It was an action-packed offseason for rookie Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who stole headlines with his transactions and his bold proclamations naming his club the favorite in the National League East. Van Wagenen’s roster hasn’t performed to expectations since then, but after a tumultuous few months, the team has climbed above .500 and put itself in the thick of the NL wild-card race. One of Van Wagenen’s less heralded offseason pickups has been among the Mets at the forefront of their midsummer hot streak.
There was little hype accompanying the Mets’ acquisition of infielder/outfielder J.D. Davis from the Astros on Jan. 6. The Mets surrendered three minor leaguers for Davis, who – despite being a 2014 third-round pick and a solid prospect in Houston – didn’t have an obvious path to playing time with the Astros. However, the 26-year-old quickly worked his way into New York’s plans, thanks in part to season-opening injuries to infielders Todd Frazier and the still-hurt Jed Lowrie, and hasn’t graced the minors at all in 2019 after spending almost all of his Astros tenure there.
While Davis did hold his own at the lower levels with the Astros, he collected just 181 major league plate appearances from 2017-18 – in which he batted an unimpressive .194/.260/.321. On the other hand, the Mets’ version has amassed 293 PA and slashed a terrific .300/.369/.498 (131 wRC+) with 12 home runs and respectable strikeout and walk percentages (20.1 K, 9.2 BB). Much of the damage has come in the summer months for Davis, who overcame an unproductive May to post an .881 OPS in June and a 1.017 mark in July. His recent output has helped New York to a second-half awakening – after going into the All-Star break at 40-50, the team has shockingly risen to 57-56.
Although his production has benefited from a .347 batting average on balls in play – which is sure to drop considering the slow-moving Davis’ groundball-heavy profile – that’s not to say he has lucked into his success. To the contrary, according to Statcast, which places Davis in the league’s 91st percentile or better in expected slugging percentage, average exit velocity, expected weighted on-base average, hard-hit percentage and expected batting average. As impressive as Davis’ .369 wOBA is, his .389 xwOBA is even better and ties for 17th among all qualified hitters, sandwiching him between Juan Soto and teammate/NL Rookie of the Year favorite Pete Alonso. It helps, of course, that Davis has chased far fewer pitches out of the zone than the average hitter.
Regardless of whether the Mets do the unthinkable and rally to a playoff berth this year, it looks as if they have a legitimate long-term piece in Davis. As someone who has handled both right- and left-handed pitchers, the righty-swinging Davis has the makings of an everyday player. And while he has accrued more appearances in left field (38) than at third (31), it’s possible he’ll take over for Frazier – a pending free agent – at the hot corner next season.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.