When players struggle in New York, many who leave are quick to point to the intense media scrutiny that comes with playing in the Big Apple as one of the reasons for their struggles. Ike Davis isn’t one of those players. His final full season with the New York Mets was a nightmare, but when looking for answers as to why he struggled, he looks no further than himself.
“I really enjoyed my time in New York,” the Oakland A’s new first baseman said during a post-FanFest media session on Monday. “It was an amazing experience. There were some good times and bad times, but that’s life. I joke around with the media there when we go back to New York that it’s nice not getting hitting tips in Starbucks at eight in the morning, but I didn’t mind it. Obviously, I didn’t play well [at the end]. When you don’t play well anywhere, it’s not a great experience. It’s not what you want. Playing awful isn’t fun. It was tough, but it would have been tough anywhere.”
For a time, Davis was the toast of the town in Queens. The 18th overall pick in the 2008 draft out of Arizona State, Davis rose quickly through the Mets’ system, reaching the big leagues in 2010. That year, he posted a very respectable 791 OPS in 147 games with the Mets, clubbing 19 homers and walking 72 times.
Davis got off to a fast start in 2011 for New York, batting .302/.383/.543 before a badly sprained ankle sustained while chasing a routine pop-up ended his season in mid-May. Davis was healthy in 2012, and he hit a career-high 32 homeruns and drove-in a career-best 90 runs, although his batting average dropped to .227 and his OBP dropped to .308.
The 2013 season was where it all fell apart for Davis with the Mets. He got off to a stone-cold start and even spent some time with Triple-A Las Vegas before finding some success towards the end of the season with the Mets. He posted a 954 OPS in 105 post-All-Star break at-bats that season, but by then he had lost his starting job with the Mets. When he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates a few weeks into the 2014 regular season, Davis wasn’t surprised.
“It’s really just the game. Obviously I didn’t play really well that last year with the Mets,” Davis said. “If you don’t play very well, you aren’t going to still have a job. They traded me to the Pirates and I had a really fun year. Obviously we made the playoffs. I did some things well enough to get another job. I think it’s a great opportunity [with the A’s]. Every time someone wants you, it’s a good feeling.”
Davis appeared in 131 games with Pittsburgh last season, helping the Pirates make the playoffs as a wild card team. He hit .235/.343/.378 with 10 homers and 57 walks with the Pirates. Davis knows he has work to do to get back to where he was his first few years in the league, but he thinks he has made some improvements that will help him find success with Oakland.
“I haven’t been really been given the number of at-bats you need to hit 30 homeruns [the past few years], but I think what I have done in my platoon role is definitely been worth something,” Davis said. “I definitely have become a tougher out at the plate. I walk a lot. What I found out last year will help me this year. I’m really excited to have another year and be given a chance to perform the way I think I can.”
The A’s acquired Davis in late November, just days after he was non-tendered by the Pirates. He would then agree to a one-year deal with the A's worth roughly $3.8 million. Later in the off-season, the A’s traded their incumbent first baseman Brandon Moss, making Davis’ role on the team much more clear. The A’s are hoping that Davis can provide the left-handed power at first base that Moss brought to the team the past two-and-a-half seasons.
Like Moss, Davis has an established history of hitting right-handed pitching well. For his career, Davis has an 813 OPS versus right-handers. His OPS versus lefties is 577. A’s manager Bob Melvin has been aggressive about using platoons to bolster his offense since taking over the A’s, and Davis is likely to receive the vast majority of his at-bats against right-handers. Although Davis – like all players – would prefer to be in the line-up regardless of who is pitching, he isn’t going to overthink his role with Oakland.
“Honestly, for us, you play when they tell you to play and you try to do the best you can,” Davis said. “That’s all you really can do. You have a lot of headaches trying to be the manager and GM and a player at the same time. I’ve just cut all of that out. Whatever they say my role is, that is going to be my role and I’m going to try to help the team as much as possible in that role, no matter what it is.”
Davis’ playing time opportunities will be enhanced by his move from the National League, where he has spent his entire career up until now, to the American League. Davis is looking forward to the change.
“For a guy like me, with the DHing stuff, I’ll definitely get more at-bats. In the National League, when the pitcher comes up, the inning is basically over,” Davis said. “It’s going to be a fun experience to never feel like that’s an automatic out. You have chances to score more runs and have more people on base. The DH is definitely going to be something new. I’m excited about it. It’s one more hitter and it gives us chances to do more things.”
Earlier this month, Davis offered to spend some time in the outfield to increase his chances of playing more. A first baseman exclusively in pro baseball, Davis played some outfield in college, as well as with Team USA in 2009. However, Davis said the A’s have indicated that his focus will likely be on first base this year.
One role that Davis would also not mind assuming is that of emergency pitcher. The left-hander was a star two-way player at Arizona State. During his junior season with the Sun Devils, the hard-throwing Davis had a 2.25 ERA and a 30:4 K:BB in 24 innings. His father, Ron, pitched in 481 major league games in the 1970s and 1980s. Coming out of ASU, Davis was a very similar draft prospect to current A's closer Sean Doolittle, who was given consideration at draft time as both a pitcher and a position player (the A’s, of course, drafted Doolittle as a position player and converted him to pitcher when injuries kept him from competing as a position player). Davis doesn’t see a dramatic career change coming, however.
“Me and Sean, we were the same player coming out of college, for sure,” Davis said with a laugh. “But I haven’t pitched in so long. I would love to. For some reason, I’m never on the list. I ask all of the time.”
If Davis needs anyone in the dugout to vouch for his pitching abilities should the A’s find themselves in another 18-inning game, he will have an old friend in Eric Sogard who can get in Melvin’s ear. Davis and Sogard both grew up in the Phoenix area and played together at ASU. Davis also grew up with A’s Triple-A pitching prospect Jeff Urlaub, who was on the ASU roster with Sogard and Davis for two years, as well.
Davis, who still spends his off-seasons in Phoenix, is looking forward to his first Arizona spring training.
“I don’t have to move twice,” Davis said. “I think it is definitely going to help the season. Not having to move your whole life twice is very nice.”