DAVIS VS. BRYANT

Pitchers and catchers are set to report soon. The Mets are nearly done making moves. There is some talk about adding another starter. However, the most intriguing topic is about the upgrading third base.

Based on recent reports, the Mets are discussing a trade with the Cubs for Kris Bryant. Any serious baseball fan knows that Bryant has a fantastic resume. Since being taken second overall in the 2013 draft, Cubs fans have been in love with Bryant. The three-time all-star took home the rookie of the year award in 2015. The following year Bryant was the NL MVP when the Cubs won the World Series. Besides the ring, he has helped the Cubs with the NL Central in three of his six big league seasons. The Cubs have made the postseason since Bryant entered the majors in all but one year.

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Bryant being introduced by Cubs president Theo Epstein in 2013.

Currently, the Mets have JD Davis slatted to play the hot corner. Davis was selected by the Astros in third round of the 2014 draft. He hit very well throughout his minor league career but struggled in limited playing time with the Astros. After an abysmal 2018, the Astros traded him to New York. Once with the Mets, Davis has flourished into a well above average hitter. So should the Mets trade for Bryant or stick with Davis? Let’s break it down:

The offense

Both Bryant and Davis are very good hitters. Over the first 3 years of his career, Bryant was an absolute monster. During this time, he put up a WAR of 18.0 and the talk of being a hall of famer was in the makings:

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Unfortunately, in 2018, Bryant struggled and had two stints on the injured list. While, he rebounded in 2019, Bryant struggled mightily in the shortened 2020 season. Injuries were a key reason. Since the first 3 seasons, his speed seems to have decline. Bryant isn’t the same threat he was earlier in his career. His WAR is only 6.8 over this span, even when projecting what it would have been over a full 2020 season:

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Davis took the opposite route. He struggled early in his days but later turned it around. His numbers show what a major transformation once in Queens:

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Stat cast data

In todays game, looking merely at traditional data isn’t enough. Smart teams also look at stat cast to determine how well a player hits the ball. From the data, it seems that Davis is better than Bryant over the last two seasons:

  • Barrel %- Bryant dropped from 9.3 to 5.5. Considering that 6.4 is league average, this is significant. Davis on the other hand was 11.4 and 8.9 over the same time frame.
  • Exit velocity- Bryant is below the league average of 88.3. His last two seasons were 87.5 and 86.1, which is troubling. The 91.5 and 90.1 of Davis during this timeframe is pretty solid.
  • Hard hit %- The average MLB player is at 34.9%, but Bryant was at 34.1% and 31.9%. Davis was at 47.9% and 45.2%, which means that he makes better contact than most players.

These numbers should be a red flag to all those who want Bryant over Davis.

The defense

This is the category in which there is no debate. Bryant is a much better defender. It isn’t close. Over his career, Bryant has a dWAR of -0.9. He is considered to be a good fielder. Over the course of his six-year career, it is estimated that Bryant cost the Cubs a mere 14 runs with his glove. In other words, he is adequate but not a gold glover.

Davis on the other hand is a butcher. His -3.1 dWAR as a Met is terrible. He has cost his team 15 runs over just four seasons when playing third. When you add in the extra 11 runs from his time in the outfield, there is no way to sugar coat it. Davis is a defensive liability.

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JD Davis is known for his rocky fielding.

Injuries

From 2015-2017, Bryant had been healthy. In 2018, his left shoulder began to act up. In 2020, Bryant barely played in half of the games. Between an oblique and finger injuries, Bryant was not able to help out his club. Davis on the other hand hasn’t had a single IL day as a Met. With Davis being a year younger than 29-year-old Bryant, one can’t help but think Bryant is starting to show signs of aging.

Salary & free agency

The Cubs are in the final year of arbitration with Bryant. Despite recent struggles, he will earn $19.5 million in 2021. After this season, he is entering free agency. Assuming he plays well, Bryant will earn a 9-figure salary. Davis will earn a small fraction of Bryant’s contract. He is in his first year of arbitration and will make $2.1 million. He has three additional seasons of arbitration before becoming a free agent at age 32.

With all of this in mind, what’s the verdict? Truth be told, this is a tough one. While Bryant is a recognized star of the game, his decline in offensive production is worrisome. Citi Field is not the same hitter friendly park that Wrigley is. So while defensively Bryant is the no-brainer decision, offensively Davis has the slight edge.

However, the true decision gets down to dollars and cents. Bryant is presumably a one-year rental. The Mets already have several key players entering free agency that they will want to hold onto. Lindor, Conforto and possibly Syndergaard are the players that the Mets want to extend before the season starts. If Stroman has a good season, we may want to re-sign him after the season. While Steve Cohen’s wallet adds to the Mets spending abilities, this isn’t limitless. This is especially true once we factor in that Cano’s contract is back on the books next season. Of course this all could change if the Cubs take some of the Mets bad contracts or toss in other good players. If the choice is a one for one swap of Davis and Bryant, the Mets should keep Davis.

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Will getting Bryant mean that the Mets give up on homegrown stars like Syndergaard and Conforto.

Keeping Davis makes sense as a low-cost player who has a high upside. Not every player on a winning team needs to be a star. With this in mind, the Mets will likely need to get used to brining in a defensive replacement late in games. One possibility is to use Luis Guillorme to finish games. Hopefully, the DH will go into effect in the not too distant future and Davis can be taken off the field for good. With prospects like Brett Baty and Ronny Mauricio a few years away, the Mets don’t need a long term fix like Bryant.

(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)

1 comment

  1. Long ago, I listened to Joe Barstools say ” You can shake a tree and gloves fall out…” Davis is a good hitter, bad fielder..he can improve his fielding. Affordable, young, wants to be a Met..I like him..

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