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Entries in Wade Davis (3)


Wade Davis: Middling Starter, Star Reliever

It's no secret that pitchers who move from the starting rotation to the bullpen perform better. No longer worried about conserving energy or playing a cat-and-mouse game with hitters multiple times, starters-turned-relievers ramp up the velocity -- and the strikeouts. But even by those standards Wade Davis' transition during the 2012 season was shocking. Davis, who had a mediocre 92 ERA+ and 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings as a starter from 2009-2011, improved to the tune of a 157 ERA+ 11.1 K/9 out of the 'pen in 2012.

We'll soon find out whether Davis can retain some of those gains in as a starter in Kansas City, as the 27-year-old righty acquired in the James Shields-Wil Myers megadeal will return to the rotation in 2013. Unless he can ramp up the radar gun readings while going six innings, the answer might be "no." 

Davis didn't add a new pitch to his repertoire last year, throwing his fastball about two-thirds of the time, mixing in curveballs (20%) and sliders (10%) and throwing a changeup monthly. He didn't fine-tune his control, either, walking more batters (3.7 per nine) than he did as a starter (3.2). Rather, he boosted the velocity of all his pitches in a big way, leading to a major uptick in whiffs.

Here's Davis' velocity and miss rate with his pitches as a starter, compared to the average for right-handers:

Davis as a starter

 Davis as a SP MLB Avg. for RH SP 
Pitch Velocity Miss Pct. Velocity Miss Pct.
Fastball 91.8 14.1 91.5 14.1
Slider 85.6 25.2 83.9 29.6
Curveball 78.8 15.4 76.9 28.3


As a starter, Davis had a league-average fastball both in terms of velocity and miss rate. He threw his slider and curve hard, but his miss rates were paltry. In relief, Davis gained a couple of ticks on all of his pitches and posted elite miss rates:

Davis as a reliever

 Davis as a RP MLB Avg. for RH RP 
Pitch Velocity Miss Pct. Velocity Miss Pct.
Fastball 93.4 26.8 92.9 18.2
Slider 89 41.4 84.1 33.5
Curveball 81.1 31.5 78.4 31.6


A couple extra ticks of velocity makes a major difference, particularly with fastballs. Righty pitchers throwing 91-92 MPH fastballs surrendered a .465 opponent slugging percentage last season, over 40 points higher than pitchers sitting between 93-94 MPH (.424). Davis also dropped his fastball slugging percentage about 40 points while moving from that 91-92 range as a starter (.439) to 93-94 in relief (.398). Short of keeping the extra velocity while getting stretched out, Davis could return to mediocrity as a starter.


Where Are Wade Davis' K's?

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

2009 25.2 .132 .185 .171
2010 17.9 .196 .275 .294
2011 14.2 .205 .279 .300
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.



InDepth Spotlight: Wade Davis vs. Jose Bautista

>(Click to enlarge)

Tomorrow, Wade Davis will toe the rubber for the Tampa Bay Rays as they square off against the Toronto Blue Jays at home.  Davis has handled Jose Bautista (TOR) fairly well.  Last year, he held the righty slugger to one hit in 10 plate appearances, striking him out once.

As you can see from the above graphic, Davis has some trouble coming in on righties, while Bautista has been nearly impossible to pitch to for RHP.  Last year, Davis kept the ball away for the most part when throwing to Bautista, and it served him well.

Wade Davis vs. Jose Bautista
(Click to enlarge)

The one hit Bautista managed was off a curveball that got a bit too much of the plate. Expect Davis to continue to keep the ball away from Bautista in tomorrow's matchup.