On-Base Perception

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ICYMI: Mets' plans for Ike Davis in spring training

Recently on SNY, Mets manager Terry Collins revealed his plan to give the notoriously slow-starting Ike Davis more at-bats this spring – perhaps almost twice as many as he had in 2013 spring training.

“One of the things we’re going to do obviously in spring training is we’re going to give him some more at-bats,” Collins said. “I think it’s very, very important to try to get him in mid-season form when the season starts. A lot of guys leave spring training and have 50, 60 at-bats. I might get him 80 to 100 this spring just to make sure he’s ready to go when we start.”

In his three full major-league spring trainings, Davis has averaged 56.3 at-bats. So why is it “obviously” a good idea to give him 80 to 100? Is there any evidence players perform better in the regular season if they get more at-bats in spring training?

First of all, there’s no evidence that spring training statistics – good or bad – have anything to do with how a player performs in the regular season. The reasons seem intuitive: veteran players are just getting ready for the season and only have a few at-bats per game; the level of competition and intensity are not regular-season caliber; differences in ballpark conditions; and so on.

Last year, Davis hit .327 with one home run and five RBIs in 55 spring training at-bats. There was reason to hope he could carry over a late-season surge from 2012 and would be the reliable source of power the Mets expected when they drafted him in the first round in 2008.

But it was not to be. Davis hit .165 in April, .160 in May and .150 in 20 at-bats in June. When was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 9 to rework his swing, no one remembered that Davis hit .327 in spring training.

Not all baseball analysts think spring training stats are meaningless. John Dewan of Baseball Info Solutions believes he has found “one element of spring training performance that has some predictive value,” as he wrote on ACTASports.com last March.

According to Dewan, “Players that show a 200-point increase in their [spring training] slugging percentage over their career levels have performed significantly above their career marks in the upcoming season 60 percent of the time.”

This effect has come to be known as “the Dewan Rule.” Since 2005, Dewan has used his system to create a list of “potential breakout players” each spring, with his most famous success story being Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, who improved from 13 home runs in 2009 to 54 in 2010 after a boffo spring training.
However, the Dewan Rule is not universally accepted. A Baseball Prospectus study last April seemed to debunk it and claimed the success rate is closer to 47 percent.

For the New York teams’ 2013 potential breakout players, Dewan listed Kevin Youkilis and Ben Francisco of the Yankees, both of whom were non-factors.
For the Mets, he listed Lucas Duda – Davis’ competition for the Mets’ first-base job this spring. Duda did not break out in 2013; he, too, spend time in the minors because of a lack of production.

The Mets have 33 exhibition games scheduled this spring. If Collins truly intends to give Davis even 90 at-bats, that means he must average 2.7 per game (unless some of Davis’ at-bats come in minor-league games).

And if Davis plays every day at first base, when will Duda see time at the position? Doesn’t he need to get ready, too, in case he wins the job?

But back to where we started: Does it even help a historically slow-starting player to get extra at-bats in spring training? New York’s other slow-starting first baseman doesn’t think so.

“There is no such thing as ‘midseason form’ by April 1,” Mark Teixeira of the Yankees said on Friday. “I plan on having the same amount of at-bats. There’s really no reason… That’s how you get hurt -- when you go out of your comfort zone and you try to do too much too early.”

Tags: Mets , spring training , Ike Davis

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