Wade Davis is a noted and widely respected anthropologist, ethnobotanist, author and photographer. In 1985, he became famous after publishing a book about the zombies of Haiti, entitled The Serpent and the Rainbow. Wait. That’s the wrong Wade Davis.
This Wade Davis was drafted out of high school by the Rays in the third round of the 2004 draft. After signing, he had quite the length minor league career, racking up 767.1 IP, or 200 IP more than Phil Hughes’ entire minor and major league career. In the minor leagues, Davis put up an ERA of 3.28 and averaged an impressive 8.7 K/9 ratio and a 2.63 K/BB ratio. Last year, the Rays called him up in September, and he performed well in 6 starts, putting up peripherals almost identical to his minor league numbers (8.9 K/9, 2.77 K/BB). Penciled in as the fifth starter on a very deep and talented staff, Davis gave Rays fans reasons for optimism going into 2010.
The 24 year old right hander has had a bit of a slow start in 2010. His ERA currently stands at 3.38 over 40 innings, but his FIP is a full run and a half higher, at 4.94. The discrepancy is the result of an unsustainably low BABIP of .239 and a strand rate of 82.6%, 10% higher than his career average and 20% higher than it was in 2009. In 2010, Davis has struck out 27 and walked 21, which leaves him with a K/9 of 6.08 and a BB/9 of 4.73. Davis’ career minor league walk rate is 3.3 BB/9, which is not bad but not great. This isn’t the best of developments for Davis, although it is accompanied by an odd 6% increase in the percentage of times Davis has gotten batters to chase balls out of the zone. The decrease in strikeouts is also represents a step backwards. Davis has always had good strikeout strikeout numbers, averaging 9.3 K/9 in AAA in 2008 (53 IP) and 7.9 K/9 in AAA in 2009 (158 IP). This could represent a small sample fluke, or it could be the result of a new pitch and approach. More on this later.
Davis is a power pitcher with a diverse arsenal. He features a fastball that averages 92-93 mph, although he can dial it up into the mid-90s. He also throws a good curveball, a slider and a show-me changeup. Some scouting reports have said that Davis has a “heavy” fastball, which presumably means that it comes in hard with good downward action, thereby inducing ground balls. Davis isn’t a groundball machine though. In 2010, his GB% is almost identical to his FB% at 43.5%. In 2009, 43.5% would have been good for 58th out of 130 pitchers (min IP 100), in between Doug Davis and Bronson Arroyo. If a “heavy fastball” is supposed to imply a lot of groundballs, then Davis’ fastball should be described as “light to medium”.
Interestingly, Fangraphs shows that Davis has begun throwing a 2-seam fastball 21% of the time this year, as opposed to 0% in 2008. This has come at the expense of his 4-seamer, which he is now throwing 51.6% of the time (down 14%), and his cutter (down from 7.0% to 0%). I wondered if we were dealing with some type of misclassification, and so I asked Steve Slowinski of DRaysBay for his observations. He was kind enough to respond with this:
“My instinct was to say it’s a Pitch f/x error, but looking at Joe Lefkowitz’s tool, it appears FanGraphs is right – Davis didn’t throw any two-seamers last season. I might see a couple on there that could be classified as two-seamers, but at the least he’s dramatically increased using the pitch this season. All of the Rays’ starters use both two- and four-seam fastballs, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he was instructed to start using it in the big leagues. His groundball percentage has also increased from last year, which could be as a result of adding the two-seam fastball.”
Thanks to Steve for the input. Steve is right about the ground-ball percentage (up to 43.5% from 39%), and so while we may be seeing a reclassification of the cutter as a two-seamer, it does seem that Davis is throwing this new pitch with more regularity in 2010. This could be the reason that Davis’ contact rates are up. The percentage of times batters swing at his pitches is almost identical to his 2009 campaign, but batters have made contact 8% more of the time. His O-Contact% (contact on pitches outside the zone) has seen the biggest rise, going from 61.2% to 78.7%. As noted earlier, his O-Swing% has increased as well, so it appears that batters are offering at more of his stuff outside the zone, making contact more frequently, and also walking more. 40 innings isn’t a statistically significant sample and so these numbers may be juiced by a few free-swingers, but the apparent change in Davis’ arsenal may create some different results than what he has had in the past.
Wade Davis’ peripherals suggest that a correction is coming . His BABIP and strand rate ought to rise back to career norms, and he’s going to see a huge inflation in his ERA, especially if he’s unable to revert the bad trends in his strikeout and walk rates. The prescription for the Yankees is simple: don’t swing at balls outside the zone, take the free passes as they come, and hammer the fastballs inside the zone. From Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F(x) Tool:
Yes, please. The Yankees had good results last time they faced Davis. Here’s hoping for more of the same.
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