J.D. Davis Is Leading the Mets’ Charge

As Ben Clemens succinctly put it on Tuesday, “Here come the Mets.” If you have read Ben’s piece, I’m not going to bore you with the same details. If you haven’t, you should go do so.

In short, the Mets were bad, and now they’re good. But even with this current stretch of newfound dominance, their seemingly high-octane offseason remains a mixed bag. Edwin Díaz and Robinson Canó still haven’t lived up to their high expectations after being brought in from Seattle, Jed Lowrie hasn’t played a single game due to a calf injury, and Jeurys Familia won’t stop walking hitters. For all the talk about how good the Mets’ offseason was, it’s still not those players who are leading the charge. That is, save for this one obvious exception:

The Mets’ Offseason Acquisitions by WAR
Player Position Acquired PA/BF 2019 WAR
J.D. Davis INF/OF Trade (Houston) 297 1.6
Robinson Canó INF Trade (Seattle) 346 0.4
Wilson Ramos C Free Agent 364 0.3
Edwin Díaz RP Trade (Seattle) 196 0.2
Justin Wilson RP Free Agent 89 0.0
Luis Avilán RP Free Agent 81 0.0
Jed Lowrie INF Free Agent 0 0.0
Adeiny Hechavarría INF Free Agent 147 -0.1
Jeurys Familia RP Free Agent 173 -0.5
Stats through games played on Tuesday, August 6.

In a sense, J.D. Davis has been the Mets’ savior. As they’ve heated up, he has not only been one of their best offensive players but also one of the best bats in baseball. In the 30-day period between July 8 and August 6 — as the Mets’ playoff odds have increased by 35 points — Davis has slashed .385/.468/.615 in 77 plate appearances. His 187 wRC+ during this time is the seventh-highest in baseball. His defense has limited his overall value a touch, but even still, his 0.9 WAR in this time period ranks 32nd out of 181 qualified position players.

While this level of performance probably won’t be sustained long-term, it’s not as if Davis was incapable of producing at an elite level. If you’re a Twitter follower of mine, you’d know that I’ve been a big fan of his all year, at least since I wrote this piece in early April. What intrigued me about Davis then continues to intrigue me now. He is not only putting up good numbers in terms of pure production, it’s that his underlying stats make him all the more exciting:

J.D. Davis’ Statcast Stats
EV (mph) Percentile xBA Percentile xSLG Percentile xwOBA Percentile
J.D. Davis 92.2 95th .316 98th .529 92nd .393 96th
Stats through games played on Tuesday, August 6.

Those are some very impressive numbers. To contextualize just how good Davis has been, consider this: 394 hitters have at least 100 plate appearances this season. Just three of them have both a higher xBA and xwOBA than Davis: Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, and Anthony Rendon. Davis has found himself in an elite class of hitters this season, and nobody outside of New York is talking about it.

That is why it is time for people to take notice, because this version of J.D. Davis (or at least one close to it) is here to stay. The same changes that I identified back in a minuscule sample in April have remained true: Davis’ O-Swing rate is a career-best, as is his contact rate. With that, his discipline has been fantastic. His 20% strikeout rate is actually even lower than it was when I wrote the April piece. As you’d expect, that too is a career-best and is nearly six points better than his 2018 figure. His walk rate has even ticked up a bit as well.

The discipline was the last step in turning Davis into a productive hitter. Prior to 2019, Davis posted solid numbers on contact. From 2017 through 2018, his xwOBA on pitches put into play (.391) ranked in the top-third of hitters. The problem was that Davis just wasn’t making enough contact in order for that to matter. He struck out 49 times in 181 plate appearances with Houston, and his 14 walks were not nearly enough to soften the blow.

The Mets acquired Davis from Houston in early January for what Eric Longenhagen called at the time “a steep price.” In retrospect, the deal still looks puzzling, as even today, Davis doesn’t fit cleanly in the Mets’ lineup. Todd Frazier continues to man the hot corner, and Pete Alonso isn’t playing anywhere else but first base. As a result, Davis has been relegated to left field, where he has been one of the worst defenders in the league. This explains why his overall value on the chart above looks rather limited. For as valuable as Davis has been on offense (11.2 runs above average), he’s struggled to stay afloat defensively (-4.9 runs).

But that’s a trade-off the Mets were willing to make at the time, and it looks like a shrewd decision now. The impact that he has made is palpable, perhaps best demonstrated through the following at-bat from the Mets’ August 5 game against Miami, the nightcap of a doubleheader. Davis had entered the game as part of a double-switch in the top of the fifth, doubled in his first at-bat in the bottom of the inning, and came up again in the seventh with the Mets down by two runs. Facing Marlins righty Jeff Brigham, Davis took a borderline first pitch for a strike:

Now down 0-1, Davis again saw a fastball, this one in the zone. He offered at it and whiffed:

Davis was down 0-2, but he was not fazed. Through 0-2 this season, Davis has still posted an 88 wRC+. This not only represents a 119-point improvement over 2018, but it also ranks in the 91st percentile overall. Brigham threw him another borderline pitch, and Davis did not offer. This time, he got the call:

Brigham then came back with two more fastballs, both of which were well outside the zone:

Davis had worked the count back to 3-2, and Brigham threw him yet another fastball. On this one, damage was done:

It was a 107-mph, 402-foot, opposite-field blast. Even the Home Run Derby champion was impressed:

Michael Conforto and Alonso each added homers that very inning, and the Mets went on to win the game. Conforto wouldn’t have even come to the plate without Davis’ home run, and more specifically, his discipline. While I can’t say for certain that the J.D. Davis of old would have struck out in that at-bat, I can reasonably think that it probably wouldn’t have ended nearly as well.

This is what makes J.D. Davis so exciting. Not only does he have elite power, but he has finally added the contact skills to make noise. For a Mets offseason that looks as dark as it does even today, Davis is one major bright spot. And what an important bright spot he has been.

Devan Fink is a Contributor at FanGraphs. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
OddBall Herrera
4 years ago

ex Astros named J.D. is clearly the new market inefficiency

4 years ago

Too bad J.D. Martin never played for the Astros.