Examining J.D. Davis’ massive home/road split

In the five-year period from 2014-2018, the Mets hit better on the road than they did at home, by an average off 55 points of OPS. In the just-concluded 2019 season, the Mets had a .766 OPS at home, compared to a .774 mark on the road. It wasn’t a home-field advantage but since the hitters had been recently dealing with a significant home-field handicap, it was nice to see this level of production at Citi Field. For a point of comparison, in 2018, the team’s home/road OPS split was .646/.752 – or a 106-point deficit.

Five of the top eight hitters in PA had a home OPS over .800 in 2019. No one enjoyed home cooking more than J.D. Davis, who posted a 1.078 OPS at Citi Field. That’s the highest home OPS for a Met in Citi Field’s 11-year history and just the third time a player with more than a handful of PA topped the 1.000 mark. Davis joined 2015 Lucas Duda (1.000) and 2017 Michael Conforto (also 1.000) in that quadruple-digit club.

Davis was perhaps the biggest surprise of the season for the Mets, in large part because of his home park performance. By contrast, his road OPS last year was .710 – a full 368 points lower than what he produced in Citi Field.

In general, hitting better or worse at home isn’t really a repeatable skill. One year after posting that 1.000 home OPS, Conforto managed just a .682 mark in Citi Field. For his career in Citi Field, Conforto has an .852 OPS. Duda followed up his 1.000 OPS with a .790 mark the following year – and he has a lifetime .815 OPS at home, although the past few years he’s had other home parks besides Citi Field.

On a league-wide basis, players usually hit a bit better at home than on the road. In 2019, the MLB home/road OPS split was .767/.749 – or 18 points. The previous season it was .738/.718, or 20 points. That’s a bit less than what we saw previously. Over the past 10 years, the difference was 29 points. Duda’s lifetime split is 63 points while Conforto’s is 34 points. While both of these are above league average, they’re nowhere close to what Davis experienced in 2019.

And sure, an extreme ballpark is likely to produce some extreme results. Players will typically have a home OPS much higher than their road OPS if they are on the Rockies. But is Citi Field anywhere near that extreme? According to Baseball-Reference, Coors Field has a multi-year batting factor of 118, while Citi Field has a 92 mark.

But with Davis, we’re seeing a player go against the grain in what his ballpark typically produces. Citi Field has been somewhat of a pitcher’s park and Davis hit like gangbusters there last season.

There’s no reason to expect that Davis will put up a quadruple-digit home OPS in 2020. But is there any reason to expect he’ll put up a .710 road OPS next season? Davis spent the entire year with the Mets and amassed 453 PA on the season. But his playing time increased in the second half of the year. In 102 road PA after the All-Star break, Davis had an .821 OPS, compared to a .618 road OPS in the first half.

We have to remember that we’re dealing with a small sample to begin with and then we’re slicing and dicing it into even smaller pieces. That second half road OPS looks encouraging. But it came with a .415 BABIP, so how much weight should we really give it?

And that comes back to the real reason to be concerned about Davis’ 2019. It’s not that he was so good at home and below-average on the road. It’s that he put up his .895 OPS with a .355 BABIP. If he had enough PA to qualify for the batting title, that would have tied Christian Yelich for the fifth-best mark in MLB. And while Yelich runs a super-high BABIP year-in, year-out, you’ll find many more guys who put up an inflated BABIP one year and then return to average or worse numbers immediately.

How many people were convinced that Mallex Smith was a star after his 2018 season where he put up a 3.5 fWAR, when he hit .296 and stole 40 bases? Well, Smith stole 46 bases last year. But he was the textbook definition of replacement player with his 0.0 fWAR. How did it all go so wrong for Smith? Instead of the .366 BABIP of 2018, this past season he had a .302 mark in the category.

Perhaps Davis’ power makes you think he’s more likely to continue his elevated BABIP. That’s not a completely foolish idea. But Mookie Betts went from a .368 BABIP in 2018 to a .309 mark last year. He was still an incredibly valuable player, but his 6.6 fWAR was a noticeable drop from the previous season’s 10.4 mark.

And then there was Lorenzo Cain. In 2018, he was seemingly every Mets fan’s lament. The Mets needed a center fielder, Cain was a free agent and the Mets didn’t give him a second glance. Cain went out and put up a 5.7 fWAR in 2018, powered by a .357 BABIP. Last year Cain put up a .301 BABIP and saw his fWAR drop to 1.5 in nearly the exact same level of playing time.

So, what happens when Davis’ BABIP drops from the .355 mark he put up in 2019? Well, we’re very likely to find out. Maybe Davis can still be a valuable player even with the drop. His playing time should go up and there’s a chance he can improve his defense and baserunning from 2019. The latter two were well below average and all three kept him from posting an fWAR even higher than the 2.4 that he actually did.

A league-average player at a minimum salary is a very good thing. There’s nothing wrong if Davis is installed as the club’s left fielder next year and puts up a 2.0 fWAR over 600 PA. But there’s nothing wrong if the Mets look to sell high on Davis and look for a league-average center fielder that will allow them to play Conforto and Brandon Nimmo in the corners. Davis gives the Mets options and those are good things to have.

8 comments for “Examining J.D. Davis’ massive home/road split

  1. MattyMets
    October 15, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    Nice nugget you found, Brian. BABiP is an odd stat. It seems to refute the notion of a long 162-game season balancing out good luck/bad luck – balls barely fair or foul or barely caught or missed. But what if it correlates with a drop in exit velocity or increase use of the shift? In a vacuum, I’m not sure how informative it is. Take Lorenzo Cain for example. Is his down year really due to hitting the ball at people or something else? His walk percentage dropped so perhaps he’s been less selective at the plate? His hard hit rate also dropped some. Could be he’s started the CF decline that I’ve often pointed out. At the time, I thought he was a great get on a 3-year deal but then the Brewers gave him 5. I’m glad the Mets stepped away. The back end of that deal is not gonna be pretty.

    • October 15, 2019 at 2:41 pm

      There’s nothing odd about BABIP

      Back when he worked at BP, current Mets FO guy Russell Carleton looked at the point where the “signal” outweighed the “noise” in various baseball statistics. The point is all over the map and different for any statistic you want to look at. You reach it at 60 PA for K rate and 170 PA for HR rate and 460 PA for OBP and 910 ABs for AVG.

      BABIP is going to be higher because it ignores Ks and HRs and BBs. Carleton found you need 820 events – or BIP outside of homers.

      And of course we run into the issue that players are usually changing — getting better or getting worse. Or getting healthier or getting injured. Or hitting their prime or falling off a cliff.

      In his first 215 PA in the majors, Herpes had a .302 BABIP. In his last 566 PA in the majors, he also had a .302 BABIP. Yet somehow in the middle he had 544 PA with a .366 BABIP. Weird stuff happens.

      It would be nice if everyone was like Yelich, who had a .355 BABIP last year and a .358 mark in his career over 4000+ PA. But things rarely work out that neat and tidy.

  2. Pete from NJ
    October 15, 2019 at 3:05 pm

    The home/away stat you listed covering a full season has of course a statistical reality.

    I would love to compare Davis’ hot streaks occurring predominantly at home and not on the road. Is that by chance or is there something about Davis’ mental and physical preparation before the game?

    I would love to ask Davis if had any inclination about the results you noted.

    As far as trading JD for assets: the GM is certainty a dealer so it will be an interesting winter.

  3. Chris B
    October 15, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    I love that you positioned the possibility of Davis being traded – it’s not something that I considered as a realistic option. I also wouldnt be surprised if BVW tapped into the prospect pool even further or unloaded Dom.

    Would the Rockies give up Blackmon? Kevin Pillar put up a good year for the Giants and could be interesting on a short deal.

    • October 15, 2019 at 7:14 pm

      Have you seen that Blackmon contract? No way Mets could afford that.

  4. Mike W
    October 15, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Great article Brian. Let’s look at the bigger picture. Davis doesn’t make a lot of money for what he produces. He plays left field and third base. He has power. He has five years left before he can be a free agent. Cespedes only has one more year. Injuries will hit again.

    I think he is a good player to have on the roster, even when he comes back to earth at Citi Field.

    Here is what my crystal ball is telling me about BVW this off season. His big splash is going to be signing a premium starting pitcher not named Wheeler.

  5. TexasGusCC
    October 16, 2019 at 10:08 am

    You make a great point Brian in expecting a decrease in home production from previously unreached levels, but a few things will keep Davis’ BABIP higher than norms and will still give him a chance at plus output. One of this things is his opposite field power and approach. Shifting him defeats the purpose because to shift him give him a clue as to where he will be pitched and he prepares extremely well, to the point that Chili Davis usually has him talk during hitting meetings. Second, Davis remade his swing to have good lift. Can’t believe the Astros didn’t give him a MLB chance, but it was probably affected by the “poor” defense. That lift, if it remains, will give his batted balls a chance to land over the infield where there is more room to land. A third reason why Davis will continue to have some level of success is the batting eye is one of the best in MLB. Everything is black and once you get used to that, there aren’t distractions to the little white sphere.

    He may not even be .900 at home next year, but I feel .800+ may not be outlandish for him, and with an increase in road production, will still leave him a positive producer. He is probably the most qualified to be a higher batting average slugger as any on the roster other than Cespedes, and he is Cespedes’ insurance next year.

  6. steevy
    October 16, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Pete Alonso only hit .218 at home albeit a very productive .218

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