If at the end of Spring Training, someone had told you that the day before the All-Star break that the Mets were seven games above .500 you probably would not have believed them. And if they told you the Mets would accomplish this with Ike Davis batting .205 with a .669 OPS you would have suggested that they lay off the crack pipe. Yet here we are.
It seems there are two conclusions that we can draw from this information. The first is that in baseball you just never know what is going to happen. Second, Davis is not as integral to the team’s success as we believed back in late March.
Yesterday ESPN’s Mark Simon tweeted that the “Mets are 43-26 when Davis starts and 2-13 when he doesn’t.” That seems to fly in the face of thinking that he is not integral to the team’s success. But here is a case where the numbers are very misleading. Instead, this is more like a rooster taking credit for the sunrise.
After June 5th’s game, Davis had a .160/.226/.274 mark yet the Mets were 31-25. How important do you really think Davis and his .501 OPS were to the Mets being six games over .500 after 56 games? And to further drive home the point, Davis has been on fire since June 6th – with a .996 OPS – yet the Mets are 15-14 during his hot stretch.
The really important numbers here are the team’s record versus lefty and righty pitchers. The Mets are 34-19 versus RHP and 12-20 versus LHP. The games Davis sat out were versus southpaws. It’s not that the Mets become impotent because Davis is benched, rather they come up short because a lefty is on the mound and the team features at five LHB in its preferred starting lineup.
Last year the Mets were four games under .500 against both LHP (18-22) and RHP (59-63). The difference between last year and this year has nothing to do with Davis. In his brief time last year, Davis had a .493 OPS versus lefties. This year he has a .543 mark versus southpaws.
Instead the difference is that neither Daniel Murphy nor Lucas Duda is approaching their success from a season ago. Murphy had a .755 OPS versus LHP in 2011 and Duda checked in with a .715 mark. This year those numbers are .609 and .594, respectively.
Right now it is a no-brainer to put in Scott Hairston (.952 OPS) when the opposing team starts a southpaw. The problem is that there are no other good bench options who bat righty. Mike Nickeas comes in but his .541 OPS versus lefties is horrible. And when the Mets did sit Davis, they often played Justin Turner, who has a .617 OPS versus LHP and a .610 OPS in games where he played first base and those are numbers to be replaced, not subbed in.
The Mets need Murphy and/or Duda to hit southpaws like they did last year or they need to trade for a RHB – whether he plays C, 1B or OF – to spell Josh Thole, Davis or Duda when a portsider is on the mound.
This is why it was frustrating when the front office overreacted to the bullpen issues and made a move to the 40-man roster to call up LHP Justin Hampson. To do that, they dropped Vinny Rottino from the 40-man roster and lost him to the Indians. Rottino is a career journeyman but in 31 PA versus LHP this season, he had 2 HR and an .835 OPS.
Rottino made nine starts for the Mets this year – all against LHP – and the Mets were 4-5 in those games. No one holds any illusions of Rottino being a star yet his presence in the lineup made the Mets respectable against lefties.
The Mets miss Rottino. They are just 2-4 versus lefty starters since DFAing him and one of those wins was Thursday night when they came-from-behind versus Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth inning to pull out the victory.
Some will point out that the Mets hope to get Jason Bay back soon and he can be the bat versus LHP that the Mets need. There is some truth to that remark, as Bay has a .776 OPS versus southpaws in 2012. The advantage that Rottino had over Bay is that the Mets felt no need to start Rottino versus RHP. Unfortunately, they do not share that feeling about Bay.
This year Bay has a .558 OPS versus RHP.
Whatever advantage comes to playing Bay versus lefties is more than neutralized by his play against righties. Until the point the Mets use him as a platoon player – like they did with Rottino – he will be a negative for the club overall.
Therefore, a platoon righty bat remains a glaring need for this year’s club.
So, it is great to see Davis finally hitting like we expected him to when the season began. In his last 101 PA, Davis has a .292/.366/.629 mark. Even more encouraging is that he is succeeding with a .302 BABIP, so this is not some unsustainable fluke stretch. The key is that Davis has a 19.8 K% in this stretch. When he was floundering early in the year, he had an ugly 29.5 K%.
Here is hoping that Davis continues to hit like this the rest of the season. But while we can root for this homegrown player to be a factor for the team in the second half, let us not overstate his importance to the team’s success in the first half of the 2012 season.
And while we are at it, let us hope that Sandy Alderson picks up a hitter who thrives versus southpaws.