When J.D. Davis went on the injured list two games into the season, it provided a test for the New York Mets. With Davis’ status as the starter precarious at best, his absence gave backups Luis Guillorme and Jonathan Villar a chance to step up. And that’s exactly what they did. Now, with all three healthy, the question of who deserves to be the Mets starting third baseman is more complicated than ever.
It’s J.D.’s to Lose
Make no mistake, Davis is still the starter…at least for now. What happens in the next few weeks will be crucial to him keeping that role. Not helping matters, however, is that the Mets clearly aren’t all in on Davis as their long-term third baseman.
For most of the offseason, upper management avoided saying Davis was their starter. The reason was simple; Davis struggled offensively in 2020 and defensively in 2019-2020.
There’s no denying that Davis was a stud in 2019. Slashing .307/.369/.527 with a 136 OPS+, he had the best season by a Mets third baseman since David Wright in 2013. In retrospect, that he took such a huge step back in 2020 may not be that unexpected. After struggling in his first two seasons, having such an exceptional 2019 made a regression likely. He wasn’t horrible in 2020 (.247/.371/.389 with a 110 OPS+), but he certainly wasn’t the star many believed him to be.
All the while, Davis’ defense has never been very good. Since coming to the Mets, he has put up -17 DRS at third in just under 500 innings.
So with all of this in mind, how is Davis doing in 2021. Having only played four games so far, data is a bit slim. Defensively, he simply hasn’t had many chances yet. At the very least he hasn’t committed an error. Offensively, he’s actually doing better than most of the team. With three hits, a run and an RBI in 10 at bats, he’s one of the few Mets not opening the season in a major slump.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that 2019 Davis is back. It does, however, bode well for him in the near future. Whatever his defensive numbers may be, it’s his bat that will keep him in the lineup. As of right now, it’s currently enough to make Davis the clear frontrunner for the starting role.
The Fielding Savant
Guillorme is currently the biggest threat to steal the starting job from Davis.
His claim to fame is his impeccable talent with his glove. An above average fielder at second and short, third base is actually Guillorme’s weakest position. While he’s not as bad as Davis, he isn’t particularly good either. In 183.2 innings, he’s accumulated -5 DRS, including -3 in 2021.
The main culprit for his poor start this year are a couple of early season errors. Since he’s only had 11 defensive chances in seven games, these errors are greatly inflating his stats. With only one error in his prior three seasons at third, it can reasonably be assumed that Guillorme’s slow start is just an early season anomaly.
Something else to consider is that Guillorme has only ever played third in a backup role. It’s entirely possible that with regular playing time, he can go from a middling to above average.
At that point, it’s a bit harder to argue that Davis’ presumed offensive superiority would outweigh Guillorme’s defensive value. Plus, it’s not like Guillorme is completely dearth of offensive value anymore. While it’s only been seven games, he’s successfully carrying over his production from his breakout 2020. Recall that he slashed .333/.426/.439 with a 139 OPS+ that year. Right now, he’s starting off the season with four hits, four walks and only one strikeout in 15 plate appearances. While he doesn’t have Davis’ raw power, Guillorme’s ability to consistently find the hole and get on base might actually make him the more valuable of the two.
If Davis experiences a prolonged slump, Guillorme hitting like he is now and improving his defense may ultimately lead to him taking over as starter.
Don’t Discount Villar
Last but not least is the veteran Villar. While Davis has the most offensive upside and Guillorme has the best glove, Villar represents the middle ground between both.
Despite not playing third base since 2016, he’s actually holding his own at the position this year. In 32 innings, he’s yet to commit an error. Villar’s also shown surprisingly good arm action for someone who’s mostly played second and short. He was never very good at third in the past, but if he can be slightly below average to average this year, it should be enough to top Davis.
Villar’s bat may be the most intriguing variable in this entire debate. For most of his career, he’s alternated between having good and bad offensive years. Case in point, he slashed .232/.301/.292 (63 OPS+) with two home runs in 2020, but one year earlier slashed .274/.339/.453 (110 OPS+) with 24 home runs.
This year, he’s off to a decent start offensively. While he does have nine strikeouts in 23 plate appearances, he also has four extra base hits and three RBIs.
If, and this is a huge if, Guillorme is unable to sustain his current offensive output or improve his defense, this would put Villar above him on the depth chart. Likewise, if Davis starts slumping at the plate, Villar’s decent bat and superior defense would elevate him to the starting role.
Of course, if Davis is able recapture his 2019 form and improve defensively, it won’t matter how well Guillorme and Villar perform. Even if they play like starting-caliber third basemen, they’ll just have to make do being among the best bench players in baseball.
Featured Image Courtesy of Corey Sipkin/New York Post
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