April 17, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis (22) pitches in the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Wade Davis Could Bounce Back in 2014


Aug 12, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Miami Marlins at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

With the Royals still in need of starting pitching, it is beginning to look more and more as though any reinforcements to the rotation will come from within the organization. While prospects such as Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura may be the favorites to win the final two spots in the rotation, former starters Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar are also expected to get a look as starters during Spring Training. Both Davis and Hochevar have fared much better as relievers than starters in their career, but given the depth in the bullpen, a transition back to the rotation could potentially make sense for either pitcher.

Yet, the idea of reinserting either pitcher into the rotation has been met as though the concept was the second coming of Nikola Tesla’s earthquake machine. While there has been, at the very least, some support for Hochevar getting another chance, the idea of Davis toeing the rubber to start a game is considered to be a cruel joke. After all, why insert someone into the rotation who was a total disaster last season in that very role?

Wade Davis certainly struggled as a starter for the Royals, going 6-10 with a 5.67 ERA in his 24 starts before being banished to the bullpen. His overall numbers last season, 8-11 with a 5.32 ERA and a 1.677 WHiP, were truly atrocious. To top off how bad Davis was as a starter, only 38% of his outings were considered ‘quality starts’ and he pitched six or more innings only ten times. With the concern that Duffy and Ventura could burn through the Royals bullpen, it would seem as though Davis was doing just that last season.

As much of a train wreck as Davis’s first season with the Royals had been, it is not hard to assume that he would have to be better going forward. In fact, his struggles in 2013 may have been a matter of bad luck. Davis gave up a .361 batting average on balls in play last year, which was compounded by a career low strand rate of 67.6%. With normalized luck in both, Davis may have had a much different 2013, as evidenced by his 4.15 xFIP.

Should Wade Davis be inserted back into the starting rotation, it may not be the complete disaster that 2013 had been. If he is able to produce at his expected levels heading into 2014, where he is predicted to 9-9 with a 4.24 ERA according to Steamer projections, would certainly be decent production from a fourth or fifth starter. If Davis can continue to strike out batters at the rate he did last season, where his 7.6 K/9 rate was the highest he has had as a starter, then Davis may be a solid bounce back candidate in 2014.

It has been thought that the Royals may look towards locating a reclamation project to take one of the two open spots in their rotation. As it turns out, they may already have that pitcher on the roster in Wade Davis.

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  • jimfetterolf

    Wade Davis is like Eric Hosmer to the extent that his talent is obvious, but there are flaws that keep him from consistently exploiting it. In Hosmer’s case it was head, hands, and feet becoming uncoordinated, in Davis’ case it was a tendency to overthrow, fly open, and lose command. After a couple of his bad starts he admitted that he had no idea where the ball was going. That comes from inconsistent mechanics. That’s fixable.

    I would add on Davis that part of his inflated ERA came from Ned Yost letting him wear a bad outing, go a hundred pitches even though he was down 6-0 after two innings, both to give Davis a chance to fix the problem himself and also to save the ‘pen in a hopeless cause. Yost also did that with Hochevar in previous years.

    As I assume Ventura starts in Omaha for service time reasons, it is likely that either Davis or Hochevar gets the 5th slot to begin with, maybe both over the first two months, depending on how the first one fares. Ned Yost will have both in starter shape and will go with the hot hand.

    • moretrouble

      I have a mixed reaction to your tech talk, Jim. Although Davis has good downward angle in the photo at the top of the page, he doesn’t always. That lack of downward angle contributes to riding high in the zone. Over correct that and a pitcher loses his ability to spot up breaking pitches. Dial everything back to find the zone and you get hit hard.

      Many pitchers have an accordion effect on their mechanics — they’ll go in and out, fight their command, lose their confidence and so on. It’s not that they do anything specific wrong 100% of the time. They are unable to come to repeatable mechanics that allow all their pitches to be effective — precisely because they must change their mechanics slightly from pitch to pitch to get all their pitches working. What they’ve done with Hoch and Davis is simplify — put them in short situations where one or two pitches work for a shorter outing.

      Whether that translates into success as a starter depends — if the location is good enough — as Vargas as shown, it will. But, Hoch and Davis must come to the mindset where they are getting people out with location, not stuff. To put it in simple terms, and I know you’ve heard this many times, but it bears repeating — pitching is like real estate, location, location, location.

      • jimfetterolf

        Davis talked to Lee a couple of times last year on the subject and my comments are less my analysis than Wade’s own judgments of when the wheels fall off. The results sound similar to those of old Hoch when he had base runners. Both would start to overthrow and mechanics would break down, which loses location, and leads to grooving fastballs in hitter’s counts and getting blown up. Whether either can fix it permanently is an open question. What is not an open question is their ceiling, flashed in the game logs with the occasional dominant performance. We could probably include Duffy in the group until his curve shows otherwise, almost unlimited ceiling if he stays within himself and commands exceptional stuff.

        • moretrouble

          You’re referring to conversations with Lee Judge? While valuable, they are explanations for fan consumption. Even Bob McClure’s radio interviews (he’s something of a mechanics guru) would take on the flavor of a high school pitching lesson during his time with KC.

          But, speaking with a little more specificity: overthrowing up in the zone can sometimes be corrected with greater downward angle — if that’s the only issue. It generally isn’t. Applying more stress (push, separation, stride length, arm speed, whip, extension, etc.) to increase velocity changes timing. So, where does one make the adjustment that unlocks greater velocity? Really, it depends on the individual.

          Another example would be staying closed — that can be adjusted in several places along the kinetic chain — not just keeping the front shoulder in longer. By that time, what’s wrong has already taken place.

          These things are a matter of experimentation as no two individuals are alike. It’s pitcher and coach finding compromises that further a player’s goals without changing him too abruptly.

          Before other posters go ballistic, allow me to say that my opinions are solely my own. I claim to have no more knowledge than the typical fan in the stands.

          • jimfetterolf

            Wade Davis himself defined his problems, aware of them from Dave Eiland, film, and results. He shared the thoughts with Lee, just as other players sometimes do, Luke Hochevar among them. Lee’s a journalist, not an analyst, so he passes on what he hears from a wide variety of sources, ranging from an opposing GM to an opposing bench coach and on down to Royals coaches and players.

            I tend to take things a bit further. I remember trying to get outside myself, throw harder than I was ready to, so remember that location is the first thing to go. For pitchers who have a history of being able to throw 98, when the gun says they’re only hitting 95 they try to muscle up and squeeze out the extra velo, which requires more upper body rotation, a change in stride, a change in release, throwing the glove side open faster and more violently to get more torque. I think it also lowers the release slot, attempting to get a longer arm and more leverage. That many changes wrecks command.

            Interesting that you mention Jaeger. Luke, Montgomery, Lamb, Crow, and I think Duffy and Dwyer were all long tossers, which made Luke a 98mph thrower in college. At the time they were all drafted the Royals forbid long-toss training, so someone like Hochevar, as an obvious example, lost the training edge of long-toss, yet tried to keep velocity up. He ended up with shoulder problems and command issues when trying to throw at max velocity. Monty also lost command and had a shoulder injury. Couple of others had TJS. I would suggest all tried to maintain historical speed with less than optimal training, so had diminished performance as well as increased injury risk. In the case of Hochevar, I assume he has returned to his old training and that may be a reason both for 2013′s success and optimism for 2014.

          • moretrouble

            With all due respect, no one these days throws max velocity in the MLB. Most of the hard throwers on KC’s team can hit triple digits; they just don’t do it. What you are describing is how you or I might increase velocity. With a pitcher who knows what he’s doing, it’s a matter of mechanics, not muscle.

            What the KC front office and coaching staff objects to is using Jaeger’s regimen DURING the season. No one objects to such programs off season. And, most of those guys start throwing about now, slowly stretching themselves out flat ground with some kind of program similar to Jaeger’s.

          • jimfetterolf

            Agree that it’s mechanics and a constant thread through Jeffress, Hochevar, and Davis, as well as likely others, is sacrificing repeatable mechanics for the extra few mph.

            Every pitcher has a natural limit to velocity based on size, muscle twitch, and limb proportions. Below that limit is an effective limit that is repeatable and commandable. What the three I mentioned have in common is the attempt to go beyond the commandable limit and on to the natural physical limit. A knock on Jeffress was that he fell in love with the radar gun. Herrera has had a little of that, throwing 101 while he has best movement and command at 96.

            Add to that the tinkering with training that held until Dave Eiland was hired, and a couple of 1st rounders told the Royals up front not to draft them if they were going to change their training, and pitchers were getting into bad habits trying to overthrow for more velocity. The Royals were late to the program training party, which is why they have yet to produce a top starter from all the high ceiling talent they’ve drafted. The hope is that with the recent change in attitude that the next wave, beginning with Zimmer, a dedicated program trainer, will have a better success rate and we can become like other teams that got on the bandwagon earlier and always seem to have a surplus of hot, young, major-league ready arms coming off the assembly line. We’ll just have to see.

          • moretrouble

            Well…I think we agree more than disagree, but here’s where I part company with you: You have voiced an indictment of KC’s system of developing pitchers. I completely disagree, with all due respect.

            Further, as Usain Bolt has shown, there is NO upper limit to the velocity produced by the human body. Any pitcher can throw with greater velocity and it would be a very poor coach to say otherwise. Doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to add velocity, but it is possible.

            Dave Eiland is responsible for the major league pitching staff only. I’m sure he takes a look at everyone in spring training, but he is not responsible for the development of minor league pitchers.

            Every pitcher overthrows from time to time; how could they not? Command, though, is a separate issue – it’s a mechanics issue. MLB pitchers dial back on velocity to get maximum efficiency with minimum effort. Some of them resist that idea — so what? They either figure it out or they end up out of baseball. That’s not the fault of coaching.

            I think our discussion has taken us far afield of Wade Davis. He’s a very good pitcher and I think he’ll figure out what he needs to do. Sometimes, all of us talk as though we know more than the pitchers themselves. That’s a mistake.

          • jimfetterolf

            We agree on much. On Dave Eiland, he wasn’t a cause but rather was a sign of the changed philosophy that supposedly was applied system wide. I think Trevor Bauer had as much to do with it as anyone, as he had told anyone looking to draft him that he would only sign if he could keep his training. The Royals apparently had already begun negotiations with him pre-draft. The following year Zimmer also made the same demand and he was also a program trainer.

            On command, overthrowing pretty much by definition violates mechanics. Good mechanics is the magic point where velocity, movement, and location come together.

          • moretrouble

            Well…Trevor Bauer is a head case. I’m glad KC didn’t sign him and I’ll wager Arizona regretted it. The kid has talent, but is not amenable to coaching yet.

          • jimfetterolf

            Zimmer said the same thing before he was drafted. The resistance to program training was why Tim Lincecum fell so far in the draft, old-school was scared of long-toss, thought it would ruin arms. It’s taken several years for baseball to adapt, Royals weren’t the only team to block it, but teams like the Giants, Rangers, and Oakland as three early examples, got a nice head start with it.

          • moretrouble

            You can’t fault an organization like KC that has so many young arms at the major league level and has produced a recent Cy Young Award winner. No organization is going to change that kind of success for a high draft choice who doesn’t want to be coached.

            To imply that MLB pitching instructors don’t know what they’re doing is flat wrong. Further, to imply they are resistant to change is also inaccurate. MLB pitching coaches and roving minor league instructors are the best in the business.

            What is harmful are the Internet charlatans who claim MLB pitching coaches are giving out bad information. These guys are all about making money and nothing else. I just shake my head in amazement at these guys.

          • jimfetterolf

            It’s my understanding that KC has changed their approach the last couple of years.

          • moretrouble

            There is no overall “philosophy” regarding development. Teams draft good players, let ‘em play in the minors, offer help as needed and wait to see if they develop. Each coach brings a slightly different take on things, each kid plays slightly different. The last thing any organization would do is have a “cookie cutter” approach to developing talent. With all due respect, no pro baseball team does that.

            The only “philosophy” I see within the KC organization is to rely on the promotion of their talent instead of signing free agents. Dayton Moore has explained that approach repeatedly over his tenure in KC.

          • jimfetterolf

            I think the team has done a great job of drafting high ceiling talent, just a matter of developing to the stage of an Oakland or Tampa where prospects become rotation pieces or trade material. As is, we have two 1st rounders in the bullpen and that’s about it as far as results. Duffy, Ventura, and Zimmer are the next great hopes and I think at least two of them will stick while Hochevar finally has his velocity back up to his college levels and make a push for a rotation spot. We’ll just have to disagree as to why some of the young guns finally look to breaking through.

          • moretrouble

            The KC roster has many top round draft choices on their current team, including several first rounders. How much of that is due to the players themselves and how much credit should the team take? Little of the credit should go to the “system” or the team. It’s the players themselves who deserve the credit. No one should take credit for developing Michael Jordan, except Michael himself.

            And, when only 65% of all first rounders in baseball ever play in the MLB, who can say with certainty which ones will and which ones won’t.

            It doesn’t matter what Oakland has done, what Tampa has done. If you’re a KC fan, it only matters what KC has done. And, they’ve done a great job.

  • Chad Woelk

    Wade Davis should of been traded to free up money. Vargas should have never been signed and that money should of been kept to sign Santana to a 3 year deal when his market crashed.

    • Dave Hill

      I’m honestly surprised that he wasn’t traded. Thought he would have been since the Twins and Rockies both expressed interest.

      • Chad Woelk

        I totally agree. Why not trade him when you had teams interested. His salary is too high to stay in the bullpen when the Royals are stacked in that department. The Royals must really want him to turn a corner and be in the starting rotation but if that’s the case why sign Vargas and waste that money. How many number #4 or #5 pitchers do we need. I would of rather seen both Duffy and Ventura start then Vargas and Davis. Plus Kyle Zimmer may only be a year away as well. I like the moves Dayton made for Valencia, Aoki, and Infante but signing Vargas just seemed like another version of Guthrie which they really don’t need. However, Duffy and Ventura have a hard time going even 5 innings and maybe Dayton wanted to make sure he had solid inning eaters who may not have as much upside but who can keep them in a game. I still hold hope that Dayton will sign Santana if his market crashes but I am prob just fooling myself.