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)
SS

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.

12 comments on “J.D. Davis and a Mets lineup to challenge for 1,000 runs scored

  • holmer

    It’s not an either/or situation here. Let’s say the Mets sign Springer and there is a DH. Also, let’s assume the Mets love the third base problem with someone other than Davis. You will have 4 players for 3 spots-LF, DH, first base; Nimmo, Smith, Alonso, and Davis. There will be enough at bats among those 4 to go around and Davis, who might get the fewest number of AB’s in that group, will likely get 400 AB’s. If there’s no DH, that’s another story. Davis will also be part of the “solution” at 3rd as he is the only one of that group who can play all four of those spots. If a great trade opportunity comes along and Davis is part of it, so be it, but I think Davis has a great upside and I do not want to give him away or simply be relegated to a bench player.

    • Brian Joura

      Name me the last team which intentionally used a guy with an expected OPS+ of 129 in a 400-PA role.

  • TJ

    Brian,
    That is a nice looking lineup, which simply screams sign Springer and load up in pitching depth. I agree with Holmer for the most part – assume there will be a DH and that Davis will be at 3B unless a trade comes along that you can’t pass up. Actually, a depth signing of Todd Frazier at low cost could make sense, as he could provide some RH power off the bench, late inning defense, and defensive depth at 3B should Davis’s defense show as inaqeduate, or his offense tank.

    From available position options, they really need Springer, Lemahieu, or Arenado…not sure of other RH bats they can add to get a lineup close to what you list above.

    • Brian Joura

      I figure the backup infielders are Guillorme and Rosario. If one of those go, I wouldn’t mind picking up Frazier on an NRI.

  • John Fox

    Yes the 1999 Cleveland Indians scored a thousand plus runs, but don’t forget, that was in a very high scoring era, when steroid use across baseball was high and homerun records were being set right and left

    • Brian Joura

      The Mets likely don’t have anyone who can match the production of ’99 Ramirez. But their hitters 4-9 could all conceivably be better with playing Davis as a starter and getting Springer. Would it mean 1,000 runs? Unlikely. But that’s just a round number thing. The more important idea is that the runs that lineup would score would more than offset the potential defensive hit of playing Davis full time.

  • TexasGusCC

    One thing that endeared Davis to every fan was the endless info from his teammates, manager and coaches about how hard he works. That needs to be considered and appreciated. By giving players like Davis the benefit of the doubt about allowing him to have an opportunity at 3B, it encourages players like Rosario to put in a little effort on improving their game. Rosario hasn’t gotten better at anything since he has come to the majors, and as Jose Reyes once terms Ruben Tejada “lazy”, I think the term fits Rosario as well.

    Prior to 2019, Alonso worked very hard and it showed. Prior to 2020, Alonso kept making commercials and tweeting, and it showed. Last winter, Guillorme worked on barreling the ball and we saw the benefits of that work. Davis had a nice start after working with Tuefel all winter. He fell into a rut or bad habits, I’m not to say how, but let’s see how he follows it up.

    Just dumping players that don’t perform right away is not how you win. Many Hall-of-Farmer’s sucked defensively or possibly offensively early in their careers, but they worked on it tirelessly. Give the guy a chance. Who is he blocking?

    • holmer

      You make some great points, TexasGus, attitude and hard work are elements that the average fan can’t see but we can see the results. I don’t know if Alonso’s poor performance was a result of lack of work or simply putting too much pressure in himself but the points you make regarding hard working examples, such as Davis, cannot be undervalued.

      • TexasGusCC

        Holmer, last year I wrote an article about how Rosario was on a Boegarts career path and I expected a breakout after the 2019 strong second half. But instead, I saw a player that wasn’t focused. For example, when he hit the game winning homerun in Yankee Stadium and the Mets were the home team, he had no idea why everyone was out at home plate waiting for him. He didn’t start the game, but didn’t he see the Yankees led off the game? Didn’t he look up at the scoreboard o n e time the whole night? I have no time for players like that. I’d get rid of that crap in a heartbeat. I like players that work hard and are hungry, not this.

        Another time I noticed and pointed it out here that on a ground ball passed the pitcher, Rosario didn’t even move until the ball was passed the mound. By then it was too late to get to it and it was a clean one hopper that was a step and a half away from him. I am disappointed in his lack of advancement and coronavirus can’t be blamed for stuff like that.

        Conversely, we expected Conforto to advance and he did a great job, as did Smith, and Nimmo bounced back after an injured year but a decent September. Alonso learned from his rookie year and Davis hopefully did too. But, Rosario is now a three year veteran and I want to see improvement, hunger and f o c u s.

  • Metsense

    It would be palpable to have a subpar defender at 3B with Davis because of his offensive upside. They can always used Guillorme as a defensive late inning replacement. Centerfield is a more important position and that is why signing Springer should be the primary goal. That lineup looks dominant!

  • Mike W

    Every day that goes by and every way we look at it, Springer looks more and more important to sign.

    I think Davis is a great depth piece.

    All of this depends on who we sign and who we can trade for at a discount.

    Need to fill the holes, with the focus being on pitching.

    Nationals just picked up Josh Bell to play first.

  • Jules Greenstein

    Thanks for one of the most reasonable assessments of the JD situation. People forget that not only did Davis have a great 2019 and a good start in 2020, he also won a AAA batting championship. He went into a batting slump last year, but so did Alonso, and nobody is ditching him.
    Fielding expertise comes with good training, hard work, and, most of all, experience. JD is far from a lost cause at 3B.

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