On Wade Davis & His (Formerly) Sliding Balls

Since being included in the “Wil Myers-James Shields” trade, Wade Davis has been written about an awful lot, especially at saber-minded baseball sites.

The boost in effectiveness that Davis got from shifting to the bullpen is well-examined in this article by Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs: increased velocity on most of his pitches led to higher K%, lower H% and Contact%, and, thus, overall success.

But I wonder: is there anything that we can see in the PITCHfx (or other) numbers that indicates Davis might be able to maintain some of his new-found gains? I took a glance at his pitch values to see which pitches saw the greatest jump in value. Four out of five of them saw a jump in value: his four-seamer, slider, curve, and changeup all increased in value. But, while his four-seamer increased by a mere 0.17 runs/100-thrown, his curveball and slider both saw massive jumps: 4.16/C and 2.97/C, respectively. He wasn’t throwing these pitches with less frequency in relation to his fastballs as he did as a starter, so they weren’t necessarily getting a bump in value from being seen less.

I looked at PITCHfx more in-depth at Brooks Baseball and wasn’t surprised by what I found, at least in regard to his slider:

Davis-Horizontal

DavisVertical

The slider data for 2012 is based on two pitches — like, he threw it only two times all year — so we can ignore that. In place of the slider, you’ll notice that the above charts identify the use of a cutter in 2012, whereas it had only identified a slider before. The PITCHfx values at FanGraphs (from whence I took the aforementioned pitch value data) are still identifying that pitch as a slider, while Brooks is identifying it as a cutter. Whatever you want to call it, it was a hell of a pitch in 2012.

This “new” “cutter” has way more vertical drop than the slider did (though less horizontal slide), and it’s way more effective: when batters swung at Davis’s cutter in 2012, they whiffed or fouled it off over 71% of the time (per the Brooks data). When hitters managed to put a Davis cutter into play, 70% of the time they were ground balls and another 10% of the time they were pop-ups (not fly balls). That’s a lot of strikes and potentially easy outs created by the cutter.

I think it’s safe to say, as Jeff Sullivan reminded us, that Davis will lose some velocity on his pitches as he shifts back to being a starter. That means he’ll probably lose some effectiveness, too. But Davis appears to have added a new weapon — something more like a “cutter” and less like a “slider” — than could help him maintain some of the success he found in the Rays’ bullpen as he joins the Royals’ rotation. I’m not sure it’s enough to go on to make me draft him in a fantasy league or to call Dayton Moore a genius, but I will add him to my watchlists just in case.

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