Bob Smizik: Davis has exciting potential for Pirates

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After the number crunching is done, the analysis complete and the cost calculated in the Ike Davis trade, there’s only one thing to say: Nice deal, Neal.

There are no guarantees in baseball and Davis, acquired from the New York Mets yesterday, wouldn’t come close to fitting that description. But unless the player to be named is a high-end prospect -- and that’s unlikely -- general manager Neal Huntington is to be commended for adding a potential power bat at a position of need at what appears to be an acceptable cost.

Davis, 27, is a left-handed hitting first baseman who has fared well against right-handed pitching in his career, which dates back to 2010. He will assume the role Garrett Jones had with the Pirates in the recent past and which Travis Ishikawa briefly filled this season. He will face right-handed pitching and Gaby Sanchez will play against left-handers.

The Pirates gave up minor-league relief pitcher Zach Thornton and another player to acquire Davis, whose salary is $3.5 million and who will be a free agent after the 2016 season. Thornton is not a significant loss. The Pirates acquired him from Oakland for Chris Resop after the 2012 season. He is 26 and never pitched an inning in MLB. That says a lot. He might turn out to be the next Jason Grilli, but that’s not likely.

The player to be named is the key for the Mets. It’s probably going to be a pretty good prospect, someone most fans have heard of but not likely one who will make those same fans cringe in despair. New York general manager Sandy Alderson is one of the best at what he does. He won't come away from this trade with just the proverbial bag of baseballs. That’s the price of doing business. Players with the potential of Davis are not given away.

So what does Davis bring to the Pirates? Let’s play the ‘Player A’ game to demonstrate.

Player A: .245/.317/.479 -- .796

Player B: .256/.357/.471 -- .828

Player C: .284/.369/.461 -- .830

Those are the career batting lines of Davis, Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez against right-handed pitching. The question is: Which one belongs to Davis?

The players are listed in alphabetical order -- Alvarez is A, Davis is B, McCutchen is C.

If you’re a fan of the Pirates, that’s has to be pretty uplifting. Over his career, Davis is a better hitter against right-handed pitching than the left-handed hitter who led the National League in home runs last season and just a hair behind the right-handed hitter who was the MVP.

Davis hit 32 home runs in 2012 and stamped himself as a potential future superstar. But he slumped so badly early in 2013 that he spent time in the minors. He returned to the Mets to have a .954 OPS, against all pitching, in the second half of the season. Still, he was on the market all winter but went to spring training with a chance to win the starting job. He didn’t and was deemed expendable.

But this is not necessarily a case of how good can he be if he can’t make the Mets. The key for the Pirates is this: Davis almost always has done well against right-handed pitching and that’s all he’ll be asked to do.

His OPS vs RHP since 2010: .787, 1.142, .868, .727, .850 (with the last number being an extremely small sample).

What’s not to like?

Here’s something else. Yes, Davis strikes out a lot, 27 percent, against all pitching. But he also walks a lot, 12 percent. His on-base percentage against RHP is more than 100 points higher than his batting average. That is impressive.

Davis’ $3.5 million salary is not overwhelming, but if he has success it could become so. If he has a year like he did in 2012, his salary could at least double in 2015 and hit eight figures in 2016.

But, of course, that’s getting ahead of the story. The story is now. The Pirates have a left-handed hitting first baseman who has a track record of success in the role in which they will use him.

As stated, that guarantees nothing. But it inspires hope.


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