Wade Davis & His Dominating Cut Fastball

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Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s Royals game was frustrating. Liam Hendriks, who’s known for having good command, lost that command early and got knocked out of the game. The best defense in the league looked like something resembling a defense that didn’t appear to belong in the league. The middle of the lineup had an awful night. Just an all around brutal night. I could analyze a few different things from the game, but most of the analysis would just be several different .gif files of people shaking their heads.

So let’s talk about something else.

Wade Davis is having a historic season. You probably already know this. Only Dennis Eckersley and Fernando Rodney have ever posted an ERA lower than Davis’ current 0.70. Davis hasn’t allowed a run since June 25, a span of 30.2 innings. Since the start of May, Davis has a 0.17 ERA. He’s striking out roughly 39% of the batters he’s facing. You get the picture.

If you’re a fan of baseball, you may also know a bit about the Dodgers’ closer, Kenley Jansen. If you’re not familiar with him, let me fill you in: Jansen throws a cut fastball, and he throws it with a lot of velocity, and a lot of movement. Here is an example of one of those cutters. That pitch is moving at 98 MPH. It shouldn’t be able to move as much as it moves, and yet, there it is.

With Mariano Rivera out of the game, Jansen’s cutter is largely considered the best in the sport, and for good reason. Since the start of 2011, that pitch has been worth more than 56 runs above average, according to Pitchf/x pitch values. That’s good. Part of that value comes from Jansen throwing the pitch so often, but still, it’s an incredible pitch.

Now back to Davis. Since returning to the bullpen this season, he’s become a three-pitch pitcher, with a fourseam fastball, a curveball, and, of course, a cutter. All three pitches have been great for Davis, and his upper-90s fastball does get quite a bit of attention. But it’s the cutter that I would like to draw your attention to here.

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Former Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis hangs up his spikes
Former Chicago Cubs closer Wade Davis hangs up his spikes /

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  • In 2014, Davis has the most valuable cutter among all qualified relievers. In fact, among all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, only Adam Wainwright ranks above Davis in that category. Davis has been arguably the best reliever in the league this season, and his cutter has definitively been one of the best pitches in the league this season.

    Davis’ cutter comes in at 10.6 runs above average, while Jansen’s is at 4.7. Without using a calculator, I can tell you that is more than twice as valuable, despite the fact that Jansen throws his cutter more than any other pitcher in baseball.

    Davis generates a swing-and-miss on 17.8% of the cutters he throws. Jansen’s whiff rate is close, but only at 15.4%. But the numbers don’t stop there.

    In Jansen’s 2012 season, opposing batters had a wRC+ of 42 against his cutter. That is the most dominant season of Jansen’s career, in that regard.

    This year, opposing batters have a wRC+ of -32 against Davis’ cutter. That’s not a typo. That’s a negative sign in front of the number 32. Negative. Thirty-two. Batters are “hitting” .082/.132/.082 against the pitch. They could probably close their eyes and have a better shot of making solid contact.

    I mentioned Rivera earlier, and he built his career on the cutter. In the Pitchf/x era (since 2007), the most dominant season he had was in 2009, when opponents had a wRC+ of 27 against his cut fastball. If you don’t want to glance up a couple of inches, this is your reminder that hitters have a -32 wRC+ against Davis’ cutter this year.

    I’m not suggesting Davis is on his way to Cooperstown, but his cutter this season is nothing short of amazing. He throws the pitch around 20% of the time, and based on the numbers above, one might think he should start relying on it a bit more. Then again, part of the pitch’s effectiveness comes from Davis’ ability to mix it in with a 98 MPH fastball and a hammer curve at about 85 MPH, so batters can’t get comfortable in the box.

    The Royals are in first place right now, due in large part to the work of the back end of their bullpen, and Davis is chief among them. When a pitcher has a 0.70 ERA, it’s easy to find something he’s doing extremely well, and Davis’ cutter has been better than what most people consider to be the best cutter in baseball.

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