Today, the Kansas City Royals exercised the $7 million team option on relief pitcher Wade Davis. Davis became a house hold name this last post-season where he and fellow pitches Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera put on a show and became a dominant force for the Royals. Davis was traded to the Royals in 2013 and is under contract till 2017 with a club option for 2016 for $8 million and 2017 for $10 million with the 2017 deal having a $2.5 million buy-out.
Wade Davis was once considered such a major prospect that the team had was considering whether the team was going to have David Price be the centerpiece of the rotation or Davis himself. He since has struggled as a starter where he never had an ERA under 3.50 and never had a WHIP under 1.20. As a relief pitcher though both the Rays and the Royals have found massive success having an ERA of only 1.71 in both seasons as a relief pitching with a WHIP of 0.97. Davis also saw an increase in K/9 averaging roughly 12 strikeouts per nine innings as a relief pitcher while walking roughly 2.90 per nine, not as good but its an improvement.
Even as a starter Davis struggled with walks but 2014 saw a dramatic improvement in his control walking a full batter less per nine than he did in 2013 and 2012, he was a starter in 2013 and a relief pitcher in 2012 so it’s a major improvement. What the numbers tell us is Davis learned to use his pitches more effectively. He induced the most ground balls in his career in 2014, 47.6%, and lowered his line drive rate from 27.5% to 22.4% and could mean batters weren’t lining up his pitches. Another hint to this was the 150-point drop in batting average against from .304 to .150, as a reminder Davis was as starter in 2013. His success could be attributed to his development of a cutter, which saved 10.4 runs according to PITCHf/x pitch values, and a knuckle curve that balanced out his already strong fastball. He also cut back on the two-seam fastball to the point where be barely used it but it wasn’t much of a waste since it wasn’t a good pitch value wise, it has a career value of -5.7 runs saved.
The thing that comes to mind is how much regression we could expect from Davis and given that he’s pitched like this before this writer wouldn’t think much. While he obviously pitched better in 2014 than 2012 we’ve already established that he was far more effective in the bullpen in both those seasons than any other time in his career. Given that knowledge as long as he doesn’t get traded to a team like Detroit where the defense is suspect his numbers will be as good next year. The real question will be how long he stays a Royal since he’s going to get pricey for a relief pitcher.