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Saturday, April 19, 2014
Pirates fans should get to say 'I like Ike'

By Christina Kahrl



One of the things a few folks -- not just long-suffering Mets fans -- were wondering was whether Ike Davis was going to be able to build on last season's big second half. After going down for a month to help him address things like an epically awful start, perhaps related to his planting too far back from the plate, Davis came back up in July and clouted pitchers at a .267/.429/443 clip in two months. That from a lefty power bat that hit 32 homers in 2012, a guy who even with the awful two months to start 2013 has a career .256/.357/.471 line against right-handed pitching (2014-inclusive).

So the thing to watch is if Davis is going to be some variation of that guy again: The lefty masher, maybe the guy who delivered the third-best second-half OBP in the majors in 2013 -- the Pirates aren’t all that picky.
Ike Davis
If Ike Davis brings his 2012 power or his 2013 second-half OBP, he'll be a big addition to the Bucs.

The fun thing is that Davis perfectly complements the guy the Pirates had left over at first base, right-handed hitter Gaby Sanchez. Sanchez managed just a .619 OPS against righties last year as the short end of the Pirates’ first-base platoon, with Garrett Jones initially and Justin Morneau later, while thriving against the lefties he’s reliably chewed up (.898 OPS career), seeing his usual 200-point OPS split spike up to .987 last year. Even if that had regressed toward something less extreme, even if Sanchez got his OPS against right-handed hitters back up around .700 as an everyday player, he wasn’t going to be an asset as a regular. Credit the Pirates for both resurrecting Sanchez -- he was a Marlins All-Star in 2011, and combined for 38 homers in 2010 and 2011 -- and using him within his limits.

To compensate for those shortcomings, the Pirates had retained Travis Ishikawa as a sort of latter-day Dave Bergman/Tony Muser type, something you don’t see much of on rosters these days. As a fan of a certain age, those are my points of reference for a backup first baseman good for spot starts against right-handers who struggle against lefties, maybe some pinch hitting and defensive-replacement duties. They were fun to have around, but they were something you could only afford the roster space for at a time when bullpens were staffed by five or six guys, not seven or eight. Like Morneau, Davis is a much stronger alternative, and a much better use of the roster spot in today’s competitive environment, which is why the Pirates promptly designated Ishikawa for assignment as soon as they could add Davis to the active roster on Saturday.

Having assembled their latest retread platoon to cover their first-base needs, it’s interesting to see how many teams are adapting to today’s decline in runs scored with platoons or with some measure of platooning. The Brewers have had to resort to the barrel-bottom solution of Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, while the Rays have stuck with James Loney-Sean Rodriguez at first. The Yankees have resorted to a platoon during Mark Teixeira’s time on the DL, partnering Kelly Johnson with Francisco Cervelli and Scott Sizemore at first. The Astros and Rockies play matchup games.

But most of those are desperation or price-driven choices, whereas the Davis-Sanchez platoon might combine to crank out offensive production to rank among the top half of first basemen. While we don’t know who the PTBNL the Mets will get will be, minor league righty reliever Zach Thornton seems like little more than an organizational arm. So while the Pirates may well be cost-conscious and reluctant to part with talent, what they might get from first base won’t be too shabby for a pair of bargain-basement finds.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.