Let me give you three different pitchers and I’ll let you decide who you would rather have the Royals starting rotation right now.
Player A: Age 24, 105.1 IP, 5.38 ERA, 1.481 WHIP, 3.5 BB/9, 5.12 K/9
Player B: Age 23, 86.1 IP, 5.83 ERA, 1.738 WHIP, 4.48 BB/9, 6.17 K/9
Player C: Age 27, 94.2 IP, 5.89 ERA, 1.753 WHIP, 3.9 BB/9, 8.27 K/9
Now, I’m assuming you’ve read the headline and know one of these guys is going to be Wade Davis, so I’ll spare you any kind of drama and go straight for the jugular.
The numbers above are what Davis, Davies, and Hochevar did in their first 18 starts with the Royals. As you can see, the writing was on the wall pretty early with these guys. Unlike Hochevar, Davis and Davies each had major league starts under their belt before arriving in Kansas City, and, while their stuff flashed potential at times, their overall results tended to be negative.
But, unlike Davies and Hochevar, Davis is nearly four years older than they were at this point in their Royals tenure. At least with Davies and Hochevar’s age there was reason to believe growth would happen, but at age 27 the odds Davis suddenly turns into a top of the rotation guy are very low.
Is it fair to compare Davis to Hochevar and Davies at this stage of the game? Probably not, but damn those numbers look atrocious. And when you consider Davis came up through a strong Tampa Bay development system and he had an ERA over 4 as a starter in Tampa’s pitcher-friendly park, things start to get even gloomier.
There are three things to consider with Davis going forward.
1. The Royals are playing to win.
Unlike previous years where the Royals were willing to pile up losses in order to let their young players develop, Kansas City now in “win” mode. Meaning the leash is – or at least should be – shorter on players who are not getting it done. Dayton Moore has already pulled the plug on Chris Getz and Jeff Francoeur and has watched Ned Yost shift Luis Mendoza out of the rotation because of performance. Wade has been as bad if not worse than all three of them.
Wins Above Replacement (Baseball-Reference)
Davis: -1.3 (not including Wednesday night’s start)
There is little in the way of statistics or performance to suggests Davis should remain in the rotation for the remainder of the season if – and this is the big if – the Royals want to maximize their win potential this season.
2. A great defense hurts Davis’ case even more.
According to Bill James‘ Runs Saved statistic, the Royals are the best defensive team in baseball. James has the Royals defense having saved pitchers 60 total runs so far this season. This is a tremendous thing that has helped keep the Royals near the .500 mark.
The problem is this means the starting pitching has been a little bit worse than what their numbers show. If the Royals had an average defense then a few more fly balls would have dropped for hits or a few more ground balls squirt through the infield and score a run. The same defense is playing behind Davis and his 5.89 ERA.
Imagine where Davis would be if the Royals defense was just average.
3. Davis does have a statistical argument to make.
While his ERA, WHIP, BB/9, and H/9 are through the roof, there are some numbers Davis could use to argue he deserves a few more starts in the rotation.
Through 18 starts Davis has a FIP of 4.41 (1.45 below his ERA) and a xFIP of 4.05 (1.84 below his ERA). His HR/FB ratio is 20th in baseball at 13.5% and should, in theory, come down to his career average of 9.5%. Also, Davis is striking out almost a batter per inning.
Davis has to find a way to get his 4.05 xFIP to translate into his actual ERA. Whether it is through home run prevention, improved control, a return to using the slider, or all three, Davis needs to do it quickly.
An interesting not is that according to FanGraphs, Davis has somewhat abandoned his slider and has started throwing a cutter, something that smells a lot like Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland. Hitters are crushing everything Davis is throwing, but Brooks Baseball suggest there is clearly a pitch hitters are not crushing: his slider.
Maybe Davis needs to return to the slider, or better mix up his pitches, or reduce his arsenal, or sacrifice velocity for command, or stop throwing the cutter altogether. I don’t know.
What I do know is if Davis doesn’t get this figured out very soon then his days as a Royals starter may be done.