Season in preview: First base

Less talk more rock:

The first basemen in April: Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy

Overview: Was there a more positive development for the Mets in 2010 than the emergence of Ike Davis as a viable Major League first baseman? (I guess you could say the departure of Omar Minaya if you want to be like that, but I don’t.)

Davis didn’t exactly destroy the ball by first baseman standards — in fact, his 115 OPS+ was below league-average for the position. But he hit in the big leagues at age 23 and with only half a season above A-ball on his resume. He demonstrated power that would not be contained by Citi Field, and played great defense by the eye and stats. And after slumping massively through most of July and August, Davis showed the ability to adjust to Major League pitching and scorched the ball in September, for whatever that’s worth. He even hit lefties better than anyone expected, and in fact better than he hit righties.

It’s all good stuff. Now 24 and under team control until the latter part of the decade, Davis appears ready to be a cornerstone player for the Mets for years to come. A star? Maybe not, but he’s young enough that it’s still a possibility. And based on his strong 2010 campaign, Davis is probably at worst a pretty good Major Leaguer.

Behind Davis, the Mets have a cadre of dudes from his generation ready to fill in. Murphy will serve as the primary backup first baseman with the big club, but Lucas Duda and Nick Evans — should he clear waivers — could join the team from Triple-A if injuries arise. Obviously none has any Major League production as promising as Davis’ 2010 on his resume, but none appears a downright terrible option either. Gone are the days of Mike Jacobs.

The first basemen in September: Davis and Murphy.

How they stack up: Fun fact: By WAR, Davis was better than Adam LaRoche, Gaby Sanchez and Ryan Howard last season, and Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman has only 24 Major League at-bats. Freeman looks like he could be a stud, but since he’s still 21 and hasn’t yet proven anything at the big-league level, I’ll say Davis will be a better player in 2011. I’ll take Davis over LaRoche and Sanchez, too.

WAR is not a predictive stat, in part because it heavily weighs defensive metrics, which change greatly from year-to-year. And I’m not at all comfortable saying Davis is currently a better player than Howard. He’s certainly a better defender, and due to age and contract status I’d rather have Davis on my team, but there’s just way more evidence that Howard can hold up as a Major League hitter. Yes, the cracks in the Phillie’s game have been showing for a while now, and his OPS has been on a pretty steady downward trend since his MVP season in 2006, but, you know, he’s still Ryan Howard.

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