Can Ike Davis Resurrect His Career in Time to Give the Pirates a Push in 2014?

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Can Ike Davis Resurrect His Career in Time to Give the Pirates a Push in 2014?
USA Today

It wasn't really a matter of if the New York Mets were going to trade Ike Davis. It was really more a matter of when, and of which team would be willing to make an upside play on the lefty-swinging first baseman.

And the winner is: the Pittsburgh Pirates.

As Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com was first to report, the Mets have traded Davis to the Pirates in exchange for right-handed minor league reliever Zack Thornton and a player to be named later who is said to have a "fairly significant" name.

It's at this point that you may feel free to say, "Finally!" 

The Pirates were looking for a lefty-hitting first baseman all winter and throughout spring training, and Davis was one of the guys they were linked to. They opened the season with journeyman Travis Ishikawa in the mix, but his .664 OPS through 14 games told the Pirates not to trust him for much longer.

Thus, Davis.

On the surface, the Pirates aren't getting anything special. Davis hit 19 homers and finished seventh in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 and hit 32 homers in 2012, but he owns a career slash line of just .241/.334/.433 and is coming to the Pirates straight from the Mets' bench.

When you have stuff like this to consider, you can't make any guarantees that everything is going to work out just fine. For the sake of being upfront about it: No, you won't find any here.

The best we can do is consider the upside of the deal for the Pirates, and that's where there's good news. The upside is there, and it's more real than you might think.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

The reasons for optimism start with Davis' age. He's still in prime territory at 27, and it's hardly unheard of for guys to emerge from shaky beginnings to become productive players. Not to put too much pressure on Davis or anything, but a fellow Davis did so in Baltimore last year in his own age-27 season.

Then there's the whole change-of-scenery thing. It can be an overly convenient narrative for trades like these, but it sure sounds like Davis is glad to be escaping the Big Apple.

Via Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review:

You can also take it from one of the New York beats that the move to Pittsburgh is what Davis needed. Here's Andy Martino of the New York Daily News:

If Davis' bat does come alive in Pittsburgh, it could just be the change of scenery that did the trick. 

Either that, or the real trick will have been Davis being put in a proper platoon.

A platoon at first base wasn't possible in New York, as both Davis and Lucas Duda are lefty swingers. But with the Pirates, Davis is ticketed to slide into a platoon role with the righty-swinging Gaby Sanchez.

And given their career platoon splits, a partnership between Sanchez and Davis at first base might prove to be one of the more effective platoons in the National League:

Davis' and Sanchez's Career Platoon Splits
Player Split PA K% BB% BA OBP SLG OPS
Davis vs RHP 1296 22.1 13.7 .256 .357 .471 .828
Sanchez vs LHP 574 13.6 13.2 .300 .399 .501 .900

Baseball-Reference.com

To put Davis' numbers against righties in perspective, he's a career .202/.267/.331 hitter against lefties with a 29.0 strikeout percentage. That's across 445 plate appearances, or 445 too many.

"He does a really nice job against right-handed pitchers in his career," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told George Von Benko of MLB.com, adding that he views Davis as a "very nice complement" for Sanchez.

That pretty well sums up the platoon aspect of this trade, which is absolutely Pittsburgh's best hope of the deal being worth its while.

It will be more than that if Davis is able to settle into one of his hot stretches, which haven't gotten nearly as much attention as his cold stretches despite the hot numbers being about as impressive as the cold numbers are gag-worthy.

Observe:

When Ike Davis Gets Hot
Year Span PA K% BB% AVG OBP SLUG OPS
2012 First 56 G 201 29.4 9.0 .158 .234 .273 .507
2012 Last 100 G 383 21.4 11.2 .265 .347 .565 .913
2013 First 55 G 207 31.9 9.2 .161 .242 .258 .500
2013 Last 48 G 170 20.6 22.4 .267 .429 .443 .872

Baseball-Reference.com

It's the huge walk percentage that stands out from Davis' most recent hot stretch, and that doesn't come as a huge surprise once you consider how much he dialed down his aggressiveness on pitches outside the strike zone in 2013. 

And while it's admittedly taken place over a very small sample size, Davis has continued that trend this season.

Such is the tale you can read if you go to FanGraphs and check out how the percentages of pitches he's swung at outside the strike zone (O-Swing%), anyway:

  • 2012 O-Swing%: 29.3
  • 2013 O-Swing%: 22.9
  • 2014 O-Swing%: 17.7

Perhaps not so coincidentally, another thing that's been going down is Davis' percentage of swinging strikes. Since 2012, it's gone from 11.2 to 10.4 to 6.3 so far this year.

Between this and all of the above, what the Pirates are getting is a player in his prime years who's teased both enormous talent and, more recently, a very keen eye. That they're giving this player a needed change of scenery and a platoon role that suits him adds to the intrigue.

It also helps that we're not talking about Davis needing to hit 30 homers to justify the deal. If he can give Pittsburgh something close to his .357 career OBP against righties alongside 15 to 20 or so homers, that would do the trick quite nicely so long as Sanchez keeps up his end of the bargain against left-handed pitchers.

There's nothing wrong with being skeptical of Davis in light of his track record. But lest you think the Pirates are wasting their time with this deal, you can think again.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.

 

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