power, and better contact rates — and his defense is pretty terrible both in person and in the numbers (-37.6 UZR/150 in 981 outfield innings so far). He’s destined for first base on the Mets or on another team. Playing him in the outfield has removed more than half of his modest value to date — he has 18.9 batting runs above average, and he’s cost his team 25.8 runs on defense. That’s how a player with a career .348 wOBA (21% better than league average) has yet to put up a full win above replacement in the big leagues.

Though Ike Davis has shown a better ‘best’ wOBA than Lucas Duda, his career number is .328 to Duda’s .348. If Duda is a -10 outfielder, he’ll be a -5 first baseman by the defensive spectrum, and Davis is at least a scratch defender at first, if not better when his head is on straight. If Davis plays to his upside (both offensively and defensively), he still has a higher ceiling than Duda. But obviously the downside is worse.

Something will have to give in New York. Keeping Duda in the outfield robs him of half his value, and keeping Davis in the major leagues right now might be robbing him of the chance to improve. Since the team is currently competitive, the guess here is that Davis will go down to Triple-A, Duda will move to first, and the overload of first basemen will be solved. For now.




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


36 Responses to “The Mets’ First Base Situation”

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  1. Jack says:

    Shouldn’t this be on Notgraphs?

    (This is not a serious post)

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  2. Hunter fan says:

    Hasn’t Davis come out and said publicly he can’t improve on AAA pitching? That makes the problem a bit trickier.

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    • Evan says:

      Davis may not know what is best for him. Davis’ opinion is undoubtedly biased in favor of a conclusion that keeps him in the big leagues. Davis doesn’t get to make this decision.

      +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Hunter fan says:

        Understood, but it does make the problem trickier in that players are often successful when they buy into the changes they are being asked to make…and often, the reverse.

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      • Evan says:

        I agree with you to a certain extent, and I think this is especially the case when moving a pitcher from the rotation to closer or set-up or a position change for a position player. But I think this is more the case where the change is permanent and the club wants the player to succeed there. Ultimately, very few players actually want to go to the minors if given the option of staying in the big leagues, even with more limited playing time. When the Yankees removed Phil Hughes from the starting rotation they let him opt for the big league bullpen instead of continuing to develop as a starter in AAA or AA. We can’t say definitively that this impeded his development as a starter, but he has yet to live up to his potential, hype, ability, etc.

        The clubs should be better at looking at longer-term interests of the player development than the player is. The club is also looking to balance the interests of developing an individual player with developing other players and putting a successful and entertaining product on the field. Eventually the player has to realize that he has a lot more to gain from turning himself into the best player he can be than the team has to gain. If Davis succeeds at AAA, his stay will be brief; if he can’t hit in AAA there is nothing to justify his claim he should be on the Mets; and if he hits in AAA, but persists to perform like this for the Mets he’s likely destined for the AAAA label.

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  3. Brian says:

    Murph has been worth 0.1WAR. Duda has been worth 0.1 WAR. Ike Davis has been worth -1.3WAR.

    Can they really live with Murphy at second base any more than they can live with the other two guys at their current positions?

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    • Spike says:

      this.

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    • acerimusdux says:

      In the long run they will likely want to upgrade at 2B as well, moving Murphy to an offensive utility role. But he’s not killing them out there right now the way Davis is, and they have no better internal options.

      At 1B, Duda is a very viable option, and has earned the chance for a look there. With Bay returning, the outfield should really be Bay, Torres, and Nieuwenhuis, and the way Den Dekker is hitting in AA, he might eventually replace Torres.

      If Ike’s bat recovers, then you maybe think of moving Duda to LF in the future, but right now, the sensible move if you want to stay in the NL East race is to send Davis down. His entire swing and approach seems flawed right now, he seems to be opening up way too early. I hope Eno is right here and he will be sent down, but it should have been done already (it’s not as though his bat is helping any in interleague play).

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      • Brian Webster says:

        Until Bay came back no one they could replace Ike in the lineup with was worth more then the potential of Ike turning it around. Now Bay’s back but the next 6 games are in AL parks with the DH so the roster crunch won’t really start till after they’re back in the NL. Then it becomes a real issue where they almost have to do it if Ike doesn’t start to show some signs of life over the next 6 games especially in Yankee Stadium.

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  4. Carl says:

    Duda should be in left field.

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    • Brooks says:

      so you wanna play two players out of position rather than just one?

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      • jfree says:

        Makes sense to me. Mets aren’t really a baseball team anyway so they can play people “out of position” without affecting what actual baseball teams would do.

        -13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • juan pierres mustache says:

        if there was ever a baseball team designed for the triangle offense, it’s the mets

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    • everdiso says:

      I think their defense has been working out for them just fine, I mean, they just held a team to no hits so it seems to be working well.

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  5. This Guy says:

    Looks like my first attempt at a R graph there back in the day.

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  6. vivalajeter says:

    Regarding Duda’s defense: How often did he play RF in the minors? His #’s look terrible out there, but if he came up as a 1B then isn’t there a chance that his RF defense would improve as he gains more experience? Not that he’d be a good defender, but maybe he wouldn’t be quite as terrible. Has the eye-test shown any improvement over the last few months?

    Regarding Davis, I’m surprised he hasn’t been sent down already. The best way for the Mets to stay in the race is for him to hit like he did last year, but the best way for them to fall into last place is for him to hit like he’s been hitting this year. He needs time in the minors, not just to make him better, but also to prevent him from killing the Mets this year. I guess the only problem is, what happens if they send him to AAA and he continues to suck? He looked like a valuable piece of their future, and that would doom him.

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    • Za says:

      If he never hits again, it would be terribly disappointing but we can win without him. of course, we all want him to put up the kind of numbers he did last year with the defense he put up in 2010 but neither is happening currently. we can’t deal with the offensive hole at first base especially considering Duda’s defensive problems in RF.

      in order to continue winning games, we need to send Ike down, move Duda to first, and run Bay, Torres, Hairston, and Kirk out there in some kind of platoon. To be honest, I’d like to see if Quintanilla continues hitting too, since he’d be a much better fielder than Murph at 2nd.

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      • oleosmirf says:

        I doubt Q will continue to hit near his current numbers, but if he does AND Murphy continues to do his best Luis Castillo impression, I would absolutely agree.

        What’s more likely is we see a Turner/Murphy platoon once he returns…

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    • jerbear1985 says:

      It’s certainly possible for an outfielder who’s new to the position improving over time, as both Alex Gordon and Ryan Braun have. But both of those players were great athletes who just needed to learn how to take angles to the ball and hit cutoff men. Duda is NOT a good athlete and his “upside” at RF isn’t even average at this point.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      He played maybe 40% of his time in the corner OF in minors, and was bad there. He was bad at 1B too in minors. The eye test has not given me much hope for his defense in the outfield, but part of it is slow foot speed, which might be mitigated at first.

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  7. Dan the Mets Fan says:

    Davis to AAA in the short term. Either he or Duda is not going to be on the Mets in 2 years I would say. Hopefully that happens with the Mets getting some trade value back from sending one of them off. Maybe, just maybe Duda can play LF well enough to hold his value (once Bay is gone), but I am guessing someone gets traded.

    If Murphy starts hitting again look for him to be traded at the deadline or in the off-season, unless the Mets figure they won’t be able to sign David Wright long term. In that case Murphy becomes the 2014 3B until someone from the minor leagues can knock him off.

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  8. Paul Clarke says:

    If Duda is a -10 outfielder, he’ll be a -5 first baseman by the defensive spectrum, and that will bring their value closer together.

    I’m not following this. Firstly, the position adjustments only suggest that on average corner outfielders gain 5 defensive runs (compared to positional average) by moving to first base, not that any individual outfielder will do so. If Duda has decent hands but bad speed, for example, he could be a -10 outfielder but an average first base. Secondly, if Duda did go from -10 outfielder to -5 first baseman the positional adjustment would keep his value the same.

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  9. Brian S. says:

    They can pick up Mark Teixeira while they are in town if they like.

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  10. dave g. says:

    Color me skeptical on Duda already being -25 runs in RF. He’s certainly not good, but I’ve watched every game, and there’s certainly not been that many misplays or balls that he should have gotten to and didn’t it. Mets have positioned him well for the most part. Not buying that rating. They do need to make the switch and send down Ike, and it doesn’t really matter what Ike thinks about it. Either he fixes that hitch, or he stays stubborn, continues to make the same mistakes and never becomes a regular ML 1b again.

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  11. Mr Punch says:

    Corner outfielder and 1B are similar in offensive expectations – the fielding skills involved are quite different. It’s possible for a player to be a merely bad outfielder but an absolutely awful 1B; an example would be Brian Daubach, ten years ago with the Red Sox.

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  12. lexomatic says:

    Is it reasonable to talk about Ike Davis’ performance this year without mentioning Valley Fever?
    This could be a situation where he just needs time to rebuild strength and get back in shape after a year of rust (AAA should be fine if there are better options) with the understanding that he’ll have a shot when he’s proven himself healthy. Or, maybe the skills have been eroded by a combination of almost a season off and health issues.
    He doesn’t need to like being sent down, but I think if the team has any concern for keeping a potential asset with the team (and happy), they ‘d frame things in a way that is most palatable.
    If they aren’t going to compete even with a replacement, then it’s simply a question of service time. I don’t know if he’d be able to grieve it with his performance.

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  13. eric says:

    Ive watched 90% of the games this year and i believe duda has absolutely passed the eye test. Sometimes stats can be misleading. And to call any major leaguer not a good athlete is simply absurd. However i do agree that unless ike goes off over the next 6 games he has to be sent down and duda has to man first with hairston and torres platooning in the lineup.

    Tangent…what about hitting ike 3rd for a bit and protecting him with wright and duda. Get him some good pitches to hit.

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  14. SwampYankee says:

    Davis must go to the minors. He is hitting 162 and the team is competitive. Ted Williams frozen head could hit better than this guy. He has had good stretches in the past but he is completely and utterly lost right now. He looks like he wants to go to the minors. If they keep him up they will destroy him. It’s almost cruel to leave him in the lineup.

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    • Antonio Bananas says:

      Are they really contenders though? Or have they just often either played out of their minds/gotten lucky? You don’t want to make a playoff push when you really aren’t a playoff team and set your rebuilding back. They have a negative run differential. They shouldn’t be above .500.

      If I’m the Mets, once they slip below .500 (which they will) it’s time for a fire sale. I trade Wright for an awesome prospect package and try to milk the rest of the roster for everything I can.

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  15. Cidron says:

    Two words.. Trade Bait.

    Trade one (or more) of them for prospects, or truly viable position players that would allow the mets to move players around to more useful positions.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Ron says:

    Can’t watch anymore of this self team sabotage. I have heard every excuse for Davis this year. The fact is that nobody in mgmt wants to be the “bad” guy and move him.

    Until he is gone…..I won’t watch this mgmt fiasco. Every player on this team is giving everything and when they fail….(bullpen) they are rid of…or like Satin…let go,

    SEND IKE TO AAA!!!

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  17. chri521 says:

    Running into the 1st out at 3rd last night, multiple defensive miscues in the past week. The argument about his hitting woes not affecting the rest of his game is pretty much moot now. His bat is showing signs of life but you can argue that he was directly responsible for blowing at least 2 games the past week (@WAS, @NYY).

    Vote -1 Vote +1

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