How long will the Mets wait for the real Ike Davis to return?
Approximately a year ago, Ike Davis looked like the Mets's next big star.
After an encouraging rookie year in 2010, posting an O.P.S.+ of 115, he performed like an All-Star through 36 games in 2011, putting up an O.P.S.+ of 158 while excelling defensively at first base. Had he continued at that level, Davis was a good bet to make his first midsummer classic, and at just 24 years old, looked like a building block for the team for years to come.
Then in Game 36 David Wright and Davis collided tracking an infield fly. Davis sustained an injury that was repeatedly misdiagnosed by Mets doctors, ultimately costing him his entire season.
Then Davis came down with Valley Fever this spring, a disease that is exacerbated by intense activity, the very thing expected from an everyday baseball player. The Mets and Davis have been mum about any possible effects of the disease.
Whether due to a year away, the Valley Fever, or some combination, Ike Davis has been truly awful in 2012. Through the very same 36 games he played in 2011, Davis has an O.P.S.+ this season of just 49. To put that in perspective, light-hitting backup catcher Mike Nickeas has an O.P.S.+ of 50.
But Davis isn't a backup catcher. He's playing a premium offensive position, first base, and not coming close to providing the kind of production a major league team can allow.
Thus, the Mets face increasing pressure to send Davis to Triple-A. But a simple swap wouldn't necessarily help the Mets, with regular Buffalo first baseman Josh Satin hitting poorly, and Val Pascucci, who is hitting, giving back much of his offensive value in the field.
Other options exist at the major league level, but require some concessions. For instance, Lucas Duda appears to be quite capable of providing above-league-average offense at first base, along with adequate fielding. But moving Duda from right field, where his defense has been nightmarish, is essentially conceding that Duda cannot be the team's right fielder, or at the very least, deprives him of any progress he'd make by playing out there.
Duda can be replaced by Kirk Nieuwenhuis in right field, or Mike Baxter, a late-blooming outfielder who appears to be a player the Mets stole off of waivers. That also opens up left field for Jason Bay once he returns from injury without costing as many plate appearances for Nieuwenhuis, Baxter and Duda, three players the Mets hope can help them in the coming years.
None of the players mentioned above have the perceived ceiling of Davis, whose breakout 2011 wasn't unexpected from the former first-round pick who made quick work of the minor leagues. His line-drive rate is identical to his 2011, but he's producing 53 percent ground balls on his balls in play, way up from last year's 42 percent. That's bad news for a power hitter who runs slowly, and it has come entirely at the expense of his fly balls, which is, after all, how home runs are created. Those balls in the air are also twice as likely to be infield pop ups as they were last year, suggesting weak contact as well. And he is striking out significantly more than he did in 2011, so he isn't making as much contact, either.
The Mets are making the right move now by showing patience with Davis. But even a team like the Mets, with a greater focus on the future than the present, can't wait around forever for him to return to form.