Can Wade Davis Sustain His Pop Up Rate? | The Process Report

Can Wade Davis Sustain His Pop Up Rate?

I think one thing is getting lost in the Wade Davis conversation and that is infield fly balls.

Strikeouts are better because they are implicit in nature. If a pitcher can average better than a strikeout per inning over an extended time, then he tends to have something working for him—either good stuff or location, deception, or a combination thereof. Swinging strikeouts are even better, as they correlate higher year-to-year with strikeout rate than strikeout rate itself. Infield flies serve some of the same purpose, as they are automatic outs and imply some things too—at worst, good location and deception—but the year-to-year correlation has always left some wondering whether infield flies are a skill or simply variation.

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.

Why is that important? Because last season, Davis created 7.71 strikeouts and infield flies per nine innings pitched. Yes, Davis is striking fewer batters out (6.05 last year against 4.20 in 2011), however there is no guarantee that low level will remain either—after all, Davis averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine last April before reverting to 5.1 per nine in May. One tidbit that could prove interesting and telling about Davis’ strikeout rate is the percentage of plate appearances ending with two strikes—Davis was at roughly 49 percent in 2010, but that number is at 41.4 percent in 2011. You can’t strike someone out if the count holds fewer than two strikes.

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.

One Comment

  1. […] week former FanGraphs contributor R.J. Anderson pointed to a reason why Davis has succeeded: the infield pop-up. At the time, Davis had 6.94 strikeouts and infield flies per nine innings. While an infield fly […]

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