by John Viril—
Wade Davis is the worst starting pitcher in baseball. He just got bombed in New York in Kansas City’s 8-1 loss to the Yankees. He’s 4-8 on the year. Most importantly, his atrocious 5.89 ERA is higher than any other MLB starter.
On the surface, it’s hard to explain Davis’ poor performance. He’s missing more bats since last season’s stint in the bullpen. His strikeout rate is a healthy 19.6%—up from the 15.7% and 13.2% he whiffed in his prior two full seasons in Tampa Bay’s rotation. His walk rate is up slightly over his career norm (9.2% vs. 8.7%), but the increased strikeouts have improved his SO/BB ratio to 2.13 vs. his career norm of 2.06. Plus, his ground ball to fly ball ratio has increased to 1.24 vs. his career norm of .94. Sabermetrics suggests he should be getting better results.
The number that really jumps out from Davis’ profile is his .383 Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP). That’s outrageous. Those numbers are totally out-of-line with league average (.293) and his own career average (.296). Many pundits would quickly dismiss that number as an outlier and knowingly spout “regression” (even I did this in a less extensive look at Davis’ numbers earlier this year). However, a closer look at his metrics suggests that his high BABIP is not a fluke.
Davis is giving up hard contact.
While Davis is allowing fewer flyballs than ever before, his ground ball rate has remained close to his career norm of 38.0%. The difference is that he’s traded fly balls for more line drives. His line drive rate is an unacceptable 30.4%. The bottom line is that hitters are squaring Davis up like they’re playing tee ball.
One big difference in Davis’ performance can be seen from his pitch movement charts. Comparing this year to his last full season as a starter (2011), Davis has junked his slider, added a cut fastball, lost significant movement on his curveball, and gained life on his two seam fastball. Please note that the drop in sliders could simply be that he’s throwing them slow enough for pitch f/x equipment to identify them as curves or lost enough movement that they’re registering as cut fastballs.
This explanation makes sense. Wade Davis is getting more strikeouts due to more movement on his fastball, but is giving up a lot of hard contact due to hanging breaking balls.
Right now, Davis needs to go back to short bullpen stints where he won’t need to get hitters out 3 or 4 times a game. Until he figures what happened to his off-speed pitches, he’s a liability in the rotation.