Ike Davis has had a very slow start to the season. He’s currently hitting just .156/.238/.259 with four home runs through his first 39 games, striking out 46 times in his 151 plate appearances. While demotion to the minor leagues is not imminent, the New York Mets first baseman will have to improve at the plate to keep his job.
While Davis has struggled at the plate so far this season, it is part luck related. He has a .198 batting average on balls in play, the fourth lowest mark in the majors, and this is part of the reason why his on-base percentage is the sixth lowest in baseball so far this season:
Davis is also hitting for a lot less power and, whereas his HR/FB ratio has dropped to 11.8% (below his career 16.1% mark), he’s also hitting ground balls at a career high rate (43.3 GB%). While his balls in play average is sure to regress towards the mean, both his walk and strikeout percentages are continuing trends that need to be reversed. Davis’ walk rate has decreased each season since his 2010 debut season while his strikeout frequency has increase almost 10% over the last three seasons.
Looking closer at Davis’ plate discipline statistics, Davis’ swing percentage has increased during each season that he has appeared in the majors, up 4.6% in 2013 in comparison to his debut year. Part of the reason for this in 2013 is likely to be attributed to him pressing at the plate; however the increased aggressiveness is not being controlled:
Davis’ zone swing percentage has increased; however he is making contact at a similar rate to the last two seasons. His main issue has been outside the zone. He may only be swinging at 26.6% of pitches located outside the strike zone; however he’s making contact with less than half of these swings. It’s a continuing trend for Davis as his O-Contact% also dropped last year and this issue has caused his swing-and-miss percentage to rise in both 2012 and 2013 (so far).
Unsurprisingly, it’s breaking balls that are doing the damage, although he’s also having some trouble with the four-seam fastball, whiffing at 14.8% of the 61 pitches seen. While he’s only seen 25 curveballs and 24 sliders on the season so far, he’s still swinging and missing at more than 25% of these pitches seen (28.0% of curves and 27.3% of sliders). Furthermore, when he does make contact with these pitches, less than 10% are put in play (8.0% of curveballs and 4.5% sliders).
Davis’ splits also point to an issue. Whereas hitters do tend to hit opposite handed pitchers better and his 2013 platoon splits are very different due to the high number of strikeouts as well as the low batting average on balls in play, the first baseman’s career splits indicate that the Mets should at least consider limiting his exposure against left-handed pitching:
Major league clubs do not generally like to give up on 26-year-old hitters as full time options this early in their career, however Davis’ only season where he was above average against left-handers was in 2010 – and his .355 wOBA was boosted by a .388 BABIP. Since then, his BABIP has dropped along with his wOBA, topping out with a .246 wOBA in 2012 (which was mainly due to a .162 ISO). Over the course of his career, Davis has walked less, struck out more and hit for less power when facing left-handed pitching, causing a 81 point weighted on-base average differential. If Davis does remain in the majors, the Mets could loosely platoon him by having the right-handed hitting Justin Turner replace him when the club faces tougher left-handed pitchers.
The Mets currently have a 17-24 record and do not appear to be contenders, so it may be best for Davis to be sent to the minors to work on his issues at the plate. While it’s likely that improvement will come naturally as his batting average on balls in play increases, there will likely still be a concern regarding his platoon splits – something that Davis will need to address if he is to remain as the Mets’ full time option at first base going forward, otherwise Davis will soon find himself as the left-handed hitting half of a platoon.