A Look At Wade Davis’ Problems | The Process Report

A Look At Wade Davis’ Problems

The last time I wrote about Wade Davis was May 15. Back then, Davis had eight starts under his belt, and countless folks with their arms folded waiting on his downfall. Owning a 1.04 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a home run rate likely to regress is an unenviable condition. Davis added to the mayhem by deciding to pitch slower, citing more comfort with a lower velocity, but the reduced numbers on the radar gun failed to show up in his walk totals. I wrote this at the time:

Russell Carleton (now of the Indians front office) found that pop up rate does not begin to stabilize until the pitcher faced 500 batters. Davis is now at 215 batters faced and holds an infield fly rate of 19 percent (of total flyballs)—his career norm entering this season was under 14 percent. Odds are, Davis will see his pop up rate recede towards his career norm as the season wears on. That is the big development here, because if the infield fly rate can maintain, then Davis is generating 6.94 infield flies and strikeouts per nine innings pitched.

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And therein lies another variable. Trading infield flies for strikeouts appears to be saving on Davis’ pitch count (he has dropped his pitches per plate appearance rate) and extending his outings (now averaging more than six innings per start). It’s a delicate calculus, one I don’t have the answer to, but is trading strikeouts for infield flies and longer outings worth it? If I had my druthers, he would be relying more on the strikeout, because I feel more comfortable with it as a forecasting tool, but if the pop up rate is legit, then maybe it works. I would guess he adds some strikeouts sooner than later regardless.

The problem in projecting Davis heading forward is that nobody is quite certain what the future will hold with his strikeout and infield fly rates. If that sentence is the literary equivalent of a shrug then I achieved my goal, because I really don’t have a strong opinion at this point.

The time from then until now has proven unkind to Davis. As a measuring stick, consider that Davis allowed 19 runs in his first eight starts, but 25 runs in five starts since. Shortened tolerance with Davis has even led some to wish for his departure once Jeff Niemann returns. I remain more optimistic than most about Davis’ chances of turning this boat around, but wanted to examine what appears to be his big issue—it has to do with the lineups being thrown his way.

Something I noticed is that Davis is seeing a higher rate of right-handed batters than in years past. My initial reaction was to write it off as a fluctuation or schedule machination, but I pulled the numbers for James Shields, David Price, and Jeremy Hellickson and the changes aren’t as radical for those three (the numbers in the chart are the percentages of same-handed batters faced):

Pitcher 2009 2010 2011
Price 22 23 21
Shields 48 45 49
Davis 39 44 55
Hellickson N/A 46 50

That means, either Davis is really getting some weird assignments or teams are intentionally stacking their righties against him more now than in the past. It does make some degree of sense, as Davis has a worse OPS versus righties in his career than lefties, and a chunk of that is from this season, as righties are hitting .275/.349/.544 while lefties are batting .288/.353/.388. Perhaps as damming is that Davis has given up as many home runs to right-handed batters in 2011 as he did in 2009 and 2010 combined. Davis’ strikeout-to-walk rate versus righties have plummeted too:

2011: 1.18
2010: 2.08
2009: 2.50

Whenever the numbers indicate a pitcher might be of reverse splits, you have to ask: does this make sense? With Davis, it might. He relies heavily on his fastball, but his best secondary offering is probably his curve—often good for getting lefties out. Davis seemingly lacks an outpitch to use on righties unless he improves the quality of his slider. The pitch has always gotten whiffs, but his inability to control it has hurt him.

Over the last five starts, Davis is throwing nearly eight percent more strikes with his slider than in the first eight starts. Also worth noting: Over that span, Davis’ average fastball velocity appears to be back up. Using PITCHf/x classifications, he is throwing a full mile per hour harder, at 91.8 mph instead of 90.8 mph. How that plays into the dynamics of his slider is just as mysterious, but you have to think it might help.

Frankly, I find myself saying I don’t know a lot about Davis and this situation is no different. Maybe it’s a big coincidence, maybe not, it is something to watch for heading forward.



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