How Good is the Kansas City Royals’ Wade Davis? You Might Be Surprised.

How good is Wade Davis? Over the last few weeks, REALLY good. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

You probably saw a Marcus Meade article not too long ago predicting an improved Wade Davis. Well, it looks like Marcus was right. Wade Davis has arguably been the best Royals pitcher over the last 30 days. Wait. What?

Yep. I just looked again. Looking at Royals pitchers over at Fangraphs, and sorting them by WAR, Davis is third on the team (behind James Shields and Ervin Santana) for the season with a 1.1 WAR – Shields is at 2.3, with a 1.7 for Santana.

As inconsistent as Davis was earlier in the year, I decided to go a little further into the numbers, because my brain is telling me, even though he’s looked better, Davis hasn’t been that good. Has he?

Lets go all the way back to the beginning. Davis had a terrible first outing on April 5, in which he only lasted four innings. He followed that up with a couple of nice starts, totaling 12 innings pitched and zero earned (or unearned, for that matter) runs and 13 strikeouts. Those were solid bounce back games after allowing 4 earned runs in just 4 innings pitched.

After that, it was a mixed bag when it came to Davis starts. In his next two starts, Davis went a total of just 8.1 innings and allowed 11 earned runs (15 runs total). Then he went 6 innings with 1 run. Next up was 5 innings and 7 runs. For the most part, things were not very promising from April 24 through May 15. During that stretch, Davis started 5 games and tossed 24.2 innings (not quite 5 innings per start), allowed 23 earned runs (8.39 ERA), and walked as many as he struck out (15 of each). Opponents had a 1.059 OPS versus Davis – a .455 OBP and .604 SLG – and most fans were discussing how he might benefit from a shift to the bullpen.

After that May 15 start (5 IP and 6 ER), though, something seems to have clicked for Davis. He’s not been GREAT…but he’s been pretty damn good. Since that start, Davis has had 7 more outings. The team is 3-4 in his 7 most recent starts, during which he’s thrown 41 innings (just a shade under 6 per start). His ERA during this run is 3.95, with an opponent OPS of .747, down a little more than 300 points from that last stretch of games we examined. Davis also saw huge improvement in his K/BB ratio, striking out 41 and walking only 14 over those 7 starts. Not too shabby.

To put this all in context though, let’s see how he stacks up over that same timeframe (going back to about May 15) against the top dogs in the rotation. James Shields has 8 starts from May 17 to the present. The team has gone 5-3 in those starts and Shields has thrown 53 innings, basically going for 7 innings per start with a couple of exceptions. His ERA is 3.40, and he’struck out 46 versus just 19 walks. Shields definitely gives more innings…and has the bulldog mentality you can’t measure with statistics…but, just looking at the numbers, Davis isn’t too far off Shields’ pace.

In fact, if you look at Fangraphs’ WAR numbers again, singling out just the last 30 days (a bit smaller of sample size than going back to May 15) rather than the season as a whole, Davis and Santana sit atop the list, both a 0.8 WAR, with Shields (at 0.5) right behind.

Over the last 30 days, Shields and Santana have both had 6 starts, going for 38 and 42 innings, respectively. Jeremy Guthrie, Luis Mendoza, and Davis have 5 starts each. Davis has logged the most innings of the three at 29.2 (Mendoza is next with 28, and the struggling Guthrie has 27.2). Davis has 8.8 K/9 and 2.43 BB/9 – that’s the best strikeout rate on the starting rotation in the last 30 days. He’s got the second best walk rate behind Santana, who has walked 1.93 per 9 innings. Davis has given up less home runs per 9 than any starter during this timeframe as well.

Taking the fielders out of the equation, and comparing Davis to the other guys based solely on what the pitcher can control, we see that (again, in the last 30 days) Davis has the best FIP of the bunch. If you don’t what FIP is, check the Fangraphs glossary. I’ll give you a minute. Okay…all set? Davis has an FIP of 2.88, which is pretty far ahead of Santana’s 3.55, and the next in line after that is Shields with a 4.08 FIP. So, based solely on the pitching (not relying on what the defense does), Davis is the best of the bunch. That’s pretty impressive. And it’s a good predictor (as we learned from Mr. Meade) of what could be yet to come.

Other than Ervin, nobody has matched Davis over the last 30 days. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The last batch of numbers I’ll look at is Davis’ performance in high leverage and low leverage situations. Luckily, Fangraphs us covered there, too. In 2013, he’s thrown 29 low leverage, 44.1 medium leverage, and 8.1 high leverage innings. Small sample size of high leverage, but there is still an interesting pattern here. In low leverage situations, he’s allowed a .384 opponent batting average with a .437 OBP and .572 SLG. In medium leverage, he gets better, allowing a .289/.361/.404 slash line. Much better, right? Well, in high leverage (again, I know it’s only 8.1 IP) he improves yet again allowing a .179/.233/.333 slash. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see him buckle down more in the low leverage innings, but I like that he gets tougher as the situation does.

So how good is Davis? Well, lately…pretty damn good! I’m not saying he’s better than Shields or Santana in the grand scheme of things (I’d choose either of them before Davis if I had to), but when all is said and done, we might find that we have a pretty solid number three starter on our hands here…which is a good thing given how our current number three (Guthrie) has looked in recent starts. I’d like to see Davis get a little more efficient and pitch deeper into games (buckling down in those low leverage situations would help), but if he can keep going about 6 innings per start, I won’t complain.

One of the biggest question marks when it came to the team’s pitching has, over the last month, become a real asset. If he can keep pitching at this level, the starting rotation is even better than we thought. Now if the offense could just score some freaking runs…

Topics: Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals, Wade Davis

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  • jimfetterolf

    You might check “Judging the Royals”, Lee had a nice interview with Davis on how and why he pitched his last game and it touched on the difference in approach and the reasons why in different leverage situations. Short take is low leverage, use your defense and save your pitches, high leverage use the pitches to get whiffs.

    Mendoza has a similar approach, get GBs low leverage and punch outs high leverage. Both are still a touch light on endurance, but have established themselves as 3/4 pitchers with Guthrie more the team’s #5. We might see that made official after the ASB.

    I’ll post the link later, if you’ld like.