Ike Davis: A tale of two careers

Ike Davis is easily the most perplexing player on the Mets roster right now.  Now in his fourth season since being called up in 2010, Davis has posted one-and-a-quarter good seasons, and one-and-a-quarter horrendous ones.  He has looked like two completely different ballplayers.

Davis’ early triumphs on the field have perhaps given him some leeway within the organization when it comes to his struggles at the plate.  I have been a vocal supporter of Davis during his down times, preferring to point to the .271/.357/.460 line he posted from 2010-2011 instead of the .210/.293/.415 of the last two seasons.

The stats confirm what everyone’s eyes see; Ike Davis has lost his way.  He is simply not the same player that he used to be.

Before we get into who he is now, we have to understand who he was.

Ike Davis: The Prospect Years

Ike Davis was the 18th overall pick in the first round of the 2008 MLB draft.  Upon his selection, Anthony DiComo, writing for the Mets’ official website, had this to say, “Together, Davis and [22nd overall pick Reese] Havens should start to replenish a Minor League system that, due to trades and free-agent signings, has been sapped of top prospects in general, and power hitters in particular.”

Davis was coming off of a spectacular junior year at Arizona State, where he hit .385/.457/.742 with 16 home runs in 213 at-bats.  The expectations were high and he appeared to be the power-hitting first baseman or corner outfielder that the Mets needed.

There was originally some uncertainty about his position because he played first base, outfield, and pitched in college, and besides, the Mets were drafting him more for his bat than his position.

Then he went to Brooklyn.

In 239 plate appearances with the Cyclones, Davis posted an ugly .256/.326/.326 line, hitting exactly 0 home runs.  Kevin Goldstein, then of Baseball Prospectus, in a special piece for ESPN New York from 2010 says, “He looked tentative, if not downright lost, at the plate throughout the summer, and some prematurely wrote him off.”

Now, keep in mind that MCU Park has a reputation for being a particularly nasty park for hitters, especially lefties because of the strong winds that come off the Atlantic Ocean and blow in from right field.  Even taking that into account, however, Davis’ line was troublesome at best, and it appeared as if then-GM Omar Minaya had badly flubbed the compensation pick for Tom Glavine (that’s right, the Mets got the 18th overall pick in the draft from the Braves because they signed Tom Glavine, who would make 13 forgettable starts for Atlanta in 2008 then retire).

Davis’s stock as a prospect was shaky at best, with John Sickels rating Davis as the 11th best prospect in a weak Mets system, rating him a C+.  Players ranked ahead of Davis included Eddie Kunz, Nick Evans, Reese Havens, Jefry Marte (traded this offseason for Collin Cowgill), and Brad Holt.

Sickels also offered and interesting note in his evaluation of Davis: “If he can’t hit, he could convert to pitching due to his strong arm.”

Then 2009 came around, and Davis had his coming out party.  He posted a .288/.376/.486 line in 255 PA with seven home runs in St. Lucie, leading to his promotion to Binghamton where he would go on to hit to the tune of a .309/.386/.565 line with 13 home runs in 233 PA.  This offensive explosion had Davis rocketing up prospect lists during the following offseason.

This time around Sickels had Davis (by then a full-time first baseman) as the fourth best prospect in the system, behind Jenrry Mejia, Wilmer Flores, and Fernando Martinez.  He was also now a grade “B” prospect who projected as a solid regular player who could hit for power, but not a star, a point stressed by Sickels.  He also made sure to comment that Davis had a “fine glove” at first base, but that he needed approximately 400 at bats in Buffalo before he would be ready for major league action.

After hitting .364/.500/.636 in Buffalo to start the 2010 campaign, the Mets decided that it was time to call him up and ditch Mike Jacobs, and he’s been with the ball club ever since.

But even at that time, there were some questions about Davis’ game.  The same Goldstein piece noted that Davis had some pretty drastic platoon splits in the minors from 2009 through his call up.

vs. LHP 139 4 .237 .381
vs. RHP 323 18 .331 .598

Goldstein, who now is the Pro Scouting Coordinator for the Houston Astros, had an overall positive take on Davis, but with a caveat, “The future is certainly bright for Davis, but I wouldn’t expect too much until next year.”

Ike Davis: Fast Times at Flushing High

On April 19, 2010, Ike Davis finally got the called up to the major leagues and would make his debut against the Chicago Cubs that night.  He singled in his first at bat against Randy Wells and added an RBI single off lefty reliever Sean Marshall later on in the game en route to a 2-for-4 performance, making him the toast of Citi Field.

It was mostly roses for Davis for the remainder of the season, which resulted in a respectable .264/.351/.440 line with 19 home runs and a 10.4 UZR, good enough for 3.1 fWAR and a seventh-place finish in the rookie of the year balloting.

And what of Goldstein’s note of Davis struggling against lefties?  All Davis did was hit southpaws to the tune of a .295/.362/.443 line, though that was perhaps elevated by a crazy .388 BABIP.

Regardless, things were looking good for Davis, who seemed to be the “real deal” and part of the long-term solution for the Mets at first base.

It was for good reason then, that fans got excited about Davis’ lightning fast start in 2011, where he hit .302/.383/.543 with seven home runs in his first 36 games.

Unfortunately those would be the only 36 games Davis would play that season.

After a collision with David Wright chasing a routine pop up in Houston, Davis suffered a bone bruise and cartilage damage in his ankle, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.

While Davis was in the process of coming back to earth a little bit (he hit .207 in nine games in May before the injury after hitting .337 in April), Mets fans eagerly awaited to see what 2012 would bring  for their young first baseman.

Ike Davis: The Bad and the Ugly

Davis seemed to be on the fast-track to becoming a fan favorite and cornerstone of the franchise at first base entering the 2012 season.

That all began to change on February 21, 2012, when a routine spring training physical returned some troubling results.  The following is the press release issued by the Mets on March 3rd:

“Ike Davis underwent a routine physical exam after his arrival in PSL.  The exam included an abnormal chest X-ray.  Following additional tests here and in NYC, pulmonary and infectious disease specialists have concluded that Ike likely has Valley Fever, which is expected to resolve itself over time.  Ike is not contagious, is not taking any medication for his condition and does not currently exhibit any of the outward symptoms associated with Valley Fever.  However, Ike has been instructed to avoid extreme fatigue.  No additional tests or examinations are pending, but Ike will have a follow up exam when the team returns to NYC in early April.”

The Mayo Clinic’s website notes that it takes months to fully recover from Valley Fever, and “fatigue and joint aches can last even longer.”

This spelled trouble for Davis, especially when you take into account that the career of the once-promising Conor Jackson was destroyed by this disease, but more on that later.

So to say that it wasn’t surprising when he got off to a slow start in 2012 is an understatement.  On June 1st he was hitting .169/.228/.295.

Then slowly but surely things started to turn around for Davis.  He hit .264/.363/.563 in June, regressed to .221/.257/.537 in July, then came back strong in August posting a .287/.370/.517 line, and finished hitting a respectable .242/.373/.527 in September.

His final line for the season was .227/.308/.462 with a career-high 32 home runs and 90 RBIs.

Once again, the Davis’ hot second half left a feeling of hope in Mets fans’ hearts; that maybe he could be back to his former self.

That hasn’t happened though, and after Sunday night’s game, Davis’ season line sits at an atrocious .158/.246/.250, and a trip to Las Vegas inches closer each and every day.

This heat map created by Mark Simon of ESPN (@msimonespn) shows Ike’s 2013 struggles in a fun, colorful way.

Ike Davis & Conor Jackson: It’s the Valley Fever, stupid!

Remember when I said we’d talk more about Conor Jackson later?  Well now is the time.

I was originally only planning on writing about Jackson in the capacity of his Valley Fever and how that destroyed his career.

Then I talked with Jim McLennan over at the Arizona Diamondbacks blog www.azsnakepit.com, and quickly discovered the similarities between Jackson and Davis run a little deeper than that.

For one, both were part of draft classes that produced players that their teams’ respective fan bases were excited for.  The 2003 Arizona Diamondbacks draft class produced the “Three Amigos;” Jackson, Carlos Quentin, and Jamie D’Antona, while the Mets had Davis, Reese Havens, and Javier Rodriguez in 2008.

Jackson, who was selected 19th overall as a first baseman/outfielder, absolutely tore it up in the minor leagues, hitting over .300 at every level, while displaying plus plate discipline.  After the 2005 season, Baseball America ranked Jackson as the number 17 prospect in all of baseball.

“I wouldn’t have called him a superstar – not, say, a Justin Upton type,” said McLennan.  “But we had every expectation he would be a solid and reliable major-league hitter.”

That sounds eerily similar to Sickels’ evaluation of Davis.

Also much like Davis, Jackson’s first two seasons (2006-2007) in the major leagues were promising.  He hit .288/.368/.453 over his first two seasons and seemed to be on his way to becoming a cornerstone of the Diamondbacks franchise.

After another nice season in 2008 (which involved a slight tail off towards the end), the expectations for Jackson were huge, then he stopped hitting.

In 30 games in 2009, Jackson hit a paltry .189/.264/.253 before it was discovered that he was suffering from Valley Fever.  He would miss the rest of the season recovering.

When Jackson returned the following season, he was ineffective at the plate, hitting .228/.336/.333 in 42 games with Arizona before earning a one-way ticket to Oakland.  His power had evaporated.  A Pat Andriola article at Fangraphs noted, “Jackson’s line drives have been more of the Juan Pierre variety than that of Albert Pujols.”  Balls that once fell in for extra bases now found themselves nestled in the webbing of outfielder’s gloves.

Jackson only managed to hit .232/.312/.323 in 204 post-Valley Fever games – as compared to .287/.367/.443 beforehand – and eventually retired this spring after spending time in Triple-A for the White Sox and Orioles.

Ike Davis: Staring into the Crystal Ball

So now that we know all of that, what does any of it mean?

Well, while Davis has gone through stretches in his professional career where he as looked completely lost at the plate and turned it around, there is no reason to believe that he can do it again.

Given how bad he has looked at the plate this season (and for most of 2012), and the nature of the disease he suffered from, it doesn’t seem like there’s any hope of Davis returning to his former self.

And this is coming from the guy who wrote this just over a month ago.

I would like nothing more than to be completely wrong about Davis.  I truly wish that he starts to turn things around, that when Davis said he, “Definitely felt better,” after Saturday’s games (where he collected his first hit in eight days) that it’s not just a sound bite for the media.  I want Ike Davis to be successful not only because it would help the team, but to make up for all the booing, the jeering, and the bewildered stares into center field after yet another strikeout.

At this point, it’s just not going to happen, not without major mechanical changes to his swing and stance.  Even then it would be a long shot.

Davis, who was once seemed destined to join Mets folklore alongside players like Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman, and Edgardo Alfonzo, now is destined to be the Mets version of Conor Jackson.

I’m still hoping I’m wrong.

Joe Vasile is a play-by-play announcer and radio host.  Follow him on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP and check his website out here.

13 comments for “Ike Davis: A tale of two careers

  1. nym431
    May 27, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I don’t think the two situations are that comparable. Jackson got really sick from his Valley Fever. It went undetected for awhile and he experienced severe symptoms and was unable to play for months. As you said, Davis’ illness only got detected b/c a routine physical happened to pick it up in spring training. He wasn’t severely ill for months. I think the only thing he ever reported was feeling a bit more tired than normal last ST. It’s thought that a lot of people have Valley Fever and don’t even know it…in most cases it is not a severe illness at all…especially in young people, Connor Jackson was a rare case. With Ike not getting that sick and the fact that he did play well at the end of last season makes it unlikely that his current issues are due to Valley Fever. And I think his slow start in 2012 probably had more to due with missing time the year before than the Valley Fever

    • Joe Vasile
      May 27, 2013 at 11:53 pm

      It also came out after the season that he was seriously fatigued the entire season after the Valley Fever (http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/mets/post/_/id/60613/ike-confesses-he-experienced-serious-fatigue-in-12). Also, it is true that a lot of people have Valley Fever and don’t know it, but in Davis’ case, we know the extent of Davis’ illness and have a player of similar talent to compare him to in Jackson. While Davis’ power hasn’t evaporated in the way that Jackson’s did after their respective illnesses, his hit tool has certainly fallen off a cliff. We have a fairly large sample of data on Ike Davis post-Valley Fever and it shows he has been a radically different hitter. I’ll trust a 201 game sample much more than a 75 game sample.

  2. steevy
    May 27, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    I don’t know if the Valley Fever has anything to do with his struggles(except perhaps mentally) but someone who’s whole approach at the plate seems completely inept.Has he lost it or has he been exposed by ML pitching picking up his weaknesses?Such long stretches of true futility are not a good sign,guys with a good approach slump but they don’t slump for so long.There are fundamental problems with his approach at the plate,he will not hit until he corrects them.If he can’t correct them,he is finished.

    • Joe Vasile
      May 27, 2013 at 11:42 pm

      Good point that his approach does seem off, but perhaps that is as a result of many adjustments over the last two years to compensate for the lack of production. He has gotten away from what made him successful because he is not the same hitter he once was.

  3. NormE
    May 27, 2013 at 9:30 pm

    Very well done article, Joe.
    I agree with your pessimism.

    • Joe Vasile
      May 27, 2013 at 11:40 pm

      Please be an optimist. Davis needs some good vibes.

      • May 28, 2013 at 8:58 am

        Agreed, the glass is half 100% full of water and air.

  4. Dan Stack
    May 28, 2013 at 3:36 am

    Nice breakdown Joe. I’m pulling hard for Ike. Was hoping what he did on Sunday would get him going, but he looked bad last night.

  5. Metsense
    May 28, 2013 at 8:37 am

    Joe, it is articles like this that make me read Mets 360. It is a thorough, unbiased report that was totally researched and presented in a way that gives a Met fan the full picture of Ike Davis. I appreciate your fine work in this article.

    • Joe Vasile
      May 28, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      Thanks, Metsense. I’m glad you liked it so much.

  6. Chris F
    May 28, 2013 at 9:13 am

    Well done Joe. That was an enjoyable read, especially the context development. I struggle with the difference, especially with this team, between pessimism and realism. Wright can have a bad slump, which we’ve all seen, but we know it will end, and he will return to a high level. It’s easy to be optimistic, even when he’s chasing the outside slider. Ike is different though. Inconsistency of big proportions seems to lie in his blood based on that quote from his time with the Cyclones. Compounding that with (1) a nebulous illness, (2) MLB pitching, (3) clear mechanical shortcomings in his swing, and (4) a desire to swing for the fence all the time will only serve exacerbate the issues he faces. Is he in a funk, or is this who Ike is? The heat map is quite instructive. He is a specialty hitter who likes the ball low and over the plate, a thing we’ve all seen with our own eyes. I don’t believe that is a valley fever consequence. I’m still struggling to define whether I am a pessimist or realist when it comes to Ike. What I do know is that what I’m presently seeing, 1/3 through the season is not acceptable.

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