All stats are as of Sunday, June 2
Living in New York, I am often subjected to sports talk radio. As I’m sure most people know, the New York media love controversy. This being said, one thing the talking heads have been discussing more than anything else is Mets first baseman Ike Davis and the possibility of him being demoted to the minors.
Davis, 26, is hitting .168/.245/.272 (.230 wOBA, 44 wRC+) in 177 plate appearances. As a team that is currently in transition and is still trying to figure out its core, the Mets have to be disappointed in Davis so far.
After strong and injury-plagued 2010 and 2011 campaigns, respectively, Davis struggled out of the gate in 2012 (.178/.228/.296 in first 171 PAs) and by the end of May there were talks of him being sent to Triple-A Buffalo. However, he quickly turned it around and from June 1 on, he hit .253/.341/.536 and finished the year with 32 homers. With a very good last four months, it seemed safe to think Davis would continue to hit in 2013.
It seems like deja vu because of what happened last year. However, although the slash lines are similar, there seems to be a little bit more swing and miss in his game. He’s striking out in almost one-third of his plate appearances, while swinging and missing on 13.4 percent of the pitches he sees. It’s kind of crazy to see a player struggle so mightily to find consistency.
For me, this lack of consistency for Davis comes from tinkering with his swing. Looking back at some video, it appears Davis has tried different stances over the years since making his debut in 2010. Here’s a look with some screen caps:
Davis was going well at the time of the first two pictures, but he has two different stances. He seems to be more upright in 2010 while being in more of a crouch and maybe a little wider in 2012. He is seen using these same two basic stances in April and May of this year. He’s also tried different toe taps and strides over the years and during the early part of this season.
Not being able to settle down with one stance will clearly take a toll on a player’s ability to consistently produce, but it could hurt his mental toughness as well. Let’s look at two spray charts, one from when he was consistently putting up solid numbers (2010-2011) and one when he was having trouble doing so (2012-2013):
It’s clear that he’s become more pull-happy in the last two years, while he was more of an all-fields hitter from 2010-2011. There seem to be more hits to left field and center field and even some more power to center field during the first two years.
The idea of a hitter losing himself isn’t new; in fact, we saw it with Dustin Ackley just a couple of weeks ago. The Seattle second baseman was the second pick of the 2009 amateur draft and and made a successful big league debut in 2011 (117 wRC+ in 376 PAs). Since the start of 2012, however, he has hit .221/.288/.312, prompting the team to send him to Triple-A to work on his game. Here’s what Mariners manager Eric Wedge had to say about it (via MLB.com):
“It’s not his swing anymore,” Wedge said. “He’s in a pretty good position fundamentally. But I do think it’s the mental that leads to the fundamental, the mental that leads to the actual performance. Listen, he’s going to be a good hitter. He’s going to be a good player. He’s done a [heck] of a job at second base. … He gets down the line quicker than anybody, he can steal a bag, he cuts the bases as good as anybody. There’s a lot there to like.
“He’s a good kid, he competes. But he just needs to get over some things mentally in regard to approach. When he does that, we’ll get him back up here and I think he’ll take off. That’s why you have Triple-A. This is the exact situation for that. It allows him to catch his breath and go down there and work on what he needs to work on.”
I think Wedge brings up a good point here because Ackley has had success at the major league level. Davis is a similar case, but it seems that they have each struggled with the mental side of hitting. The M’s sent Ackley down with the hopes that he can work on his approach in a more relaxed setting while getting some confidence back. It might take reset in Las Vegas for Davis to get back to being productive, but after the turnaround he had last year, patience might be the best move.