Wade Davis And The Infield Fly Ball | The Process Report

Wade Davis And The Infield Fly Ball

For some pitchers inducing infield flyballs (IFFB%) can be a repeatable skill. This is generally true of a flyball pitcher like Jered Weaver (48.4% career flyball rate) who leads the major leagues in infield-fly percentage (13.7%) since 2008. In the Tampa Bay Rays’ rotation, we have seen Matt Garza among others maintain a relatively high number of infield flyballs. Before the season started, I chronicled Jeff Niemann’s affinity for the IFFB.

Without strikeouts, Niemann has found a way to get outs on balls in play without getting into much trouble. Studies have shown that inducing infield flyballs (IFFB) – the batted ball type that is converted into the most outs – is a skill for some pitchers. Over the past two years, Niemann owns the third highest IFFB rate in the American League among starting pitchers (min. 300 innings). He is one of only five with a rate above 12 percent (12.3). Not only does it seem that Niemann possess the useful IFFB trait, but he is the only member of the top five with a groundball rate above 40 percent.

Niemann is not the only Rays’ starter who can rack up infield flies in bunches. In fact, since 2008 Niemann doesn’t even lead the Rays in IFFB% (min 100 innings). That honor belongs to Wade Davis. Since debuting in 2009, Davis has a career IFFB% of 14.3%.

Much has been made of Davis’ change in style this season. The less velocity, more contact approach has worked for him through the first month of the season. That said, we’ve discussed the dangers of pitching with little margin for error. Another concern of Davis pitching to contact is losing the safer outs generated on strikeouts. The easiest way to limit damage done on balls in play is to not let hitters put them in play at all.

On the other hand, if you are not going to rack up strikeouts, the infield fly can be your best friend. Of all the batted-ball types, IFFB are the ones converted for an out most often.
Although Davis’ 2011 strikeout rate is a rather poor 3.92 per nine innings, he has an infield fly rate of 17.7%. Surely, that will regress; however, when you consider his career mark, it might not be as great of a regression as one might expect.

A byproduct of his well-located fastball, the contact against Davis has not been solid this year. His extra-base hits allowed rate (percentage of plate appearances ending in an extra-base hit) of 6.7% is nearly a full percentage below the league average (7.6%). He has  allowed just one home run in 164 batters faced. With a bunch of singles and infield flies, Davis’ recipe for success is not the preferred method; meanwhile, he is proving it can also be successful –at least early on. Considering his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and left on-base percentage (LOB%) are almost identical to last season, perhaps this string of solid performances will last longer than expected.

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  1. […] Process Report – Tommy Rancel discusses Wade Davis’s ability to induce infield fly […]

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