Ike Davis is currently on the disabled list nursing a quad injury. That makes this the perfect time to write about him, as my writing will now be relevant for at least a week or two before Davis goes on to prove everything I've written wrong.
Isaac Benjamin "Ike" Davis, the son of former MLB reliever Ron Davis, starred on both sides of the ball as an amateur. Initially drafted out of high school as a pitcher (Tampa Bay Rays, 19th round, 2004), Davis went on to Arizona State University. There, as a junior in 2008, he slashed .385/.457/.742 with 16 home runs as a corner outfielder and first baseman, while also touching 94 MPH from the left side in relief. This raw left-handed power and intriguing arm led the New York Mets to draft Ike in 2008 with the 18th overall pick.
Davis impressed in the minor leagues, posting a .906 OPS between High-A and Double-A in 2009. A torrid start to the season in AAA in 2010 (1.136 OPS over ten games) led to his major league debut with the Metropolitans. Ike swatted 19 home runs and OPS'ed .791, producing 2.9 fWAR in his rookie season. After posting a .925 OPS over 36 games in an injury-shortened 2011 campaign, Davis sold out for power in 2012. He hit a career-high 32 home runs, while hitting for career-low .227 batting average (and a career-low .308 OBP). The defensive metrics didn't agree with Davis's .994 fielding percentage, however, as despite his power outburst Davis was only worth 1.0 fWAR that season.
All went south for Davis at this point. He was struck with Valley Fever at some point during the 2012 season, and it very clearly affected his performance. Having continued to disappoint the Mets (-0.2 fWAR in 2013), on April 18, 2014, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for two unimpressive minor leaguer pitchers, Zach Thornton and Blake Taylor. Davis was really nothing special for the Pirates, who sent him to the Oakland Athletics on November 23, 2014 in exchange for international bonus slot money.
For his entire professional career, Ike Davis was known as a left-handed slugger that would take his fair share of walks and contribute more than his fair share of strikeouts. He tended to sell out for pull power, resulting in many infield shifts that may or may not have contributed to his annually low BABIPs (.246, .268, .265 from 2012-2014). Let's take a look at his spray charts from 2012-2014:
From this chart we can gather that although Davis might have sprayed the ball a bit more than a guy like Adam Dunn, he did the majority of his damage down the right field line, to his pull side, as expected. However, things have been different in his charts from 2015:
Obviously, the sample size is incredibly small (87 balls in play), but the difference is noticeable. Davis's hits have been evenly spread to all fields, much more so than ever before in his career. Now, maybe this is just small-sample noise. But Davis's changes in approach have me thinking otherwise. Here is his Whiff rate from 2012-2014:
Davis seemed to have some trouble with the high stuff, and some trouble with the low stuff. He posted higher-than-average swinging strike rates each season of his career up until 2014. Has this changed? Let's take a look:
Once more, the samples are small. However, the results are there - Davis has whiffed only once on a high pitch this season. As a result, his swinging strike rate has dropped to a career-low 5.6%, much better than the league average of 9.5%. Davis has made a noticeable change in not only his approach, but in his discipline as well.
The final piece of the puzzle is the results. Sure, he's made changes, but have they worked? So far, yes. For each season of his career up until 2015, Davis had done the majority of his damage (by wRC+) to his pull side. But now, in 2015? His wRC+ on balls to the right side is a strong 137. However, he has bested that with a 138 wRC+ to the center of the field. As far as strikeouts go, Ike Davis's 13.9 K% is 59th lowest in baseball (min 100 PAs). That might not seem like much, but it is a massive improvement over his 2012 (22nd worst) and 2013 (23rd worst) rates. Furthermore, his 5.6% swinging strike rate is tied 42nd lowest in the game (min 100 PAs). (Fun fact - Eric Sogard has posted the lowest swinging strike rate of any Athletic with 100 PAs this season, as his 4.7% mark places him 24th lowest in baseball. Unsurprisingly, Brett Lawrie is last among Athletics, at 12.6%.)
So, who is Ike Davis? Is he the pull-happy, high-pitch-chasing, low batting average power threat he was for the first five seasons of his career? Or is he the disciplined, spray-hitting, all-around solid offensive player he has been over 115 PAs with a new organization known best for turning trash into treasure? Or is he one of the seven best relievers on this so-far pitiful Oakland squad? As of right now, it's unclear. Davis will hopefully answer this question himself upon his return to action from the disabled list, and boy, do the A's ever need him. Regardless, it seems somewhat safe to say that Ike Davis is no longer what - or who - he used to be.
(All stats, charts, and graphs from FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, baseball-reference.com, and wikipedia.com)