Ike Davis: Completely Normal First Baseman

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444 feet. That’s the estimated distance, according to HitTracker, as to how far Ike Davis’ walk-off home run traveled into Tuesday night’s air. I say “estimated” because as I type this sentence, the ball still hasn’t landed, and likely vanished from existence into the mist of short-term legend.

It wasn’t the farthest home run hit by a Mets player this season — that would be David Wright’s 451-foot home run off Nate Robertson in Florida last month — and it’s not even the Davis’ farthest launched ball of the season, as his first career home run was sent an estimated at 450 feet. The 11th inning blast probably wasn’t even Davis’ most impressive home run this season. His drive in Atlanta off Kris Medlen traveled 440 feet and left his bat at 116.8 MPH — which, oddly enough, is also the speed of Stephen Strasburg’s changeup. Tuesday night’s blast left Davis’ bat at “just” 113.7 MPH . . . but that ball was still absolutely crushed. It was an off-speed pitch left high over the plate, and David Davis did what first baseman are supposed to do with off-speed pitches left high over the plate.

But that’s what Ike Davis does. He CRUSHES home runs like no other Mets player — here are the five farthest home runs hit by Mets this season, according to HitTracker:

5/15: David Wright, 451 feet
4/23: Ike Davis, 450 feet
6/8: Ike Davis, 444 feet
5/18: Ike Davis, 440 feet
5/7: Ike Davis, 436 feet

That’s a whole lot of Davis. As a quick side note, feared slugger Angel Pagan has had two of his home runs travel farther than any balls struck by notorious slap-hitter Jason Bay. Also, Bay, who was brought in specifically to hit home runs, is on pace for eight or nine home runs this season. He’s been a productive offensive player regardless, but I figure I’d point that out anyway.

Anyway, in Ike Davis the Mets have a big, left-handed, slugging first baseman, one that shares his teammates’ aversion to shaving and, more importantly, is capable of sending baseballs over the hills and far, far away. This is an odd development. Despite left-handedness and slugging-ness being included in the prototype for first basemen, Davis is actually an unusual player for the New York Mets. If you go through Baseball-Reference’s list of the Mets yearly starters at first base, you see plenty of left-handed batters (Keith Hernandez, John Olerud, Ed Kranepool), some sluggers (Dave Kingman . . . just Dave Kingman, really), but only one player who fit both criteria: Carlos Delgado. Delgado is the only true lefty masher in Mets history — unless you want to also count Mo Vaughn’s slugg-ish 26 home runs in 2002. While teams traditionally have their big power hitters at first — Jimmy Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Mark McGwire — the Mets’ typical first baseman has instead been a lefty-throwing, lefty-hitting, high-average batter. Hernandez, Olerud, and Kranepool all fit that bill to some extent. Dave Magadan would as well, outside of his propensity for throwing the baseball with his right hand. Delgado remains the odd man out among the five players who have spent the most time at first for the Mets, being both left-handed and capable of using a wooden stick to send spherical objects into clouds.

It is a somewhat unlikely occurrence for a baseball team to have such a lack of lefty mashers at first. Out of the 30 first baseman listed on the 2010 All-Star ballot, only nine bat exclusively from the right side. Out of the ten players with the most games played at first base, seven are left-handed, and seventeen of the top twenty-five were lefty hitters. First base tends to be reserved for the lefties more often than not, due to: A.) the difficulties playing other infield positions as a left-handed thrower (throwing across your body vs. having to pivot and throw to first), and also B.) because I would guess that a majority of lefties with good throwing arms find themselves turned into pitchers, and not right fielders, center fielders, or catchers. The result is a lot of lefties and big guys who can’t play anywhere else manning first base.

It’s not always the case. Jason Heyward, whose first career home run is still the longest homer of the year, is big, throws left-handed, and plays right field. Babe Ruth threw left-handed and played right, though he did famously begin baseball life as a pitcher. Kevin Youkilis is right-handed, can and has played elsewhere on the diamond, but fits the Red Sox current needs best at first base. Your handedness does not necessarily determine your fate. Still, I would guess a great number of lefty-throwing non-pitchers wind up at first base.

First baseman can loosely be split into two groups: One seems to be the traditional mashers trying to hide defensively. The second is made up of the high-average, defensively oriented players who are banished to first merely for their handedness, or out of team necessity. Despite the traditional image of a big, fat, old slugger lugging himself out of the dugout to play first base, I suspect there’s a bit more of a power vs. finesse split among first basemen than it would appear. For all the Ryan Howards and Adam Dunns of the world, there are still a decent number of James Loneys and Kevin Youkilises (How do you make “Youkilis” plural? Youkiliss? Youkili?)

Still, however they come about playing first, it seems odd that the Mets have had so many of this second type of finesse first baseman, and so few of the traditional powerful mashers. Kingman and Delgado have been the only true first base sluggers, while Magadan, Kranepool, Olerud, and Hernandez all fall into the second group. When everyone was juiced up, the Mets were running Olerud and Todd Zeile out to play first. The Mets played Ed Kranepool at first for most of the 1960s, and he didn’t become a loosely productive player until the 1970s. Even Daniel Murphy was more a finesse type last season, despite the words “finesse” and “Daniel Murphy” normally resisting any association.

But those days of light hitting seem to be over for now, as the Mets have Ike Davis. While he may not prove to be a true 40 home run masher, he still manages to drop some absolute bombs over Flushing, and that’s a welcome change. Being a lefty batter appears to help out, power-wise, at Citi Field, as the lefties seem to have an easier time knocking the ball out — though I suspect that may be nothing more than big lefty first basemen like Dunn and Davis driving the ball farther simply because they’re big dudes swinging with a bigger force, as opposed to someone with a smaller frame swinging for left field, like David Wright. However he manages to drive the baseball out of the park, Davis is doing so. It may seem odd to have a power hitting lefty first baseman in Queens, hopefully for the long haul, but it’s a good sort of odd.

Ike Davis Image via slgckgc.

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8 Comments

Filed under Columns, Mets, Words

8 responses to “Ike Davis: Completely Normal First Baseman

  1. Anonymous

    >Delgado with a better glove…

  2. Anonymous

    >Don't knock it-it's something we've needed for a long time. By the way, you forgot about John Milner, who fit loosely into the LH slugger category.

  3. Patrick Flood

    >Milner almost counts, but he never had a slugging percentage break the .450 barrier as a Met, and his highest single season HR total in Queens was 23. Maybe that's good enough to qualify as a Mets slugger. Willie Montanez is another almost candidate, but he only slugged .362 as a Met.

  4. Anonymous

    >Also Donn Clendenon

  5. Anonymous

    >Delgado also throws with his right hand. Just FYI.

  6. Patrick Flood

    >I was aware of Delgado throwing with his right hand, but apparently didn't make that clear. Thanks for pointing it out.Also, didn't Delgado begin his baseball life as a catcher? So he'd definitely have to throw with his right hand in that case.

  7. Matthew

    >"and *David* did what first baseman are supposed to do with off-speed pitches left high over the plate."subconsciously wishing wright was hitting these homeruns?

  8. Patrick Flood

    >@MatthewYikes. Yeah, looks like I wish it was Wright doing all the power hitting. Thanks.

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