Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Rays hoped that Wade Davis would join David Price and James Shields atop the club's loaded starting rotation. A 6-foot-5 righty right out of central casting, Davis whiffed nearly a batter per inning in the minors and ranked as a Baseball America top 35 prospect three times. Yet, nearly 400 innings into his MLB career, Davis has the 15th-lowest K rate (5.9 per nine) and the tenth-worst ERA+ (92) among AL starters since 2009. Rays manager Joe Maddon just named Jeff Niemann the team's fifth starter, banishing Davis to the bullpen for the time being.
Davis' punch out rate has plummeted from 8.9 per nine during six starts with the Rays in '09 to 6.1 per nine in '10 and just 5.1 per nine this past year. His miss rate and overall performance with two strikes has taken a beating:
Wade Davis with two strikes, 2009-11
|AVG for AL SP||20.6||.186||.254||.283|
The 26-year-old's pitch selection with two strikes hasn't changed much over the past three years -- he throws fastballs about 60% of the time, throws sliders 20-25%, curves about 15% and very rarely goes to his changeup. But his fastball miss rate with the batter's back against the wall has gone from 22.7% in 2009 to 10.4% in 2011.
So, why has his miss rate with that pitch been more than cut in half? Davis has progressively thrown more fastballs inside with two strikes against batters on both sides of the plate, with little success. He threw a two-strike fastball inside to lefties about 25% in 2009-10 and 35% in 2011. Against righties, he went inside 28% in '09, 33% in '10 and 41% in '11. Now, let's look at hitters' contact rate by location vs. Davis' two-strike fastballs, starting with lefty batters:
Lefties in 2009
Lefties in 2010
Lefties in 2011
With two strikes, lefties' miss rate against Davis' inside fastballs has nosedived from 38% in '09 to nine percent in '11. They're swinging at more inside fastballs, too (50% in '09, 70% in '11). Now, take a look at righties' contact rate by location vs. Davis' two-strike fastballs:
Righties in 2009
Righties in 2010
Righties in 2011
Righty hitters' miss rate against two-strike fastballs inside hasn't seen as dramatic a drop-off, but it has gone from 20% in '09 to 18% this past year. Their swing rate has gone from 46% to 62%.
Considering that Davis is going inside so often and hitters are responding with more swings and contact, you could argue that he's becoming too predictable with his two-strike fastball location. To get opponents off those inside fastballs and get his K rate out of Paul Wilson/Mark Hendrickson territory, Davis might might want to pepper the outside corner or mix in his breaking stuff more often.