What Happened to Ike Davis?

June 9, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis (29) during batting practice before the game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Please welcome Ari Berkowitz to the Beyond the Box Score family! -ed.

Ike Davis' 2012 struggles with the bat have been a well documented phenomenon. Davis is last in the Major Leagues in wRC+ behind all glove, no field shortstops like Cliff Pennington and Brendan Ryan. His more traditional numbers are awful as well. No matter what way you look at it, Ike Davis has stunk.

Earlier in the year Bill Petti penned a fantastic piece about how the league has adjusted to Ike Davis' ability to hit the fastball and have therefore thrown him the least amount of fastballs in baseball. Even so, it does not explain Ike Davis' complete ineptitude in trying to hit a baseball. He just hasn't hit at all.

It's true that his walk rate is down and his strikeout rate is up, but most sabermetrically inclined fans will point to Ike's ridiculously low BABiP and conclude that Ike is probably due for some regression. Well, I can tell you as a Met fan having watched a lot of games and as a sabermetrically inclined individual, that right now Davis isn't even at a Major League level hitting wise to be susceptible to Major League players' baseline regression.

He's like a pitcher, his contact is weak and he seems to role the ball over to the right side of the infield more times than not. Because of Davis' propensity to hit balls to the right side of the infield, teams have been shifting Davis and he has not been able to adjust and hit the ball the other way.

In this post I'm going to go back and try to analyze how Ike Davis' approach at the plate has changed mechanically from last season to this season:

First off, I wanted to graphically show Davis' struggles hitting the ball hard in 2012.

picasion
picasion (Graphics from TexasLeaguer)

As you can definitely tell, Davis' power has just evaporated. He doesn't hit the ball deep anymore. Even more telling is that all of Ike's homeruns have been pulled this year. In his previous two seasons Ike had shown tremendous power to centerfield and to the opposite field. I'm sure everyone remembers this homerun onto the hitters' eye. Right now, it's hard to believe Ike Davis was once able to hit those kind of moonshots.

Now let's compare Ike's swing in 2011 to the one he's been using this year. (2011 on the right)

Davis_1_medium

(click image to embiggen)

Already in the first frame you can see a difference between this year and last. Ike held his hands up higher in 2011 and also held the bat at a much lower angle, almost resting on his shoulder. The 2012 Davis has his hands back further than the 2011 version. It also looks like he's slightly more balanced this year, while in 2011 he had more weight resting on his back leg.

Davis_2_medium

To me, this is the most troubling frame. As opposed to 2011 where Davis was waiting back on the pitch, this year even before the pitcher has released the ball, Davis has started his swing. This is extremely troubling, by already lifting his leg and arm, he makes himself vulnerable to offspeed and breaking pitches.

Davis_4_medium

You can see that Ike Davis has his hands loaded way back in 2012 as opposed to 2011 where he's still staying square to the pitcher. Also, while the 2012 Ike Davis is just finishing his leg kick, the 2011 version is just starting his. This frame shows Davis' lack of ability to stay back on pitches this season.

Davis_5_medium

The 2012 version of Davis has his elbow much closer to his thigh and still has not put his foot on the ground. The 2011 Davis had his leg kick last one frame, while 2012 Davis had his last three. You can also notice how the 2011 Davis has his legs nicely in line and we therefore can't see his back leg, while the 2012 version of Davis' back leg is visible. This is a sign of Davis pulling out early, an effect of starting your swing early which makes it, as we previously mentioned, almost impossible to hit the breaking ball, especially if it's outside.

Davis_7_medium

Even though the ball hasn't quite reached Davis' bat in the 2012 image, he's already further along in his swing, mechanically speaking, than in the 2011 image where he'd just made contact. The 2012 Davis is completely open and therefore can't square up the ball like he was able to in 2011. You can see his shoulder and hips flying open, you can see the letters on his jersey and his belt buckle facing shortstop as opposed to 2011 where it was facing third base.

Davis_8_medium

Finally, for some reason Ike finishes his swing with both hands on the bat this year as opposed to last. He kind of looks like Daniel Murphy in this frame, a long uncontrolled swing. In 2011 Davis finished his swing upright and balanced, in 2012 Davis barely has his left knee off the ground. Davis' body almost looks like it's pulling him away from the ball.

Where does all this leave us? It leaves us to hypothesize the cause for Davis' mechanical alterations. But, before we do that, I think I've pinpointed the exact time Davis switched over to this new swing. This first homerun is from a game played during spring training on March 24th and this second one is from a game played eight days later on the April 1st.

Can you see the difference? The first one is similar to the 2011 Ike and the second one is similar to the 2012 Ike. In the second video Ike's leg kick becomes much larger than it originally was and he had also dropped his hands to the middle of his chest. The difference between the latter video and the frames of Ike's swing from 2012 is that he wasn't pulling out early and his hips were staying square to the ball during spring training.

What I assume happened is as follows. Ike Davis adjusted his mechanics during spring training and because of his abnormally large new leg kick he became extremely susceptible to breaking balls and offspead pitches. This then caused him to overcompensate by starting his swing earlier, which was his downfall. I broke down Davis' stats before and after he made the mechanical change during spring training.

PA BB K AVG OBP SLG
Before 42 17% 17% 0.229 0.357 0.371
After 25 4% 24% 0.25 0.28 0.625

Obviously we are talking about a small sample size, but we've been witnessing an Ike that strikes out and walks at about the same rate he did over the last few games of spring training. We have empirical evidence of a change in mechanics backed up by these numbers.

Now onto the hypothesis. The first possible hypothesis is that Davis made a mechanical change to his swing during spring training in order to accommodate his left ankle, which is the one he injured severely last season. As I mentioned earlier, Davis is more balanced this year as opposed to last year where he had more weight on his back leg which is his left leg. Another possible explanation is that Davis has always varied between a few different swings and during spring training the team set out to stop this and decide on one particular swing. It could be they knew it could hurt Davis in the short term, but would benefit him greatly in the future. Or, Davis could have seen his numbers from the spring (one homer up until the change in mechanics), decided to change things up and was successful immediately (three homers in six games) and stuck with his new swing.

I wanted to address Davis' recent success and possible explanations for him having it. Recently, Davis has reverted back to his 2011 swing mechanics. His weight is shifted back on his left leg, his hands are up around his head and, most importantly, he's nixed the leg kick. This has caused him to be able to start his swing later and stay closed throughout the entire swing. I always though that since Davis' issues at the plate had to do with pitch recognition, in other words, he's struggled swinging and missing at pitches out of the strikezone, one of the first signs of him breaking out of his slump would be an uptick in walks. Since the second game of the series against the Nationals Davis has walked seven times in 25 plate appearances for a BB% of 28%.

Davis has been starting his swing on time, which has kept his body in at bats longer instead of his hips flying completely open. He might still be a tad early, but that could either not matter or I could just be wrong. Anyways, it looks like Davis has taken a tremendous step forward and Mets fans should all hope this continues and Davis progresses back into the type of hitter he could be.

All images and videos were taken from MLB.com

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