It seems odd to compare Ike Davis to Darryl Strawberry. After all, Darryl was the #1 pick in the 1980 amateur draft, took home the Rookie of the Year Award in 1983, and is at or near the top of many of the Mets’ all-time hitting records. Ike Davis? He was known for being the son of former major league pitcher Ron Davis.
Other than that, he had a solid, but not overwhelmingly spectacular college career at Arizona State University. He wasn’t a big home run hitter (33 HR in three years at Arizona State), but was quite effective at using the gaps (69 doubles in 691 collegiate at-bats) and knew how to take a walk (on-base percentages of .387, .407 and .457 in his three years at ASU). Like Strawberry, the Mets took Davis in the first round, selecting him with the 18th overall pick of the 2008 amateur draft. The Mets were able to draft Davis as a compensatory pick when Tom Glavine left the Mets to sign with the Atlanta Braves after his “non-devastating” 2007 season.
Let’s dust off the DeLorean and take a trip back to 1983. Danny Heep, acquired by the Mets during the off-season for future Mets killer and scuffer extraordinaire Mike Scott, was the team’s starting rightfielder. No one was going to confuse Heep for Paul Bunyan (or Dave Kingman for that matter), as he had only cracked four major league home runs in 442 plate appearances prior to his trade to the Mets. Despite having only started 96 games in four seasons as an Astro, the Mets felt comfortable enough to make him their Opening Day starting rightfielder. It turns out he was only keeping the position warm for their 21-year-old phenom.
Darryl Strawberry was supposed to be Superman when he was called up to the Mets early in the 1983 season. The team was floundering in the National League East and needed a spark. The Straw Man became that spark, bringing excitement (but alas, not too many wins) to the franchise. He finished the 1983 season with a .257 average, 26 HR and 74 RBI. To this day, his home run and RBI totals remain the Mets’ all-time rookie record. His 48 extra-base hits (he legged out 15 doubles and seven triples) were also the best showing for any Mets rookie at the time.
Fast forward 27 years to 2010. Once again, the Mets found themselves in a state of disarray. The team had come off a disappointing 2009 season and had started poorly again in 2010. Mike Jacobs, the team’s Opening Day first baseman, was a two-tool player. Unfortunately, one of those tools was “swinging” and the other tool was “missing”. After registering more strikeouts than hits (7 Ks, 5 hits), en route to a .208 batting average, the Mets called up Ike Davis to replace Jacobs as their everyday first baseman. Jacobs never got a chance to strike out again as a Met.
Davis shed his rookie tag quickly, hitting major league pitching as if he were a 10-year veteran, when in fact he had only just turned 23. He raked left-handed pitching early and often and hit some of the longest home runs by a rookie since, well, Darryl Strawberry.
According to hittrackeronline.com, 15 of Davis’ 19 home runs in 2010 traveled at least 400 feet, with eight of them measured at over 430 feet. For the season, an average Ike Davis home run landed 415 feet away, which is the same distance as Citi Field’s furthest reaches. This year, the monster shots have continued. In the past three games, Davis has hit three more bombs, hitting a 456-foot blast on Thursday, a 424-foot bomb on Friday and a 420-foot shot into the Pepsi Porch in Saturday’s victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Speaking of the Mets’ home ballpark, in 2010, a total of 10 players hit home runs at Citi Field that traveled at least 434 feet. Nine of them did it once (including David Wright, Nick Evans and Angel Pagan). The only player to hit more than one 434-foot blast at Citi Field was Ike Davis, who did it a whopping five times. Simply stated, when Ike Davis gets a hold of one, no one on the Shea Bridge or the Pepsi Porch is safe.
So Ike Davis can match Darryl Strawberry with his ability to hit long home runs. But unlike Strawberry, Davis is not just a home run hitter. If you recall, Ike Davis was a doubles machine at Arizona State. That continued after he was drafted by the Mets, as Davis picked up 49 doubles in 677 minor league at-bats. After his call-up to the big leagues, Davis continued to mash the ball into Citi Field’s spacious gaps. In 147 games with the Mets last season, Davis picked up 33 two-base hits. As a comparison, Darryl Strawberry NEVER hit as many as 33 doubles in a season. In fact, only once did he finish a season with more than 27 doubles, when he hit 32 in 1987.
Ike Davis’ 53 extra-base hits in 2010 tied the franchise record for rookies set by Ty Wigginton in 2003. His 19 HR and 71 RBI were both tied for second most all-time among Mets rookies (Ron Swoboda hit 19 HR in 1965; Ty Wigginton had 71 RBI in 2003). The only man in franchise history who hit more home runs and drove in more runs as a rookie was Mr. Darryl Eugene Strawberry.
Since the days of Darryl Strawberry, no homegrown left-handed hitter has possessed as much power as Ike Davis (I don’t want to hear any mentions of Jeromy Burnitz). But Ike Davis is more than just a home run hitter. He can hit the ball to all fields, driving doubles into the gaps (his 33 doubles last season were only three behind team leader David Wright, although Wright had 64 more at-bats in which to collect those doubles) and he led the team in walks with 72. Ike Davis is patient and will turn on a ball when it is pitched in his zone.
Darryl Strawberry was the next big thing back in 1983. When he was called up to the Mets, there was much fanfare and hopes that he would bring the moribund franchise back from the chasm they had been lodged in since the Midnight Massacre of 1977. Ike Davis did not come up to much fanfare. He was never supposed to be the savior of the franchise. He is not even the main guy in the lineup. However, he does have the potential to be the best left-handed hitting homegrown player since the days of the Straw Man. The next time Ike Davis hits a long home run, take notice. You could be seeing the beginning of something really special.