Giants get the most out of JD Davis

There was not much doubt that JD Davis can hit. He had very limited playing time with the Astros in 2017 and 2018, but burst onto the scene with the Mets after being acquired in a trade before the 2019 season. He went on to hit 22 home runs that year and cut .307 / .369 / .527 for a wRC+ of 137. Defensively, the Mets placed him in left field more often than his primary third base position. He ranked poorly in both places, but still managed enough to produce 2.5 wins over substitution on the year, according to FanGraphs calculations.

Although 2019 was the “juicy ball” season, Davis was no fluke of a year at the plate, continuing to hit in the years that followed. His .247/.371/.389 line in the shortened 2020 season was a bit below the previous year but still good enough for a 118 wRC+. In 2021, he made several trips to the injured list due to recurring left-hand issues and only played 73 games, but still beat .285/.384/.436 for a 129 wRC+ while he was healthy enough to move on to the plate.

Last year, he was hitting .238/.324/.359 for the Mets in 66 games for a wRC+ of just 102 when the Giants took a flyer on him, acquiring him alongside three other players in the deal of deadline who sent The reputation to queens. The Elk Grove native quickly got things back on track after moving to the West Coast, dropping .263/.361/.496 on the stretch for a 142 wRC+.

Even with that solid finish, he didn’t have a sure grip on a full-time gig coming up this year. The Giants had seen one of their prospects, David Villar, performed well in his major league debut last year hitting 0.231/0.331/0.455 in 52 games. In mid-February, the club’s president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said the Giants were considering Villar as their starting third baseman heading into spring training.

Despite all that solid work at home plate, Davis’ main concern has been his defense. From 2019 to 2022, Davis was considered worth -25 defensive points on third base, one of the five worst marks in the majors at that position for that span. Ultimate Zone Rating and Outs Above Average were not as negative, but also rated it below average.

The club clearly liked Davis enough to acquire him, but they also wanted to see what they had in Villar, a much younger player with more club control. That left Davis with work to do, something Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle discussed with him when spring training was just getting started. Davis explained how he worked with bench coach and field/base running instructor Kai Correa on his defense, particularly his footwork, while manager Gabe Kapler highlighted his propensity for swinging and running. missing on pitches in the strike zone as his weak point in attack.

We are now about three months away from Zaidi declaring Villar the club’s third baseman and this profile on Davis, and the picture has completely changed since then. Davis hit a scorching .311/.354/.467 in the spring while Villar limped to a .143/.167/.286 line. Villar still had six starts at third base in the club’s first 10 regular season games, but only got two more after that as he hit .148 / .240 / .318 on the year so far and was chosen for the minors a few days ago.

Davis, meanwhile, took the position in the hot corner and ran away with it. He already has seven homers and cuts .294/.368/.492 for a wRC+ of 136, just a hair below his 2019 breakout. His average outing speed is in the 95th percentile of skilled hitters and his hard hit rate at 94th. His contact rate on the grounds of the zone is 82.9%, the highest of his career. His 25% strikeout rate is still above average, but that’s a big improvement over the last two seasons, each of which saw him finish above 32%.

But perhaps most remarkably, his defensive ratings have improved dramatically. DRS has Davis at the league average of third this year, which is no small feat considering his dismal ranking in previous years. UZR gives him a 1.1 rating for the season so far, one of the top 10 among major league third basemen. Outs Above Average currently has it at +4, behind only Josh Rojas, Ke’Bryan Hayes And Eugenio Suarez in the hot corner. This is a small sample of just 259 2/3 innings, so it’s too early to decisively declare Davis a more defender, but there seems to be an emerging consensus that his glove work did a significant step forward.

Davis appears to be at the top of his game both at the plate and on the field, which has already seen him produce 1.3 fWAR in just 38 games, more than half of his career high of 2.5 this time around. 2019 season. While the Giants are surely thrilled with these developments, it could lead them to a tough call in a few months. Overall, the club struggled to an 18-23 start to the season, putting them behind the Dodgers, Diamondbacks and Padres in National League West. The club still have plenty of time to turn things around, but they may have to consider selling as the trade deadline approaches.

Davis entered this season with between four and five years of service time. This means he can still be held in arbitration for 2024 and is not an impending free agent. The club won’t feel pressured to move him, but it would deserve at least some consideration if he finds himself out of playoff contention. Considering his strong performance, his year and a half control and his modest salary of $4.21 million this year, he would surely generate a lot of interest. There are a handful of contenders with question marks at third base who would likely pick up the phone, like the Twins, Phillies and Yankees. The Giants could flip him around for younger, cheaper players and then maybe give Villar another shot at the big leagues in the final months of the season. The alternative would be to stick with Davis and hope for better results as a team next year before he hits the open market.

Of course, the club hopes he will be playing well enough over the next few months that they won’t even have to consider that route. Despite their slow start, they are only two games away from a Wild Card spot at the moment due to slow starts from other contenders like the Phillies, Mets and Padres. It makes no sense to shovel dirt on their season just yet, but front offices need to consider all potential avenues and will surely have conversations about how they want to proceed.

Time will tell how that pans out, but for now, that’s all good news. The Giants sent Ruf to the Mets and acquired Davis less than a year ago. Even though it was just a one-for-one swap, this deal already looks like a huge win, as Ruf has gone in the opposite direction since then. He was released by the Mets earlier this year, briefly returned to the Giants and just yesterday signed with the Brewers. Of course, it wasn’t a one-for-one exchange. The Giants also got Thomas Szapucki, Nick Zwack And Carson Seymour in trade. If any of these pitchers can transform into useful parts, it will be the icing on an already very sweet cake thanks to Davis.

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