"Break glass in case of emergency" time already struck for the Yankees when they had to call up Chris Parmelee to replace the injured trio of Mark Teixeira, Dustin Ackley, and Greg Bird at first base. Well, they pulled that switch to dial the fire department and it turns out that the line was cut there too since Parmelee is already hurt. Putting Rob Refsnyder at first base, where he had basically never played before, was the equivalent of pouring a half-empty water bottle on the flames.
So to make the situation a little bit better, the Yankees jumped on the opportunity to sign Ike Davis barely an hour after the Texas Rangers designated him for assignment. Brian Cashman might as well have just texted Davis "u up?" moments after seeing his breakup on Facebook.
Davis might not be anywhere close to vintage Teixeira on defense, but at least he has a long record of experience there and was actually hitting in Triple-A (unlike Nick Swisher). These are PCL statistics, so they are to be taken with a serious grain of salt, but Davis hit .268/.350/.437 with a 111 wRC+ in 39 games. They are not gaudy or anything, but they are far better than Swisher's .254/.283/.401, 93 wRC+ numbers in Scranton. Still not yet 30, Davis also has more mobility at first than the hobbling Swisher. It was completely logical to call on Davis to provide Refsnyder with some support so that the rookie doesn't have to bear the full burden at a new position. Two half-empty water bottles are better than one.
Of course the reason Davis was available is that he is a very flawed player. New York sports fans already know that from his days with the Mets not so long ago. The Mets chose Lucas Duda over him, and it was absolutely the right call. According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees plan to use Davis in a platoon role with Refsnyder. That is all well and good, but the 2016 version of Davis likely needs to summon some of his old habits to be more than just a reprise of Garrett Jones.
Such a goal is far from impossible. Davis was a useful major leaguer a mere two years ago. In 143 games with the Mets and Pirates in 2014, he batted .233/.344/.378 with 11 homers and a 109 wRC+. This is the same man who hit 32 homers in one year for the Mets as a 25-year-old in 2012. That guy is probably not coming back, but 2014 Davis would be a more than welcome addition to these Yankees.
As a lefthanded hitter in Yankee Stadium, the solution is pretty obvious. Davis has to go back to pulling the ball a lot more than he has in recent years. In 2014, he pulled the ball at a 38.5% clip and in his career year of 2012, it was up to 40.9%. His production dipped in between in 2013 despite a high pull rate, but that was the first truly off-year of his big league tenure. It wouldn't be surprising if adjusting to a more part-time role with Duda in the mix played a role in the slump as well; he seemed more capable of dealing with that change in 2014.
That homer was not a monster shot--it was simply pulled up in the air to right field. That will play at Yankee Stadium.
Last year though? Davis' pull rate fell to 29.1%, easily a career-low and much worse than the league average of 39.2%. Most of his hits went to center field, and while that might work for a more contact-focused hitter, that is not Ike Davis. He rose through the Mets' system and achieved his peak as a boom-or-bust guy. Not all fans like that kind of player, but that is Davis' best form. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2015 also saw the highest ground ball percentage of his career (52.3%) and the lowest fly ball rate (27.9%). This change could very well have played a role in his plate discipline's rapid decline in 2015, too.
Unfortunately, the good results in Triple-A so far don't indicate that he has reverted to his previous pull-happy form. Courtesy of MLB Farm, this is Davis' spray chart:
Davis has increased his pull rate from last year, but it is still slightly less than his contact to center field (or even at best). Perhaps most alarming is the fact that a good chunk of his right field contact has been grounders. None of his four home runs have gone to right field.
This could be a sign that maybe Davis' bat speed has simply gone down and that he cannot pull the ball with as much authority anymore. If that's the case, then the Yankees are going to be in trouble. They need a pull-happy Davis to succeed, and Davis needs that strength to prolong his major league career.
Regardless, that is the approach he needs to take. A few more fly balls in the air to right field at Yankee Stadium could easily lead to some dingers, even if the swings sometimes come at the cost of some frustrating weak contact. The more even distribution did not cut it in 2015, so Davis' motto has to be "go big or go home."