In the top of the eighth inning of last night’s game Ike Davis was scheduled to come up with David Wright on 3rd and 2 outs. Ike was 2 for 3 on the night with an infield hit and an rbi double. Most encouraging was his infield hit to the left side. Something I hadn’t seen from Ike all year. Ike Davis did not come up to bat in the 8th, instead Terry Collins inserted Josh Satin to face Dunn and Josh promptly hit a fly ball to left ending the inning.
From a practical baseball perspective it makes sense to bring in a righty against the lefty in that spot given Ike Davis’ offensive struggles and his numbers against lefties. From a intuitive position however, particularly one with an eye on development, it was not just wrong, but highly problematic in both its outcome and its premise.
Terry Collins has been criticized for a lot of things but one thing we keep hearing about is his tendency to go with veteran hands rather than letting some of our youth have playing time. He also seems to get locked into stringent patterns when he implements platoons. The team isn’t looking like it’s going to make a run at a pennant and it’s important to get a sense of who we can rely on moving forward, so his lack of flexibility is somewhat puzzling. Development is after all the name of the game right now.
For this reason you have to see what Ike can do in that spot, because if he gets another game-winning hit we might be looking at finally ushering a legitimately resurgent offensive threat back into our lineup. The decision to put Satin in on the other hand lets everyone know that what matters most is winning, which has its merits, but Satin is not our future first baseman, and if Ike can regain his previous form he’s going to win a lot more games for us in the long run than the one game we might lose tonight by letting him hit in a key spot against a tough lefty. In the end, we lost the game anyhow.
Ike came up 3 years ago after our Mike Jacobs experiment had run its course and was hailed as a solid hitter with terrific power who could take a walk and help his team out. A guy who could hit the ball to all fields and who played outstanding defense at first. His dad was Ron Davis, a fairly accomplished reliever in his own day who’d played for the Yankees and the Twins.
Ron Davis was described by Syd Hartman in his book “Syd,” as “a big goofy looking son of a gun who would sing ‘Jimmy Cracked Corn’ every time he made his way to the mound.” Ron blew a lot of games for the 84 and 85 Twins and is not particularly liked in these parts, but he was known for doing stuff like taking under-privileged kids fishing and later on he did quite a bit of coaching — he even coached Ike for a while. Ike went so far as to thank his dad for his ability to hit the ball to all fields, and Ron himself described Ike in an early interview with Burkhardt (in the stands) as a guy who could spread the ball around.
So what happened? When did Ike become this dead pull all or nothing hitter? The foot injury derailed what was shaping up as a breakout season and when he came back it seemed like he became enamored with the long ball. At some point, Ike abandoned what got him to the big leagues for the glory of an additional few home runs. But there’s more to it. Ike hit 32 home runs with 90 RBI in 2012 and was hitting .302 after 36 games in 2011 before he got injured. In 2010 Ike had 19 homers 71 RBI and 33 doubles. He was a pretty damned good hitter, and you don’t just go from being that good to being this bad when you’re 26 do you? Fangraphs put an interesting graphic together on just that question and concluded that yes, it is exceptionally rare for a player’s performance to drop as steeply as Ike’s has during his 4th season at the age of 26. He is in fact the most prominent outlier on the chart.
So as you can see above, Ike sits all by himself when it comes to his recent demise, looking at players ages 23 – 26 from 1970 to the present. Players don’t usually play this poorly after being as good as Ike was in his first few seasons, in fact, according to the chart they almost never do. This bodes well for a recovery, although it doesn’t guarantee one by any means. Ike should be better given the player he’s been. A lot of Ike’s problems could be confidence related, but Ike’s biggest problem in the batter’s box has clearly been his horrendous strike out rates and his lost ability to hit to the opposite field.
All season I’ve been frustrated to no end at Ike’s failure to even attempt to punch a ball to the opposite field. Then a couple of nights ago there was a failed bunt attempt to the left side against the shift which literally made me jump out of my seat and cheer even though he made out. But last night he actually managed to hit a ground ball to the left side for an infield hit … Is Ike finally working his way back to what made him such a good hitter earlier in his career?
Pitchers figured out that if you bust Ike up and in you could then entice him with that low and outside pitch, often in the dirt. Ike would swing every time. You’d think at some point he’d do one of two things, stop swinging at that outside pitch, or re-learn how to reach out and punch it to the opposite field. It is beginning to look like Ike is in the midst of employing some combination of both. His strike outs are down, he’s walking more, and he’s getting hits.
In his next at bat he laced an RBI double down the right field line. I was thrilled, the Mets are a different team with last years 2nd half version of Ike in the lineup, and you never know what might happen by adding a player like this to an already more competitive team down the stretch.
This wonderful history in the making was averted however because Terry Collins chose to go with his righty bench player. The legend of Ike Davis reinventing himself and the miraculous run of the 2013 Mets is perhaps happening as we speak in some other dimension in some other Mets universe across some funky wormhole but it’s not happening here, not if Terry Collins has anything to say about it.
The problem with this is twofold. Not only do we fail to ascertain what a possibly resurgent Ike Davis is capable of, but in doing so we may be relegating Ike to a numerical profile at season’s end which could result in his being released. This would be a huge mistake.
Ike’s second half last year showed that Ike is capable of being in the top 5% for his position in OPS and power categories for a good long stretch. First basemen with that kind of ability don’t grow on trees, in fact, while arbitration might net him upwards of 6 million, players who can put up the Votto-esque numbers he accumulated in the second half of 2012 are 20 million dollar men. The Mets have far more to gain by being patient with Ike than they do by pinch hitting for him during the late innings of a meaningless game against a terrible team.
Then there’s the issue of Josh Satin’s defense, which isn’t anywhere near that of Ike Davis’. Last night we were stuck with Satin at first in the late innings. Not a good thing.
For a team with a purported emphasis on development and youth, Collins will all too often run against the grain. He resisted giving Lagares the CF job, benching him repeatedly after several multiple hit games until it became almost embarrassing that Lagares wasn’t playing every day. Finally he gave in to reason. With Ike there’s even more at stake.
Several years of 20 million dollar production at a cut rate?
If I’m Sandy Alderson I’m watching every at bat, every play that involves Ike Davis, and I’m on the phone after Collins pinch hits for him in the 8th … and, I’m not happy.