Every ballplayer's swing bears a signature.
Some are subtle, such as a hitch. Others are overt, such as an exaggerated stride. But they are always present, natural vestiges from swings that were built during childhood and hard-wired over years of repetition on the way to the major leagues.
For Davis, that signature is easy to spot. "It starts with his hands," a rival talent evaluator said recently.
At the start of Davis' swing, his hands begin up around his shoulders, then drop quickly to his belt once the pitch is delivered.
When his timing is right, Davis brings his hands up just in time to deliver a powerful stroke, which he managed often last season during his torrid second half. But when his timing is off, as it has been throughout this season, Davis' signature also becomes his curse.
At least that's what some rival talent evaluators see as Davis comes perilously close to a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. "They drop so hard and late [that] his trigger starts late," said the evaluator, who wonders if Davis will ever gain consistency with his current swing mechanics. "And he has to work uphill with his swing."
From the outside, the answer appears simple. Perhaps no hitter in baseball could benefit more from an extreme swing makeover than Ike Davis.
Through Saturday's game, Davis is hitting just .160 in a virtual replay of a nightmare he lived exactly a year ago. Once again, the Mets stand on the brink of demoting Davis, even after giving him time to show signs of progress.
The Mets have agonized over the decision, aware of the risk involved with sending down the 26-year-old slugger they have envisioned as part of the future.
They have weighed the potential for more trouble if Davis is sent down and doesn't experience an immediate bounce-back, further diminishing his confidence.
The Mets have shown similar trepidation about overhauling Davis' swing despite doubts in scouting circles about whether it is built to last in the long term.
"If you look at the stroke, you'd have a hard time saying that that's going to be successful without making some adjustments," said another talent evaluator, who watched Davis extensively in spring training. "But when you hit 30 home runs, it's hard to change, and that's part of it."
Therein lies the conflict. When he stumbled out of the blocks last season, narrowly escaping a demotion, Davis rewarded the Mets by closing the year with 32 homers and 90 RBIs. The Mets believe that similar results could come again. It's also why Davis remains emboldened that his swing can lead to consistent production.
"I've proven that I can play at a high level," he said this past week, "so there's certain things, sometimes, you just don't do."
Such as a major swing change in the middle of a season.
"I've always wanted to stop my hands from dropping," Davis said. "But I've always swung like that. Obviously, it's not something that you want all the time, but I mean, Barry Bonds dropped his hands. A lot of people did and had success. It's just the way I've swung my whole life with my hands. It's tough to stop that."
Davis has been no stranger to making minor tweaks in his swing.
"Little adjustments he's made, like spreading out," Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens said, referring to a change Davis made last season in which he took a wider stance with his feet.
Davis also has experimented with standing closer to the plate and adjusting the position of his hands before the swing. This week, he made a few more changes, such as standing more upright at the plate and moving in a bit closer. Manager Terry Collins hopes the adjustments encourage more contact.
"If he makes solid contact, he's going to hit home runs," Collins said.
But Davis also has steered clear of major adjustments. The basic machinery of his swing remains unchanged.
"Those kinds of adjustments, it's almost . . . internal, where that rhythm and timing is part of his body," Hudgens said.
"He would have to really believe in it and commit to it. I've never seen anybody make those drastic changes."
Davis has expressed skepticism about whether it's possible for one alteration to cure his ills at the plate. "I don't know if there's a magical change," he said. "I can do different things. I can stand up, I can do this, I can spread out, I can open up. I can do everything. But is it going to help me hit the ball? Who knows?"
To some, Davis has reached a critical point, one at which major adjustments might be inevitable. A rival scout noted Davis' struggles with both fastballs and breaking pitches, issues that he linked directly to his excess hand movement during his swing.
"He's got a pretty good eye," the scout said. "Now I know that doesn't show now . . . because when you're going bad and all this, then you start swinging at stuff and you start doing different things. It doesn't really shine through."
Hudgens acknowledges that Davis' swing is loaded down with movement, which can invite inconsistency. Still, he said that over the years, Davis has made enough small adjustments to make his swing viable for the long term.
"When you've got that many moving parts, it's got to come together the right way," Hudgens said. "But once he gets locked in, he stays there a while. I mean, when you look the whole second half last year, I think he's progressing into an area that will be more consistent."
Besides, Hudgens said a danger looms when major changes are made. Davis has tried in the past to eliminate excess movement from his swing, but he must strike a proper balance, because movement is at the heart of what powers his swing when his timing is sharp.
"Ike is almost better when he has his rhythm, when he has his whip," Hudgens said. "If he's real still, it's like he gets stuck and he doesn't have that whip and that looseness in his swing."
For Davis, part of that mechanism includes the hitch in his hands, his signature.
Said Hudgens: "Everybody has something."