The Numbers Don’t Lie – Wade Davis Shouldn’t Be A Starter For The Royals


Tuesday night during the Kansas City Royals’ shutout loss to the Chicago White Sox, an intriguing stat about Wade Davis popped on twitter. Pine Tar Press‘ David Lesky made a comment poking a little fun at someone else by quoting some stats about what Wade Davis’ ERA would be if you dropped his worst two starts.

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Now, I’m not a big fan of the “what if”, or “if” stat scenarios. For example, “If you throw out May, the Royals are 56-40.” The problem is, you just can’t throw out stats that don’t fit your thinking. We’ve all done this – a lot of times it makes us feel better about our team, or this player, or that player. I call it polishing a turd. It’s what fans, and bloggers, sometimes do to make something look better than it really is. It’s fun, makes us feel better, and if used in moderation, is a harmless practice in general.

The number quoted was intriguing to me so of course I had to look it up. Now, I came up with a little different number but that really doesn’t matter. I began to really study Davis’ game logs and I really didn’t like what I saw. He has a 5.43 ERA over 23 starts,  so I don’t know why I was surprised by what I found.

A quality start is defined as a start going 6 or more innings, with a pitcher allowing 3 or less runs. If a pitcher went out and threw 6 innings every game, and allowed 3 runs every single time, he would be racking quality starts every outing, but his ERA would 4.50, and that ain’t good. Quality Starts is a stat that gives false value to starting pitchers. If a pitcher has a high number of Quality Starts and an ERA around 4.50, he is most certainly an innings-eater at the back of some rotation.

In 23 starts, Wade Davis only has 9 Quality Starts. Nine is also the number of times Davis has pitched at least 6 innings. In all of his 23 starts, he has only pitched 6 or more innings 9 times, which is not a solid number for any staff. As a comparison, Ervin Santana has 19 Quality Starts out of 25 opportunities, and his pitched at least 6 innings 23 times.

In those 9 starts in which he went at least 6 innings, Davis’ ERA is 2.28, which is pretty darn good. The problem is that is only 39% of his starts. In his other 14 starts, or 61%, his ERA is a hideous 8.55. To break this down, that means in 3 of every 5 of his starts, he allowed nearly a run per inning.

I used the dividing line of at 6 least six innings as just a convenient point of reference because of the whole Quality Start stat. In Davis’ case, it worked out really well because every time he went at least 6, he allowed 3 runs or less.  The point is, that break in starts is somewhat random. In truth, there are two other starts Davis has made in which he went just 5 innings but  didn’t allowed any earned runs. Those starts are included in the 8.55 ERA.

Jun 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Wade Davis (22) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

So, to muddy this up just a bit more, Wade Davis has 11  good starts, 9 of which were “Quality Starts”. In those 11 starts, which make up nearly half his total starts, his ERA is a brilliant 1.95. In the other 12 starts, his ERA is now a whopping 10.26.

In the general practice of “what if you took out the worst starts”, it is only fair to take out an equal number of the best starts. In Davis’ cases, his good and bad games are almost split evenly, and you get a very Jekyll and Hyde ERA split – 1.95/10.26.

Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar used to tickle the imaginations of fans, managers, and general mangers with brilliant performances sprinkled in amongst the awful ones. “Good stuff” is the term we most often hear associated with these types of pitchers. It is why we had to endure so many seasons agonizing over Hochevar and Davies in the rotation – those glimpses of good stuff.

The Royals cannot afford to run Wade Davis out to the mound every fifth day knowing there is a 50/50 chance he will get blown up. Well, you can if you don’t truly believe you have a chance at the playoffs. If that is the case, then Ervin Santana and Greg Holland should have been traded three weeks ago. Kansas City has other options.

Move Davis to the bullpen and cut Luis Mendoza. Yost isn’t using him any way. He has only pitched twice since July 22nd, and only 5 times since June 26th. Why is he even on the team? Why? No one knows, but I digress.

Place Davis in the bullpen and sink or swim with Danny Duffy as the 5th starter. Davis dominated last year out of the pen, much like Hochevar is this season. We have seen what we need to out of Wade Davis as a starter. Please don’t submit us to multiple years of inconsistent starts as we had with Davies and Hochevar. “Good stuff” doesn’t necessarily mean good starter.

The problem is that the Kansas City Royals and Dayton Moore NEED Wade Davis to be a good starter. They NEED him to be closer to the 1.95 Davis as a starting pitcher, and not the 10.26 Davis. They NEED Davis to be good so it can serve as a justification for trading Wil Myers (I’m not here to argue that trade. I still agree it had to be made as part of a bigger plan). If Davis is a successful starter, the Royals have him under contract for the next 4 years at a reasonable price. If Davis is just another talented bullpen arm, with which the organization is loaded with, Moore failed!

The Royals are still statistically relevant in the wild card race. They have a long stretch of games now where they are not playing the better teams. With the offense as toothless as it is, Kansas City needs the pitchers to keep them in each game as long as possible. Davis is too risky at this point to be trusted with that task.

If the split between Davis’ good games and his bad games was skewed more toward the positive, say 16 good starts and 7 bad starts, then Davis would be a lock to stay in the rotation. Right now, his ERA is 5.43. That’s why it is called an average. Right now, Davis is a well below average major league starter, at least half the time, and that is not good enough for a team trying to play its way back into the playoff picture.

One more very interesting note on Wade Davis. His Batting Average on Ball In Play Against is an astronomical .377. This number should have regressed by now and it hasn’t. Part of this is very bad luck but not all of it. I have watched nearly every one of Davis’ starts and by the old scientific method of the eye-ball test, he appears to get hit very hard with some regularity. When he is bad, he really doesn’t appear to be fooling anyone. Couple that high BABIP with a high walk rate (3.8 per 9 innings) and it highlights his struggles somewhat. Poor luck, hard hit balls, and a poor walk rate also help explain his high number of unearned runs (9). If a mistake is made behind him, he hasn’t not been able to pitch out of it much.

Wade Davis could be another awesome power arm in the bullpen. If the Royals are serious about making up ground in the next 6 weeks in the wild card race, then he shouldn’t be in the rotation. It is just too risky.

Thanks as always to Baseball-Reference for the wealth of statistical data they provide, and to David Lesky, whose little tweet got me to thinking…