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Thursday, April 11, 2013
No more alibis for Ike

By Matt Meyers

Ike Davis
It's time to face reality: Ike Davis isn't the cornerstone the Mets hoped he would be.
The Mets head to Colorado next week for the final leg of their 10-game road trip, and it will presumably stir up some emotions for Ike Davis.

It was at Coors Field that Davis injured his left ankle on May 10, 2011, after colliding with David Wright while catching a pop-up. Davis was hitting .302/.383/.543 at the time, and the deep bone bruise, which ended his season, gave fans one less reason to watch a mediocre team.

That injury was a curse for Davis in two ways -- not only did it end his season, but the timing of it created expectations he appears unlikely to fulfill.

Because Davis was on such a tear during those first six weeks of the 2011 season, many want to believe that is his true talent level. Problem is, we have more than 1,200 plate appearances outside of 2011 that suggest Davis isn’t nearly that good -- he’s hitting just .129 with a homer on the young season, once again proving he isn’t the cornerstone the Mets hoped he could be.

The biggest issue for Davis is that he can’t hit lefties. Maybe “can’t” is too harsh, but he certainly has a severe aversion to them. For his career, Davis has a .214/.277/.364 line against southpaws, and Terry Collins even benched him in favor of journeyman Justin Turner when the Mets faced Cliff Lee on Wednesday. Thing is, it was probably the right move by Collins, and that’s a fairly damning indictment of Davis.

After a brutal start to the 2012 season, Davis rebounded to hit 20 home runs after the All-Star break, but he was still dominated by lefties in the second half, posting just a .585 OPS against them. Even an armchair scout can see that Davis has a tendency to open up to hit for pull power, and he is putty in the hands of any southpaw who can locate off-speed stuff low and away.

And because Davis is such a pull hitter (against both righties and lefties), teams can easily shift against him, which makes it extremely difficult for him to get base hits. In fact, he hit just 60 singles last season, which was fourth-fewest in baseball. Only fellow all-or-nothing sluggers Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds and Adam Dunn had fewer.

Pena provides an interesting comp for Davis, as a good-fielding first baseman with lots of pull power who struggles against southpaws. However, the difference between Davis and the 2007-09 version of Pena, who was an impact player, is significant. For starters, Pena walked at a much higher rate in that three-year span (16 percent of plate appearances), while Davis’ career mark is 11.9 percent.

The other key difference is the aforementioned shifts, which neutralize dead-pull hitters, particularly left-handed ones. According to Baseball Info Solutions, there were a total of 2,026 infield shifts in 2010, and that number jumped to 4,577 last year. While players like Davis might once have been played straight up, teams are more aware than ever of batted-ball tendencies, and know that almost anything he hits is headed towards right field. Therefore, opponents adjust their defensive positioning accordingly, which makes it nearly impossible for Davis to do damage with anything other than homers.

Davis is better than he has shown in 2012, and he has some of the best raw power in the league. But here's the unhappy recap: a lesser version of Carlos Pena is not what the Mets and their fans were hoping for.