- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Judging by my Twitter feed, it sure seems like a whole lotta people are interested in what New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis does on a daily basis, desperately seeking signs on whether to be patient with him or simply cut him loose. When Davis homered Thursday night, a steady stream of comments flowed in the immediate aftermath, many asking whether this is the start of something big. On Wednesday, when Davis singled in four at-bats but struck out twice, raising his batting average to .169, the theme was about dropping him for the likes of Yuniesky Betancourt and James Loney, which is telling for someone that ripped 32 home runs a year ago. Davis is clearly a polarizing fantasy option.
I want to be a Davis fan, and I think the power is real. After all, he did mash 20 home runs after the All-Star break alone last season, and his ability to take walks should result in a decent batting average. There also comes a time when the results just don't match what should occur on a consistent basis. Davis has hit four home runs this season, including the one he deposited over the right-center field wall against Los Angeles Dodgers closer Brandon League in the ninth inning Thursday, but the .174 batting average inspires little confidence. Didn't fantasy owners deal with this a season ago?
Why yes, Davis did struggle out of the gates in 2012, hitting .185 in April and .154 in May, but then things got considerably better. Perhaps his health returned after a bout with Valley Fever, or a mechanical change at the plate in stance and load did the trick, but anyone capable of hitting 20 home runs after the All-Star break is an intriguing fantasy option the next season. Davis hit .255 after the break, and I'd call that batting average a reasonable goal for 2013. Colleague Tristan H. Cockcroft and I have a Fantasy Focus Baseball board bet on Davis' batting average, and I took the under on .250. Frankly, it's too early to glean a target batting average over 500 at-bats for the streaky Davis, but the guy does possess proven upside.
A top-100 player in ESPN average live drafts, Davis is down to 77 percent ownership in ESPN standard leagues, so plenty of owners are tired of waiting. Davis doesn't hit left-handers well and batting average will always remain a problem, so it's all about the home runs and RBIs. On Thursday, Davis was dropped out of his normal cleanup spot to sixth against Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, while outfielder Lucas Duda moved up to protect David Wright in the lineup. The switch might not continue against right-handers, but should it? Wouldn't you prefer to own the patient Duda (1.059 OPS) than the struggling Davis (.608 OPS) in a fantasy league right now?
Duda has hit five home runs so far, but look at his walk rate: He has drawn 17 free passes in 18 games already! Last year he walked 51 times in 121 games. Davis, meanwhile, is whiffing in 31 percent of his at-bats and hitting fewer fly balls than ever (though it is, of course, still April). Duda might not hit 32 home runs like Davis has already accomplished, and he won't contend for a batting title either, but he sure seems capable of hitting 25 homers and, given that walk rate, hit .270 or higher. I think Davis can hit 30 home runs again, but at what cost to batting average?
Of course, Davis is the one owned in 47 percent more ESPN standard leagues than Duda, who still seems to be overlooked. If I had to re-draft today, Davis wouldn't be in my top 100, and since I was a big Duda fan a year ago and he seems to finally get it offensively (not defensively, as he's still absolutely brutal in left field), I'd actually select him over Davis. I do expect Davis to hit more home runs, but I can't fathom why people think a .275 batting average from him is possible. With Duda, it is. Ultimately, fantasy owners should roster both of these guys, because 25 or more home runs are always worth something, and Davis certainly could hit .250 the rest of the way, which is palatable enough. Keep an eye on where Davis hits this weekend against Philadelphia Phillies right-handers Kyle Kendrick and Jonathan Pettibone, because Mets manager Terry Collins could very well be telling us which option he prefers.
Box score bits (AL): Detroit Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander left his Thursday outing after seven strong innings because of a blister on his thumb but isn't expected to miss a start. Phew. Then again, if his velocity is down in the 90-92 range next week, it's a different story. ... Nice first week for Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz, eh? He homered and scored three times Thursday, and through five games he's hitting .550 with five RBIs. ... Speaking of Red Sox players with high batting averages, Mike Carp essentially replaced Shane Victorino (sore back) in the lineup and had two hits, two runs and an RBI Thursday. He could be a good short-term add in daily leagues. ... Not that many people own Houston Astros outfielder Rick Ankiel, but it's hard to believe the Astros still use a guy who is hitting .205 with a .222 OBP and 28 strikeouts (one walk) in 44 at-bats. He does have five home runs, though. ... New York Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli smacked his third home run of the young season Thursday. Batting fifth against lefty Mark Buehrle, Cervelli is not a power hitter, but the case can be made for ownership in deeper multi-catcher formats, especially if OBP is a factor.
Box score bits (NL): Those panicking on Washington Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez have to feel better after he shut down the Cincinnati Reds, allowing one hit (a Joey Votto solo home run) in eight strong innings Thursday. Gonzalez struck out seven. He brought a 5.85 ERA into that game. Don't expect 21 wins or a sub-3.00 ERA again, but his 2012 campaign wasn't a fluke. ... Do you feel lucky? Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Marmol registered save No. 2 Thursday, though he put two men on base. Still, as expected, manager Dale Sveum did give him another chance. ... Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Gaby Sanchez homered and knocked in three runs Thursday. He actually has homered in each of his past three starts. He could end up in the high teens in homers, which is helpful in NL-only formats.