In most respects, 2010 has not been a great year to be a Mets fan.  The team will finish under .500 for the second straight year, and it now appears that the height of the Wright-Beltran-Reyes era may have come and gone with a disappointing loss in the 2006 NLCS.  Philadelphia won the division again, the Atlanta Braves have re-emerged as a threat now and for the future, and yesterday’s headlines exploded with rumors that the manager and GM were on thin ice.

That’s not to say there haven’t been bright spots. Whatever the outcome of the Mets’ final two games, this season has been a distinct improvement on the punchless 2009 Mets that lost 92 games.  The most obvious factor has been David Wright’s resurgence, but another big reason has been the emergence of 23-year-old Ike Davis as the first baseman of the future.

But what kind of future will that be?  All manner of systems and statistical formulas exist to try to make that prediction, but I thought a bare-bones comparison might be useful.  Using the National Pastime Almanac, I searched for first basemen who have finished the year close to Davis’ stats in at-bats, doubles, homers, RBI, bases on balls, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, and OPS.  (Of course, Davis’ stats can still change, but probably not remarkably so in two games.) 

I came up with only two close comparisons:

In 1986, Pirate first baseman Sid Bream was 25 years old (he turned 26 in August) and finished very close to Davis’ numbers: four more doubles, three less homers, six more RBI, 13 points lower in on-base (a significant difference), but six points higher in slugging.  Bream had more speed than Davis—hitting more triples and stealing bases in the double-digits—and played in a tougher hitting era, but he was also two to three years older, giving Davis much more time to develop.

Bream went on to enjoy a solid career, starting for the National League Champion Braves in the early 90s (and scoring the winning run on Francisco Cabrera’s NLCS-winning hit), but he didn’t even get to 1,000 base hits in his career.  Presumably, Mets’ fans are hoping for a bit more from Ike Davis.

The other close comparison was Brewers’ first baseman Lyle Overbay in 2005. In his second full season, he finished with one more double than Davis and the same number of doubles and triples.  He got on base more (12 points higher in batting, 13 in OBP), but his stats in all other categories were nearly identical.  Like Davis and Bream, he was a left-handed batter.

Overbay’s a more promising sign for Davis, not only because he remains a productive first baseman (if not a star) to this day but also because he was 28 years old in 2005, his developmental years done.  Davis has much more time to improve.

Since neither comparison seemed to really get at Ike Davis’ potential, I lowered the minimum at-bats for comparable players to 450 and searched only for players between 20 and 25 years of age, and there I found another left-handed batter, who is perhaps the best evidence in the case for Ike Davis having a bright future.

In 1991, the Toronto Blue Jays employed a young first baseman who turned 23 years old that August.  His extra-base hits were comparable to Davis, his runs scored and RBI a little lower, his batting average, on-base, and slugging all within a few points.

His name was John Olerud.  As Mets’ fans may recall, he turned out to be pretty good.

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