While Ike Davis may not have been the super-trendy sleeper this year like he was going into 2012, he was still marketed as a nice buy-low candidate after a rough opening two months last year masked the significant improvements he made in the second half of the season. I (along with countless other owners) scooped him up for $5-8 in more than a couple drafts this year, and even went to $14 in our new Fangraphs Ottoneu staff league. But on the young season, “Vanilla Ike” has done nothing but disappoint to the tune of a .165/.265/.318 triple slash. After opening the year as the Mets cleanup hitter, he has been dropped a couple times in the lineup and there are even rumblings about a possible minor league demotion. Eek.
So what’s up? His K%, for starters. However, he put up months last season (May and July) that rivaled his to-date 29% strikeout rate so it’s not unprecedentedly bad for him. We can take a quick peek at Davis’ xBABIP and see how unlucky (or even lucky?) his BABIP is so far in the going. His LD% (the heaviest weight in xBABIP) remains above 21% and (using 2012) constants, this puts his xBABIP at .290. Without going through the whole league, it’s almost certain Davis is in the top “unlucky” tier of National League players when it comes to batted balls. Even if you want to be an absolute pessimist (the worst kind!) and say Davis’ true BABIP should lie somewhere between his current figure and his xBABIP, his AVG/OBP looks closer to .210/.310 than the current .165/.265 mark.
That mark wouldn’t be great, but you didn’t draft Davis for average (although, I’ll admit, I thought he was a sneaky play in OBP leagues over some guys like Eric Hosmer). You drafted him for taters. Well, that’s unfortunate, since his power has been noticeably absent this year. On the season, Davis has only four longballs which is a little more than half of the ~7 homer/month average he put up after May of last season. His ISO has dropped from .240 (in an abbreviated 2011) and .235 (2012) to .153 this year. More statistical flukiness?
The news here isn’t so good. His fly ball distance is way down this year to 267.6 feet (300.3 last season). Yeah, that’s definitely the opposite of good. It’s tough to figure how that fits into his HR/FB% rate, which, (small sample size alert) is near/slightly above his career average at 19.0%. It appears when Davis makes solid contact, he can still easily drive a ball out of the park but he’s making far weaker contact on the majority of his non-HR fly balls. Perhaps a feast or famine type approach to lifting the ball beyond the infield which means his home run rate isn’t dramatically affected, but his gap power is sapped.
Interestingly, this all comes as Davis has actually seen an uptick in FB%. Opposing pitchers are throwing him the heater 58% of the time (compared to a 51% career mark). This could mean a few things; perhaps teams think Davis is trying too hard to pull pitches on the outer half and is exploited easily or perhaps they feel his bat speed is slow enough that they can sneak heaters past him even when they are ahead in counts. Regardless, it’s clear Davis needs to be figure out a way to drive some of these fastballs and, until then, there’s no reason to work offspeed stuff against him.
Another unalleviated concern is Davis’ already sketchy platoon split has grown worse in 2013. After roughly 100 PA, he now is rocking a 5/81 LHP/RHP wOBA+ split. Yes, it’s one month, but so far that ratio is far worse this his career 72/129 mark. Owners may have already been sitting him against LHP in leagues with daily lineup moves, but he could be pushing the Mets to play him as a straight platoon player before too long. This could be crucial for those in weekly leagues, points leagues, or leagues with few/no bench slots.
So what should you do with Davis? Buy? Sell? Hold? It’s a tough call since there are mixed signals in the early going. There is no reason to believe his batting average and on-base percentage won’t rebound thanks to an insanely unlucky ball in play split in April. This is also the second season in a row where he has opened the year in horrendous fashion, and we all know how last year finished. However, it’s not all roses; his power is down and it doesn’t appear to be a fluke. He’s struggling to make solid contact when he puts the ball in the air and pitchers are (successfully) challenging him with a high percentage of fastballs. In deeper leagues, I’m holding or trying to snag him as a platoon guy when I have the bench spots to sit him against lefties. However, I also just cut him loose in a 10-team head-to-head league since it got to the point where he was hurting my shallow team too much to roster. He’s right at that threshold, and as the early season embargo on panicking about players’ April stats lifts, the next few weeks will go a long ways towards determining what kind of role Davis plays on his fantasy teams this season.
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