Why I like Ike?
As a five star general during World War and the United States of America’s 34th President what isn’t to like about Dwight D. Eisenhower also known as Ike. The man oversaw a prosperous time in the country’s history and … whats’ that … I have the wrong Ike. This is supposed to be about baseball? Umm … ok I can make that work.
Scratch all that apparently this article pertains to Ike Davis, 1B for the New York Mets. Recently the New York Mets have opted to install Lucas Duda as their regular first baseman and with Josh Satin serving as his backup and platoon partner that really leaves little role for Ike Davis to occupy. Defensively Davis is limited to 1B meaning he isn’t an ideal bench player and with no DH in the NL it isn’t likely he will get regular at bats relegating him to just pinch hitting duty. It gets even worse for Davis though as soon Chris Young will be pushing towards a return and will force the Mets into a decision. I’m not entirely certain which players have and don’t have options for the Mets but it appears quite certain the make up the team would work best if the player Young replaced was Davis. All of this has led some to speculate the Mets would be open to dealing Davis and an obvious fit for a left handed first baseman would be a team with hopes of contention who is starting someone like say Travis Ishikawa at first base.
Davis is far from an ideal fit for the Pirates but all of this does not mean he isn’t a useful fit for them. Davis had a strong rookie season for the Mets back in 2010 but followed that up with an injury shortened 2011, a disappointing 2012 and a disastrous 2013. Still despite all of that I contend Davis remains one of the better options for the Pirates. Courtesy of FanGraphs here is a leaderboard which shows how various players rumored to be available to play 1B have fared against right handed pitching since the start of the 2011 season (note this excludes Davis’s best year). Take note of who has the highest wRC+ in this time period. In a bit of a mild surprise in a list that contains such names as Corey Hart, Adam Lind and Kendrys Morales the best hitter over the last three years against right handed pitching has been Ike Davis.
I’m as willing to admit as anyone that Davis has his faults. Straying away from baseball for a second and in to a field I am not at all familiar with we reach his recent case of Valley Fever. From what I can tell often once a person gets over it they are not susceptible to it anymore but that isn’t true in all cases and I’m not familiar enough with Davis’s specific case to know whether that applies or not. Either way this in itself is one thing outside of his performance that bears considering. The disease doesn’t seem to do much except make a person extremely fatigued but for a baseball player that is obviously a very bad thing.
Moving on to on the field issues brings us first to Davis’s strike out rate. Let’s be honest here the last thing the Pirates need to do is add more strike outs to this lineup. Davis strikes out a lot nearly 1 out of every 4 at bats which in a lineup featuring Starling Marte and Pedro Alvarez would just add to the list of frustrating swings and misses. However the one thing he has that those other don’t is the ability to take a walk as his walk percentage for his career is around 12% meaning he walks once for about every two strike outs. This ability allows him to post a solid OBP despite his low batting average and high strike out rate.
The other red flag that sticks out is his underwhelming performances the last two seasons but 2012 can be explained in part at least with his battle with Valley Fever. The Pirates would have to trust their medical staff on whether this would be an ongoing issue. Last year though was more of a product of a poor season but as a silver lining he did begin to hit well down the stretch before getting injured. At 27 years old it seems unlikely Davis’s skills would already be on the decline so his strong finish shouldn’t be completely ignored. His recent poor play does make him a risk but if he wasn’t a risky acquisition there would be zero chance of the Pirates or any other team for that matter of acquiring him early on in this season.
The next obvious question becomes is Davis better than the Pirates current plan? Well this is an impossible one to answer for the simple reason that we really don’t know what that plan happens to be. Right now Travis Ishikawa is getting the lion’s share of the starts but is that a temporary thing until Lambo or McGuiness shows something or is it how the Pirates are planning on holding down the position this year. Ishikawa is off to a solid enough start and if he can continue playing near this level replacing him would not be something necessary but he has a track record which seems to indicate what type of player he really is. Ishikawa is a good glove 1B that has a good approach at the plate but he lacks the power to be a true impact bat for the position. Upgrading upon that is something the Pirates surely want to do.
Now we come back to the Andrew Lambo situation. He is really the key piece to all of this. How exactly do the Pirates view him? Is it as a potential long term solution to their hole at 1B or is it as a project (like Jeff Clement) with a lot of upside but a low chance of panning out? If the Pirates really believe Lambo can be their 1B giving up assets (both players and cash) for Davis wouldn’t be worth it but if they see him as no more than a project something should be done and Davis right now is the obvious solution.
Now just what might it take to acquire Davis from the Mets? In the offseason it appeared the Mets were shooting for the moon asking for a young quality pitcher someone who would be comparable to the Pirates Nicholas Kingham. I think it is fairly obvious now with Davis being demoted to bench duty that he isn’t going to get them that kind of a return. Still Davis isn’t exactly going to be free I have saw some speculating on a Locke for Davis swap and while I believe that is still probably a bit much it is certainly getting closer. One thing is for certain though and it is the Mets primary target in exchange for Davis is a controllable starting pitcher. The Pirates have several options there and if they wait it out perhaps they will be able to get him at a low enough price that it makes sense to deal away from their starting pitcher depth.
Davis is far from an ideal candidate for the Pirates and he comes with risks and the downward trend his career has been on is certainly concerning but even so he remains a quality option against right handed pitching and with Gaby Sanchez in the fold that is really what the Pirates need. Travis Ishikawa is playing well enough right now that 1B is not really an issue but to me it appears inevitable that he will revert to what he truly is and when that happens the Pirates are going to be forced into doing something to solve the position. Perhaps Lambo will prove to them he is worthy of a chance or perhaps another external candidate will become available and be a more attractive option than Davis but for the time being Ike is the best option out there and really that isn’t a bad thing. When it comes down to it none of us may love Davis but we should all certainly like Ike.