NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 23: Ike Davis #29 of the New York Mets reacts after striking out with the bases loaded in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Citi Field on April 23, 2012 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
What’s up with Ike Davis? The Mets first baseman is enduring a horrible start to 2012. Through his first 14 games he’s hitting an underwhelming .148/.207/.315. Although he has managed to club three home runs, those remain his only extra base hits.
This season was one of promise. As a rookie in 2010, Davis finished with a line of .264/.351/.440 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI. An ankle injury short-circuited Ike Davis’ sophomore campaign, which was a shame. At the time he was hitting .302/.383/.543 with seven home runs in 36 games. As long as the ankle was deemed healthy, it sure looked like he would be able to pick up where he left off...
It hasn’t happened.
Diagnosis following the jump...
Early returns are dreadful. He’s always been a candidate for an elevated strikeout rate, but Davis is whiffing in over 31 percent of his plate appearances. His walk rate, normally around 11 percent, is currently about half that. He’s just all kinds of messed up at the plate right now. As you would expect with the increase in strikeouts, he’s swinging at everything in his current zip code. His swing rate in this young season is 43 percent, he highest of his career. And his contact rate is currently a career worst 74 percent. In simpler terms, Davis has appeared in 16 games this year for the Mets. He’s recorded at least one strikeout in 14 of those games. Ouch.
Perhaps most alarming is that while Davis is swinging at more pitches overall, his chase rate (what I like to call swinging at pitches outside the defined strike zone) has leaped to over 30 percent. Again, this is the highest rate of his career.
Obviously, this is a root cause of the problems facing Davis. The interesting thing is what he’s chasing. In the past, the book on Davis was the change-up down in the strike zone. This year, he’s swinging at everything that’s not a fastball down and away. Change-ups, curves, sliders… You name it, if the pitcher is delivering that pitch down in the zone, Davis is hacking. From Brooks Baseball, here is a chart plotting the location of the pitches Davis has offered at in this young season.
Sadly, when Davis is making contact, it’s not the right kind of contact. His line drive rate rests at a shade under 13 percent, while his ground ball rate is at an all-time high of 56 percent. Davis isn’t a ground ball hitter. At least not to this point in his career. He’s always been fairly even in distributing his batted balls between the air and on the ground. But his 1.8 GB/FB ratio isn’t helping him break out of this funk.
He’s missing a good number of these pitches because they’re so far out of the zone they’re simply unhittable. Other pitches, he’s putting in play, but they are such "pitcher’s pitches" that he’s not doing anything with them. Davis has always been a spray hitter, distributing the ball evenly to all fields (although his power, like so many hitters is to the right, or pull side, of the field.) Not this year. Not with this approach. Davis is now reaching, causing him to roll his wrists which results in a harmless ground ball to the right side. From Brooks Baseball, here is a side by side comparison of the hit charts through his first 16 games in 2011 and his start from this season. You can’t help but notice the cluster of outs around second base.
Of course, we’re not even out of April, so all the usual small sample size caveats apply. I’m presenting these statistics to illustrate why Davis is off to a slow start. His career averages (although limited to less than a season and a half) show a completely different type of player than what we've seen so far. Hopefully, understanding why he's fallen can help us understand how he can get back up.
It took Davis 20 plate appearances (and nine strikeouts) before he recorded his first hit of 2012, a single off Stephen Strasburg after striking out in two previous at bats. Then, he put together a nice little run of five games where he delivered six hits in 22 at bats with three of them leaving the yard. While striking out just four times. That’s progress. Unfortunately, since then, he’s gone to the cold side of the tap and now has just three hits and nine strikeouts in his last 24 plate appearances.
This is where a little diligence will pay for your fantasy team. If you have a hole to fill at first, keep Davis on your radar and watch a few games. Should he stop laying off the low junk, he’ll start taking the ball to the opposite field more often and he’ll really scorch the ball when he hits to the pull field... Even if he's still making outs. When he does that a few games in a row, that will be a clear sign he’s coming around. That’s when you pounce.