It is only a matter of time before the Mets promote Ike Davis.
I like Davis, I had him as the club’s fourth-best prospect coming into 2010, and think he should be the starting first baseman for the Mets in 2011. But this is another panic move, ranking right up there with moving Jenrry Mejia to the bullpen as a 20-year old.
Promoting Davis is more defensible than the Mejia fiasco but is still a mistake in my mind. Let us first look at why Davis is on the cusp on making his major league debut. He impressed everyone with a strong Spring Training, where he posted a .480/.536/.960 slash line in 25 ABs, including 3 HR. Davis has followed that up with a strong showing at Triple-A, where he has a .364/.500/.636 line in 42 PA. Perhaps just as important is that Davis has 9 BB and 5 Ks.
With the Mets struggling for both a power bat and a good story to keep the fans’ minds off their 4-8 start and last place standing in the NL East, Davis to the major league club makes a certain amount of sense.
So, why is it a mistake? Davis is succeeding thanks in part to a .385 BABIP in Triple-A. Right now he is making great contact and all of the balls are landing for hits. But Davis does not have a great history of making contact. Last year he struck out 29 percent of the time in Double-A. This year’s 11.9 percent strikeout rate is impressive, but how much of that is real improvement and how much is just small sample size?
We do not have any idea.
A .385 BABIP is very high, but Davis had a .381 BABIP last year in Double-A, so it is not completely out of the blue. A good hitter in the minors is going to post a high BABIP. But the simple fact is that a rookie in his first exposure to the majors is not going to post anything remotely similar to that lofty number.
Instead, let us give Davis a more typical .300 BABIP in the majors. Assuming the same number of at-bats and the same strikeout percentage, Davis would have eight hits instead of 12. That would make his AVG .242 instead of the .364 he sports currently.
And what happens if his strikeout rate increases (an extremely likely event) when he gets promoted? Simply, he will have to increase his BABIP to retain his AVG. Strikeouts are eliminated from at-bats when calculating BABIP. So if his strikeouts go up, those outs are not included in his BABIP. Here is an example assuming that Davis has the same 33 ABs he has in the minors, except that instead of an 11.9 K% (5 Ks in 33 ABs) he has a 24.2 K% (8 Ks).
In this scenario, Davis with a .300 BABIP would have a .212 AVG. Mike Jacobs, who had almost no expectations placed upon him, was considered a bust with a .208 AVG, and that came with a .250 BABIP. How will the fans and media act if the hot-shot rookie comes up and does no better (or shudder, worse) than Jacobs?
How likely is it that Davis will have a K% in the majors better than 24.2 percent? How likely is it that Davis would have a BABIP in the majors over .300? If the Mets promote him now, they simply are not putting him in a position to succeed.
Davis needs more at-bats in Triple-A to prove that his plate discipline is for real. He needs more experience batting against LHP. This year Davis has two hits in seven at-bats versus southpaws. In his minor league career, he has a .267/.329/.377 mark against lefties. If he struggles against LHP in the minors, they will eat him alive in the majors. And make no doubt about it, a .706 OPS is struggling.
As one of the club’s top prospects, Davis needs experience and a chance to break into the majors with normal expectations. If the Mets call him up now, they are cheating him out of valuable minor league development time and putting him in a position where he needs to “save” the season. It is another example of Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya putting their own short-term needs ahead of what is best for the organization.
Instead, the club should promote Chris Carter, who also had a very good Spring (.393/.433/.893 with 4 HR in 28 ABs) and is more than holding his own in Triple-A (.273/.333/.576). While Carter does not have the long-term upside that Davis does, the 27-year old is as good now as he is going to get. He will not benefit from any additional minor league seasoning and there is no chance to retard his development by giving him major league at-bats now.
By promoting Carter, you send a message to everyone in the organization that hard work and perseverance pays off. It is good to reward the organization soldiers and prove that you do not have to be a first-round pick of the team (Carter was a 17th-round pick and is on his fourth organization) to make it to the majors.