With all the questions looming for the Mets as the 2011 season draws closer, perhaps none is more important than whether Ike Davis is going to be an elite first baseman. Why, you might ask, is this more important that the Beltran/Reyes/Madoff/Johan-related questions? Well, look at the Free Agent Class for the upcoming offseason. The two clearly elite players are Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, both, of course, first basemen. The question then, is whether it will be worth it to hold on to Ike Davis or move on and upgrade via Albert or Prince.
So, let’s see what the stats tell us about Ike and more importantly what we can expect going forward.
Here was Ike’s line in 2010, his rookie year:
Are these elite numbers? Not for a first baseman (let’s put aside for a moment Ike’s stellar defense). But, you might be saying, Ike was just a rookie. Surely, he’ll improve. And that’s the proposition I want to test today. Let me start with the optimistic data points:
Reasons Ike Will Get Better:
His September last year: .330/.427/.524 with 4 homers.
His strike outs by month from May through September:
Adjusted for park effect here was his “translated” line for 2010: .287/.376/.477 with 22 homers and a .290 TAv.
Bill James thinks he will get better: His projection for Ike–.283/.374/.488 with 23 home runs.
Reasons to worry:
Ike swung at 27.3% of the pitches he saw that were out of the strike zone (a high number, particularly for someone who walks as often as Ike does).
His .321 BABIP is high for someone without much speed and without top-notch power (note however that in the minors in both ’08 and ’09 Ike had even higher BABIP’s, suggesting that it might not be luck).
Baseball Prospectus and Marcel (the two other leading projection systems) don’t foresee great things for Ike. The prospectus line: .252/.335/.406 with 12 homers; Marcel: .273/.357/.443 with 15 homers.
What should we think:
To understand why Marcel and Baseball Prospectus are “down” on Ike, it’s really all about BABIP and power. Marcel thinks Ike’s BABIP will stay around last year’s level. Prospectus thinks that Ike’s BABIP is going to regress to .310, in which case he’s probably not going to do especially well. Because Ike isn’t yet a “power hitter” his value if that’s true is limited. James, in contrast, thinks Ike’s BABIP is going to improve to .336, in which case he will get better. It’s pretty much that simple.
So who’s right? The answer is we don’t know yet. But it’s clear that Ike isn’t a sure thing. The real question is, is Ike Davis the hitter we saw both when he first arrived and in September, or is he more like the hitter who struggled for the better part of the summer.
The jury is still out, but I don’t think Ike is going to be as bad as Prospectus suggests. The problem for the Mets is he may be what Marcel thinks he is. And he may not get that much better. To see what I mean, let’s look at the first and second year lines for five of the elite first basemen in the major leagues:
The good news is that 3 of those 5 guys improved from Y1 to Y2 (of course that means that two guys didn’t improve at all). And the bad news is that all of those guys had more power than Ike as rookies. In some cases, substantially more.
To make matters worse, let’s look at Y1 and Y2 for a player Ike is often compared to: Adam LaRoche.
Y1: .278/.333/.488 with a .328 BABIP.
Y2: .259/.320/.455 with a .277 BABIP.
There are just no guarantees a player gets better in his second season.
But remember, Ike’s translated line was significantly better (.477 SLG) when the negative effect of Citi Field is taken into account. That places Ike’s slugging percentage in line with the rookie years of both Teixeira and Fielder – two guys who saw incredible improvements from Y1 to Y2 (although it also is close to LaRoche who declined). In addition, Ike might have been unlucky against right-handed pitchers last year. His .301 BABIP is exactly average. However, as we discussed earlier, Ike seems to be able to put up a BABIP in the .320 range. If he produces at those numbers, his batting average could go way up. Thus, it is possible Ike could take the proverbial “next step” in 2011.
So, what do I think is realistic for Ike in 2011? How about the following line: .275/.350/.460 with 21 homers. Elite? Not quite. If the Mets can only make the team better for 2012 by signing an elite first baseman, they will have to think about doing so. But for what it’s worth, I hope they don’t have to.