ST PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 02: Pitcher Wade Davis #40 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches against the Kansas City Royals during the game at Tropicana Field on May 2, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)
Baseball is a game of emotions. This is definitely true for a Tampa Bay Rays fan base that lives and dies on every pitch nearly 200 times a year. When things are going good, everyone is happy. When things are down, there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Individual players are no exception. If a player is struggling for a prolonged period of time, there will be calls for his head. Let that same player put together a small string of success and he's as good as new.
We are all guilty of riding the emotional roller coaster; however, most of us can take a few deep breaths after a tough game and keep the bigger picture in focus. During (and after) Wade Davis' last start, I was ready to throw in the towel. By the third inning, I was willing to pay for Jeremy Hellickson's plane ticket personally. Every game matters, and Davis has been the weak link in the Rays' rotation. As expected as that may have been, Davis has not lived up to some expectations including my own.
Admittedly, I am a Wade Davis guy. From his stuff to his presence on the mound, I just think this guy can be tremendous. Of course, he has been below-average thus far, however, that doesn't mean he will continue to be.
Davis has less than 100 cumulative innings in the Major Leagues. That is hardly enough of a sample size to say what he will or will not be at this level. Davis had immediate success last season upon first call-up. Meanwhile, his 59 innings this year have been lack luster. That reminds me of another Rays' starter who had a dazzling debut only to struggle in his first season as a starter.
In his first 11 starts last season, David Price was 3-4 with a 5.60 ERA/5.63 FIP (fielding independent pitching). He had given up 33 walks and allowed 11 home runs in just 53 innings. He did have 54 strikeouts, but was averaging less than five innings per start. Flash forward to 2010 and we have Wade Davis. Through 11 turns in the rotation, Davis is 5-5 with a 5.03 ERA/5.67 FIP.
Like Price, walks and home runs have been a problem. Davis has handed out 29 free passes and allowed an equal amount of home runs (11). That said his HR/9 and BB/9 are actually lower that Price's at the same point last year due to a higher innings total. Davis has a full six innings more than Price which is like having an extra start.
Unlike Price, Davis is not striking out the world. His 39 strikeouts are much less, and his K/9 is less than 6.0. A lot of walks, a lot of home runs, and not a lot of strikeouts are not a recipe for success. That said, with more time and a little more patience, things could (should) improve.
As you know, Price became a different animal during the second-half of his season. I'm not saying Davis will do the same, but here are a few thinks to keep an eye on that have me hopeful.
Despite having a league average strike percentage (62%), Davis is walking about 2.5% more batters than the league. A pitcher who throws the same about of balls and strikes as Davis should be in the 8-9% range. Davis is walking 11.2% of batters. In addition to the elevated walks, Davis is giving up home runs at a much greater rate than the league average. Over 4.0% of his total plate appearances end in a home run (4.2%). The league average is 2.6%. Only Kevin Millwood (4.3%) has a higher rate in the American League. Also consider this, Davis' home run-to-flyball rate of 14.5% is well above-average and not in a good way.
Why are these good things? Well, regression of course. Over a larger sample size, Davis' walks and home runs allowed should stabilize. Of course, things don't always regress as we expect them too, and Davis' does need to improve his command (leaving pitches over the plate). That said, if we give Davis more time, it should be worth the wait even during this "all in" season*.
*If Davis goes out and sucks tonight disregard this post and call up Hellickson immediately