Fans heavily criticized Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen and his baseball operations staff last year.
"Why would he trade two promising prospects for an aging Robinson Canó and Edwin Diaz?"
"Why would he trade for Marcus Stroman when the team is so far out of first place?"
There are other gripes here and there. Such is life as a GM.
But in early January of 2019, about a month before spring training, Van Wagenen swung a deal that landed J.D. Davis. "Who?" some fans asked. But it's the GM's best acquisition, and he and those behind the scenes who helped target Davis should be credited.
Because of his breakout season, Davis inserted himself as part of a promising young Mets core of position players.
The quality that helps Davis excel
In late August last season, I approached Davis. I wanted to know about his routine. After all, he always spoke of his study habits and what he noticed in certain pitchers on certain days.
I learned a lot. What Davis told me reveled, at least to me, how he excelled in the batter's box.
A summary: He watches video and studies pitchers on off days, then has two study sessions before a game. He looks at the projected starters and relievers who could enter the game.
He hits in the cages. He receives feedback from the hitting coaches. He applies that.
He began having success last season, and at that point, he understands others might have become lazy. They begin to expect it.
“That's not me,” Davis said. “I wasn't raised that way. If I have success, I'm going to strive to beat what I did yesterday.”
His routine detailed just how much work goes into facing a pitcher. Don't be fooled: Many major leaguers study a ton. Video is a great resource.
Davis, however, separates himself by focusing on the small details. He enjoys diving into it all. It's not a chore for him.
“I love baseball,” Davis said. “I love it. I love every little bit of it. It's easy for me when you're studying a topic you love.”
That much is clear.
Not a hidden gem
Davis is not a diamond-in-the-rough story. He's not the one no one ever believed in, or the guy who was never supposed to make it to the bigs.
In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays selected him in the fifth round of the MLB Draft out of high school. He instead went to Cal State Fullerton before the Astros drafted him in the third round in 2014.
He could always hit. He won a batting title in Triple A. His natural ability is there for all to see.
So why did the Astros not keep him?
Put simply, others blocked Davis' path to a consistent role on the major-league club. Alex Bregman is a superstar third baseman and shortstop Carlos Correa is an All-Star and former AL Rookie of the Year. At that time, Davis was solely an infielder and the Astros already possessed their infield of the future.
They did not need him. The Mets acquired him, and with a larger opportunity, he thrived.
The metrics shine on Davis
There are two important metrics used to quantify a hitter's value: weighted on-base average and weighted runs created plus.
The first is like on-base percentage but it accounts for how a hitter reached base. Put another way, a single is not the same as a triple. In this, per FanGraphs, Davis posted a .373, which is outstanding.
Weighted runs created place – or wRC+ – is used to measure a hitter's production. Davis had a wRC+ of 136, which is 36 percent better than league average.
Something to note is that he only had 453 plate appearances. It's a lot, but for context, Pete Alonso tallied 693 and Jeff McNeil had 567.
Davis posted incredible numbers – a .307 average with 22 homers – but maintaining that as he becomes a regular is his next challenge.
Davis is now mentioned with Alonso, McNeil, Michael Conforto and others as part of a young Mets core of position players that could help lead the team to contention.
He's a major asset. He's under team control through the 2024 season. If he keeps hitting like he did in 2019, he'll have a spot in the lineup for a long time.
Davis now plays left field. He can still play third, but Jeff McNeil is the team's starting third baseman.
Yoenis Céspedes – if healthy – and Dominic Smith also play in left, but it seems Davis is higher on the depth chart than Smith. It remains to be seen how the playing time will shake out if Céspedes returns, though. Even still, Céspedes is in the final year of his deal.
Davis should have a spot on the Mets for the foreseeable future. If he continues to trend upward, other teams could check in on him and look to trade for him.
But right now, he fits in perfectly with the Mets.