This time last year, all Mets fans loved J.D. Davis. He was coming off a season with an .895 OPS, which included a remarkable 1.078 OPS at Citi Field. For years, Mets hitters consistently put up better road numbers than home numbers, so it was very refreshing to see the type of year Davis put up. Davis got off to a decent start in 2020 but turned in a rotten September to make his full season numbers look like a big disappointment. Now everyone is content to let Davis be a bench player, especially since there seems to be a question about his ability to handle a defensive position.
Most fans want the Mets to sign George Springer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. If they do sign Springer, that puts Brandon Nimmo in left field and leaves Pete Alonso and Dominic Smith to share 1B and DH and leaves Davis on the pine. And that doesn’t seem to bother anyone. There’s nothing wrong, the story goes, with having good players on your bench. But is it desirable to have a player too good not to start end the year healthy and with 250 PA?
Over the last two seasons, there have been 226 players in the majors to amass at least 500 PA. Davis ranks tied for 33rd with a 129 OPS+. If we distributed players equally among all 30 teams, Davis would be a team’s second-best hitter. It seems we should ask why we’re okay with leaving a hitter like that on the bench.
Obviously, defense matters and Davis isn’t wowing anyone with his defensive work. But above we assumed that the NL would have the DH. And even with that spot, we’re saying Davis needs to sit. To be fair, Springer would give the team four players ahead of Davis on this OPS+ list and that doesn’t count either Nimmo or Smith, who don’t have enough PA to qualify given their injury-shortened 2019 campaigns.
On top of that, we have the big contrast in results for Davis between 2019 and 2020. But if we’re to count this as a reason – aren’t we giving too much credit to one poor month in 2020 compared to six months in 2019?
Davis seemed ok – maybe even good – when he first moved back to the infield in 2020 after Jeff McNeil’s struggles with errors early in the season. But, much like with his hitting, Davis’ defense fell off a cliff in September. No one wants to see that guy at the hot corner. But how much does that one month define him as a player?
It’s not an easy question to answer.
The offensive end of things is much easier. And it comes down to this – you don’t plan on having a guy in his 20s capable of playing every day and being a 129 OPS+ hitter on the bench. No team does that.
That 129 OPS+ has come with an elevated BABIP. But if forced to guess at this point, it seems likely that Davis won’t be a player for whom a .300 BABIP is normal. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s going to put up a .355 mark like he did in 2019 every year. But it’s not hard to imagine Davis joining guys like McNeil, Nimmo and Smith to consistently post marks in the .315 and up range. If that’s the case, it will make it easier to reach that 129 OPS+ mark he’s posted over the 2019-20 period.
If the Mets sign Springer, there’s a DH in the NL and they play Davis at 3B, this is the lineup they would put out:
Nimmo – 138 OPS+ the last three years
Springer – 132 OPS+ the last three years
McNeil – 139 OPS+ the last three years
Alonso – 141 OPS+ the last two years
Conforto – 129 OPS+ the last three years
Davis – 129 OPS+ the last two years
Smith – 132 OPS+ the last three years
James McCann – 89 OPS+ the last three years (114 the last two)
That’s an impressive offensive lineup. Some might say there’s enough offense to carry a better defensive player than Davis at 3B. That would be one way to approach it. Or you could put Davis in there and go after an offense to score 1,000 runs in a 162-game season, a feat that’s been done only once in MLB history, by the 1999 Cleveland Indians.
That Indians team had its top seven players in PA all reach at least a 102 OPS+, led by Manny Ramirez (174), Jim Thome (142) and Robbie Alomar (140). Their bench player with the highest OPS+ was Jacob Cruz, who in three previous years in MLB had a 74 OPS+. But in 96 PA, he posted a 119 mark. Wil Cordero had a 116 mark in 217 PA, after posting a 97 OPS+ in 2,882 PA previously in the majors..
Maybe Davis could fill that Cordero role. But Cordero had the second-best year of his 14-season MLB career in 1999. This was far above his established performance. Plus, he was behind David Justice and his 124 OPS+ in LF. The Mets don’t have anyone that good at 3B to block Davis.
The 1999 Indians won 97 games despite having two SP with ERA+ marks of 82 and 80, the latter of which was posted by Dwight Gooden in 26 games and 22 starts. A potent offense can make up for a lot of sins elsewhere.
It’s not easy to say what the Mets should do with Davis. It just seems to me that too many fans are too quick to write him off. A Springer signing would make the Mets better defensively at both CF and LF. It’s possible that makes carrying a subpar defender at 3B more palatable, especially one with the offensive upside of Davis.