It has been a little over six weeks since the General Manager for the Kansas City Royals, Dayton Moore, traded top prospects Wil Myers and Jake Odorizzi, plus Mike Montgomery and Patrick Leonard to the Tampa Bay Rays for “ace” James Shields and Wade Davis. Sports talk radio had days of material; stat guys calculated, and bloggers blogged. Royals’ fans who don’t study stats or talk about baseball as part of their jobs loved the deal. Most everyone else hated it. The argument was, how dare Moore trade four guys with a combined total of 7.1 innings of Major League experience for a much needed true staff “ace” and a middle reliever? How dare he trade six possible years of control of the top hitting prospect plus, for just two years control of James Shields? How dare he!
Never mind the fact all Royals’ fans are tired of the wait until next year, or the year after that, or the year after that, mantra that seems to emit from Kaufman Stadium constantly. Never mind that Moore was going to be heavily criticized no matter what moves he made or didn’t make. Never mind the trade made Kansas City relevant again, forcing the Tigers’ hand into overpaying for Anibal Sanchez to counter the Royals’ move.
So yes, Dayton Moore sacrificed quite a bit of the Royals’ potential future for something positive now. Good for him. It was needed in the worst way by the long suffering fans of Kansas City. It gives those fans a glimmer of hope. The fans see teams like Baltimore and Oakland land playoff spots. Now, fans can dream and think why not the Royals?
The Royals have James Shields under contract for 2013 and 2014, barring an extension. Kansas City also got Wade Davis in the deal and can have him under contract through 2017, if they so choose. Everyone knows what “Big Game” James Shields brings to the mound but what does Davis offer the Royals? Many consider him a failed starter and nothing more than a middle reliever. But is he really a failed starter or did he just get pushed to the bullpen by the sheer number of top flight arms in Tampa? If his stats indicate he failed as a starter, than what the heck is Luke Hochevar still doing on the roster (I know – a loaded question)?
The Royals obviously think Davis can be successful as a starter. In that capacity, Davis has 64 career starts and in those, he’s averaged over six innings per outing. He is 25-22 as a starter and compiled a 4.33 ERA, not stellar but not completely awful either. That is a full run better than Hochevar’s. Now, that in itself is not enough to make someone a good starter. Just because the Royals’ have run Hochevar out there to start games for five years does not make that a good starting point to judge starting pitchers. It is just a point of reference to indicate that as a starting pitcher at ages 23, 24, and 25, Davis could have been much worse.
Royals’ fans remember the success Zack Greinke had after a long stint in the bullpen. He started 14 games in 2007 but after being moved to the bullpen for 36 appearances, he became more of a power pitcher. Davis showed a big up tick in strikeouts last season in the pen. It is no secret most pitchers tend to throw harder in relief, with a limited number of pitches, than they would in as a starter. Sometimes, though, a pitcher can learn to trust his stuff and polish his pitches throwing in the pen and translate that to success in the rotation. Grenke did. So can Davis. Wade Davis will not be Zack Greinke but the skills a there to be a solid number three guy in a rotation.
It is no guarantee Wade Davis will be a successful starter. In his 64 starts, he’s only accumulated a .6 WAR and 1.1 of that was in 2010. Hochevar’s best season was also 2010 where he amassed a .9 WAR. In fact Hochevar has a negative career WAR of -.3. Again, old Hoche isn’t the best reference point but it indicates that Davis has a much better chance at being successful as a starter than the guy Kansas City insists on starting year after year. Davis’ WAR for 2012, all earned in the pen, was 1.4. Compare that to Tim Collins’ WAR for the last two seasons combined, considered successful bullpen campaigns, of 1.7. There is talent here in Davis. It is up to the Royals and Davis himself to harness it and to be a solid starter for the Royals. In 2012, as a reliever, Davis struck out well over one hitter a game. His K:BB was 3:1. While it is unfair to expect Davis to match those stats as a starter, it does show a growth in skills over those he displayed as a starter in the past. It is quite possible his time in the bullpen showed him he can flourish with his stuff as starter. His stuff is good enough.
Tampa Bay, a team with an astute eye for pitching, obviously considered that Wade Davis had the stuff to be a starting pitcher, despite the move to the pen. Just prior to the 2011 season, the Rays signed Davis to a long term contract, guaranteeing him $12.6 million through 2014 and including three club option years that, if all are exercised, would pay Davis an additional $22.5 million. The contract tops out in 2017 for $10 million. The Rays saw enough from Davis to think he might be a bargain as a starter in 2017 for $10 million.
Why would Tampa Bay be willing to trade Wade Davis at this point? Well, the Rays are loaded with young arms, several younger than Davis, and now cheaper. Plus, the Rays are replacing Davis with two more young arms in Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery. While the future is unknown for these two, they fit into Tampa’s model of young, cheap options. Tampa Bay traded from a point of depth to fill an immediate need, a power hitting outfielder. Yes, that was a very steep price for the Royals to pay but yes, it needed to be done.
If the Royals are paying Wade Davis $10 million in 2017, then everyone will know Davis has had a fruitful stint in Kansas City. It would mean Davis has had a flourishing 5-year run as a Royal and pitched well enough for the Royals to pick up three options and pay him over $22 million in those option years. It would mean that Wade Davis is a successful starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. This isn’t just hyperbole or hometown hope. Davis has the skills to make this a reality. Now, he just has to do it.
(Stats and WAR figures come from Baseball-Reference.com)