NEW YORK, NY: Ike Davis of the New York Mets strikes out in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Ike Davis is lost at the plate, and no one is quite sure when he'll find his way back normalcy.
If you've seen Ike Davis even a little this season, you know the answer to the question posed in the headline is "a little bit of everything." Very little has gone Davis's way in 2012, and while some of it has to do with poor luck and small sample size, there's plenty that's his own doing getting in the way of success.
Before getting into the now, let's take a step back. Prior to 2012, Davis had 750 plate appearances in the majors spread over two seasons, and was a career .271/.357/.460 hitter. He wasn't held back the same way many other sluggers were by Citi Field's deep and tall fences, with the same number of homers at home and on the road, and a higher Isolated Power at Citi. That's because when Davis got hold of a pitch, it was gone almost anywhere. His "luckiest" homer in 2011 would have been out in 24 parks according to Hit Tracker Online, and in 2010, it was much the same story outside of two that were very much influenced by the dimensions of the road park he was in. He didn't hit homers at a rapid pace, but when he did, they were no doubters.
That power, and being just 25 years old heading into 2012, gave reasons to hope that he'd produce for a Mets lineup in need of another bat. That hasn't been the case, though, with Davis putting together a .164/.218/.295 line to start the year, a poor follow-up to a season cut short by injury. That brought on questions of whether he would be sent to the minors or not, and while the Mets deny anything that extreme, they have decided to limit his playing time in order to give him favorable match-ups until whatever ails him is cured.
What is it that ails him? Davis has a .196 batting average on balls in play that's dragging down his line, but you can't just attribute this all to poor luck. Plenty of that low BABIP is self-inflicted, and that's not the only reason he's hitting all of .164, either: Davis is striking out in over 28 percent of his plate appearances, after whiffing 22.5 percent of the time prior. He's looked absolutely lost at the plate, and while that can happen (see, Pujols, Albert), it's not a positive just because the cool kids are doing it.
Davis is not making good decisions on which pitches to swing at, regardless of the count. From the start of an at-bat all the way to the finish, Davis has been overmatched by opposing pitchers nearly regardless of the situation:
sOPS+ is split-adjusted OPS+. It measures the percentage better or worse than average in a player is in a particular split -- in this case, in different counts. The best that Davis has done this year in the above situations is to be about 50 percent worse than average. On the first pitch, Davis has been 94 percent worse than your average hitter, but things haven't improved much if he decides to sit and wait, either.
According to PITCHf/x, Davis has been swinging outside of the zone more often in 2012 (32 percent against 25 and 27 percent the last two years), and swinging more often overall, but making less contact. And, considering his BABIP and increase in swings out of the strike zone, likely less quality contact, too.
He's seeing fewer four-seam fastballs this year (down to 24 from 34 and 36 percent in 2010 and 2011, respectively), and that's resulted in far more curveballs and two-seamers. Not coincidentally, the two pitches he's produced the least value against in 2012 are curves and sinking fastballs. This makes sense, given the increase in both his strikeout and grounder rates.
Davis is seeing more strikes overall, too, jumping to nearly 63 percent after sitting around 59 percent the last two years. This has been partially responsible for the halving of his walk rate, although the fact he's been unable to protect the plate regardless of count also has a little something to do with this.
It's actually fascinating that the Mets aren't willing to send Ike Davis to the minors while they still can, as he still has options remaining (Davis hasn't been back to the minors since his initial call-up), it hasn't been three years since his call-up (meaning they won't need to worry about Davis clearing waivers when they option him), and it's clear he's completely lost at the plate. It's not as if the Mets lack options to play first in the meantime, either, as Jason Bay's inevitable return from the disabled list means one of the outfielders is going to need to see less playing time, and shifting Lucas Duda's glove to first base would only help the defense.
Albert Pujols gets to work things out in the majors, because he's Albert Pujols. Ike Davis has promise, but he's not Pujols, nor has he firmly entrenched himself in the majors with a career .252/.333/.430 line as a first baseman. Hitting the reset button on his 2012 by sending him to the minors to work things out at his own pace, rather than playing match-ups and messing with the team's already tenuous chances at postseason baseball in 2012, seems to be the appropriate course. That's not what we'll see, though, as instead, the Mets will limit the playing time of someone who desperately needs more of it in order to correct a long lists of wrongs.
General manager Sandy Alderson is banking on this vote of confidence in Davis turning it around will be enough for him to do just that. He may be right, but as you can see, there's a lot he's going to need to overhaul before we'll be sure if that's the case.