I stood stone-like at midnight, suspended in my masquerade.
You may recognize that lyric as the opening line to “Growin’ Up,” the second track on Bruce Springsteen’s debut album. To me, this lyric and the title apply nicely to Ike Davis here in 2012.
Davis stood stone-like in the batter’s box for most of the season, as he struggled to get off the Interstate and above the Mendoza Line when it came to his average. He was as upright as he could be in the batter’s box, watching pitches down the middle of the plate before flailing helplessly at breaking balls in the dirt.
He hit rock bottom in early June, where after 53 games (one-third of the season!) he had a .501 OPS. There was talk that the Mets should send Davis down to the minors to work on his swing but the former first-round pick would have none of that, suspended in the masquerade that his presence on the team wasn’t hurting the club.
His horrific slump was a combination of poor hitting and bad luck. Both of those things turned around over the next month, as Davis batted .290 over his next 30 games. But Davis immediately followed that up with another mini slump, where he continued to be helpless against breaking balls.
Sometime in late July, Davis came to the plate with a completely revamped batting stance. No longer was he so upright in the box. Instead he had a crouch, a squat if you will. And the results were immediate. Davis seemed to have much better pitch recognition, specifically in his ability to lay off pitches in the dirt. Just as importantly, the new stance did not seem to affect his power.
So you can imagine my surprise when I heard Mets broadcasters Gary Cohen and Keith Hernandez discussing Davis’ new stance recently and they reported that the player was unsure if he would keep the stance next year.
I’m not sure when Davis changed his stance. My memory tells me it was in late July but I cannot recall a date. So let’s go from August 1st. In his last 30 games, Davis has an .875 OPS and in case you think I’m cherry picking the date, that does not include his 4-for-4, 3-HR game which happened on July 28th. Also in his last 30 games, Davis has a 15.2 K% with 17 Ks in 112 PA.
Compare that to the 26.4 K% Davis had the first three months of the season and his .704 OPS over that same time span.
So why on earth would Davis want to go back to his old stance?
It seems like a continuation of a pattern with Davis. He’s the same guy who frequently argues with umpires, who throws his equipment around, who refuses to consider a demotion to the minors to work on his swing, the one who doesn’t seem to be giving the effort he used to on defense, the one who almost got picked off second base in the eighth inning Monday because he was too cool to slide.
Is his refusal to embrace his new swing due to the fact that it makes him look like he’s taking a dump in the woods? At this point, that makes as much sense as any other theory you can put out there.
Davis and Dave Hudgens deserve a lot of credit for revamping his batting stance in mid-season. Clearly, Davis put a lot of work into this radical change and he should be applauded for his effort here. But if Davis throws that away to go back to something that was a failure for most of 2012, that would appear to be a big mistake.
Speaking of mistakes, it’s time to stop referring to Davis as an elite defender at first base. The memories of his over-the-rail catches in 2010 are still fresh in our memory but he no longer makes those highlight-reel plays and the advanced metrics of DRS (-4) and UZR (-2.9) both show him as a below-average fielder at first base, which is saying something considering the sloths who play the position.
Because Davis has played such different number of games in the majors since being promoted, let’s look at his UZR/150 rates, starting when he came up in 2010: 11.9, 7.1, (-4.0). For whatever reason, Davis is not the defender he was in 2010. He doesn’t appear heavy or out of shape. Rather it appears the effort is no longer there on the defensive end.
After the 2011 season ended, I wrote that the Mets needed to trade either Davis or Lucas Duda because Duda’s defense in the outfield was so bad. The two seemed fairly close at the plate and Davis seemed like the better keeper because of his defensive play. But I find it hard to believe that 2012 Davis would be any better than Duda at first base.
In his first two years in the majors, Davis showed the ability to hit for average, hit for power and play good defense. But the game is one of constant adjustments. Pitchers adjusted and it took awhile for Davis to do the same. We have seen first hand that Davis can make adjustments. But is he too stubborn or lazy to continue to do what needs to be done to be the impact player we all hope he can be? Does Davis have what it takes to be great?
Ooh-ooh growin’ up