He’s Bad … But Maybe In The Good Way


May 31, 2013; Arlington, TX, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis (22) is taken out by manager Ned Yost (3) during the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Texas won 7-2. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

When I watch Wade Davis, it hurts my heart. It also hurts my stomach, vocal chords, and man parts. My stomach because it makes me sick. My vocal chords because I scream at him through my television like a normal person. And my man parts because I get sympathy pains for a man who is repeatedly kicked in the nuts by his opponents.

Watching Davis pitch is hard, in part, because of his position in the The Trade. Many, myself included, felt that he would be the key to determining who “won” this trade (though clearly defining winning and losing is sometimes difficult in the world of sports trades). If Davis succeeds, the trade will be vindicated since he’ll be around longer than James Shields. Of course, this also depends on what Wil Myers turns into, but in the moment, it felt like we were losing an All-Star and getting Davis in return.

I was hopeful too, as I almost always am, that Davis would turn the success he found in the bullpen into increased success in the rotation. I never operated under the delusion he would be a Shields-like success, but I thought he could be a serviceable two or a very good three with his increased strikeout numbers allowing him to become an above-average starter. This is in contrast to the average starter he was in Tampa Bay.

Until recently, I couldn’t help but feel that my hope was misplaced. He’s pitched poorly so far this season, looking even worse than his two years starting in Tampa. Or so I thought. Then, I looked at his stats for this season. Now, I’m not so sure he’s as bad as watching him indicates.

5 Yrs3127.5344.131317715210527.1531260242641956402150152269941.3779.
162 Game Avg.109.5344.1343255100172174857921642131505742941.3779.
TBR (4 yrs)2822.5603.941186415210458.2436212201541676341130131951981.3158.
KCR (1 yr)35.3755.371313000068.29548411028061202318761.79112.

Here are some of Davis’ numbers for 2013. They’re bad. Really quite bad. Some of them are bad like Wesley Snipes is bad, in that he never pays taxes and was in Michael Jackson’s “Bad” video—terrific actor though. But take a look at the strikeout rate—8 SO/9. That’s up from his previous two seasons as a starter, as you can see. In fact, it’s closer to his six game stint in 2009 when his ERA was a much more respectable 3.72.

If he’s striking out more, why is he giving up way more runs? Hopefully, no one is actually asking that because it’s pretty obvious, but I’ll answer it anyway. Look at the hits-per-nine-innings number: 12.5 H/9. Look at the WHIP: 1.791 down from 1.839 before Tuesday. That’s a lot of hits. Really, it’s a lot of base runners, and a lot of base runners usually equals a lot of runs. He is also walking a few more hitters than he use to but not too many, and he’s giving up a shade fewer homeruns, but again not so many that it’s a huge deal. The homeruns will probably even out when he starts giving up fewer hits overall.

Of course, more hits don’t always equal more runs. In fact, good pitchers usually do a better job leaving runners on base because they strike hitters out (and 8 SO/9 is a good number). On the left-on-base front, Davis has met his share of misfortune. This season, he’s only stranding 69.4 percent of runners, down from 81.4 percent last season and lower than 2010 and 2011 in which he stranded 78.1 percent and 72.1 percent respectively. Don’t worry! It doesn’t appear he’s the next Luke Hochevar, as Hochevar struggled with runners on base his whole career and Davis has really only struggled with it this season and his six-game stint in 2009.

Perhaps more important than his letting runners in is his letting runners on. Why is he giving up more hits this year than ever before? Well, it’s probably a combination of things. Let’s start with the thing that makes me a little optimistic about Davis. Hitters currently hold a .392 BABIP against him. That’s insane and completely unsustainable. So, the hit numbers will probably go down as that regresses to the mean. That will mean fewer men on base, which will drop the ERA numbers, and perhaps dramatically if Davis can start stranding a few more runners.

But let’s not call it all a negative turn of near-random events (some of you call it bad luck but as you may recall I don’t believe in luck). In part, Davis has a high BABIP because he leaves balls up and in the middle that get hit hard. Also important is the fact that he leaves fastballs up and in the middle. He’s remarked recently about how he’s working on fastball command, which is disheartening for a fan to hear (you’re a Major League pitcher; how can you not locate a fastball?). Fastballs are easier to hit when left in the middle of the plate because hitters see fastballs most often and they usually go straighter than other pitches. If he were leaving breaking balls in the middle, it still wouldn’t be good, but he might be fooling people a little more than with fastballs poorly located due to changes in speed and increased movement.

This is all in the way of saying I wouldn’t be surprised if Davis starts seeing a little more success. He’s never given up the number of hits he has up to this point, and regression is likely. If he can sustain the strikeout numbers and keep it around eight per nine innings, he’ll be in good shape. Tuesday’s start looks like a hint of what Davis should be given his stuff. He struck out five, gave eight hits, one walk, and two runs while going 6.2 IP. That’s a solid start. If he throws a few more solid starts, Royals fans will get to see what they hoped he might be instead of the train wreck he appeared to be until Tuesday.