What to Do About J.D. Davis
Mets have a decision to make on enigmatic slugger...
Image credit: Chris Simon
The New York Mets have a dilemma on their hands regarding J.D. Davis. There have certainly been ups and downs. But the 28-year-old, when right, can be a useful cog on this roster, if not more.
The former Astros third-rounder (2014) has exhibited plenty of promise at the plate during his tenure in Queens. Not without vulnerabilities, of course. And his defense is what it is (not great). Still, there’s potential here.
Davis’ breakout 2019 season (.307/.369/.527, 22 HR, 22 2B, 137 wRC+, 2.4 fWAR, .373 wOBA, 453 plate appearances) after coming to the Mets via trade (Brodie’s solitary win?) was an exit velocity fireworks show (91.5 MPH average EV, 11.1% barrel rate, 47.9% hard-hit; elite). Extravagant.
Even with all signs pointing to MLB’s use of a livelier ball in 2019, Pete Alonso (53 home runs in 2019) averaged 90.7 MPH EV through his record-breaking rookie campaign. Davis’ metrics stand up, no doubt.
Then came the oddity that was the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Coming off his red-hot 2019, Davis was undoubtedly gonna get his reps, even without the benefit of having a true position in the field. The adoption of the designated hitter in the NL certainly helped his cause in that respect.
As we’re all very aware, Davis is not exactly deft with the leather. His -8 outs above average at third base since 2019 aren’t good (-7 OAA on plays to his left since 2020). The -9 OAA in left field ain’t great, either. With his defensive play a liability, finding the balance of reps versus win probability has been a challenge at times. Especially when the downturns set in.
Outside of his robust on-base percentage (.371 OBP, 13.5% walk rate) in 2020, Davis mostly struggled (.247, .760 OPS in 229 PA). His contact metrics remained respectable (90.1 MPH EV, 8.9% barrel, 45.2% hard-hit), as did his batting average on balls in play (.318 from .355 in 2019).
But the aplomb that Davis approached his at-bats with the previous season was notably absent. Concerning, to say the least.
In 2021, albeit in just 179 plate appearances due to a hand ligament injury that would lead to offseason surgery, Davis regained his offensive prowess, slashing .285/.384/.436 with 17 extra-base hits (12 doubles, five homers) and 130 wRC+.
Davis kept his impressive walk rate intact (11.4 percent; .357 wOBA). His 12.4% barrel rate was a career-high. His hard-hit rate remained above 40 percent (42.5). Impressive. Though, not all was rainbows and sunshine.
Despite a .291/.342/.436 line against breaking stuff last season, Davis’ 50% whiff rate against those offerings was highly out of character (31.9% and 32.6% in 2019 and 2020, respectively). Perhaps that hand injury played into the drop-off but still, it’s a vulnerability and will continue to be attacked until it’s rectified.
Then, of course, Jonathan Villar’s second-half scorch-fest relegated Davis to a bench role. Understandably, he was taken aback.
“I didn’t expect to not play that much. But the team was winning and Villar was banging, so I can’t complain,” Davis told the team’s media corps in September. “I’ve always said this; I’ll do whatever the team needs to win. Because when you’re up here in the big leagues compared to the minor leagues, it’s all about winning when you’re up here.”
Davis didn’t appear phased by very public trade rumors through the summer, telling reporters that he was informed of other teams’ interest and remained upbeat because of it.
“Teams were asking for me. I was getting shopped, so I know that, and I know which teams,” he said. “When you sit there and you’re not playing but you have other teams wanting you, it’s just like, alright. I’ll start freaking out when nobody wants me.”
In the final days of the season, while remaining open to a return, Davis acknowledged that big changes were coming and almost seemed reserved to the fact that he could be on his way out of Flushing.
In a more defined role, Davis could definitely accentuate the depth movement the Mets have undertaken this winter quite well. The opportunity is there. Team and player just have to find their respective happy mediums to make it work. If that’s even the direction they decide to go.
If Davis does remain in Queens, the additions of Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha (not to mention any additional moves the team makes once the lockout ends) all but leave him destined for a bench spot. And that’s fine by us. That’s one heck of a right-handed bat coming off the pine.
Though, if Davis’ inclusion in a trade package with a prospect or two could theoretically bring back a more valuable piece to this pie (think back-end starter), that’s certainly a course the Mets have to chart out.
Should be an exciting rush to Opening Day.
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