From the Mailbag: A Question about Wade Davis
S. L. writes: I would be really interested on your take on Wade Davis of the Rays. He just hit the DL, but where do you see his career going? His stats have been lackluster since hitting the bigs, but you have always been fairly high on him.
John replies: Davis was placed on the disabled list on July 7th with a "strained forearm," although the latest reports indicate that he shouldn't be out too long, maybe one or two starts.
You are right that I've been a big fan of Davis and have projected him to be a solid major league starter as a number three type, though I've also felt he could have some years where he really surprises people positively. He performed reasonably well last year and I expected him to take another step forward this season, but it hasn't happened. His ERA is not much different on the surface, 4.25 this year compared to 4.07 last year, but the deterioration in his other numbers is notable. Even the ERA has declined more than it may appear; his ERA+ is just 84 compared to 96 last season.
His walk rate is virtually the same as last year, but his strikeouts are down, and I don't like the trend: 8.9 K/9 in 2009, 6.1 in 2010, just 4.1 this year. That's very significant slippage. His FIP has gone from 2.90 to 4.79 to 4.93. His xFIP has gone from 3.49 to 4.61 to 5.14. This reflects the slippage in his components.
Joe Pawlikowski over at Fangraphs wrote up a piece on Davis's problems back in mid-May, and most of this is still relevant.
Davis' velocity was down early in the year, then climbed up a bit for a few starts until heading downward in his last three outings. You can see the difference quite clearly on the chart.
His average velocity last year was 92.4 MPH but is 91.3 this season. Interestingly, the average velocity on his curveball is also down (79.1 to 77.9), but the velocity on his changeup has actually increased (83.6 to 85.9). There has been less velocity separation between his fastball and changeup this year. Whether that's enough to account for the difference in performance, I don't know; I haven't seen him in person and Rays fans who keep closer track would probably have a better read on this. I would be very interested in their opinions and observations.
Looking at it from a distance, I don't like the trend lines in his ratios and there are all kinds of caution flags going up here. Let's see how he comes back from the forearm thing; it wouldn't surprise me if this has been bothering him for some time. If the decline in his strikeout rate is something that sticks around the rest of the year, my expectations for his future will have to be trimmed back.
(If you guys like, we can make the mailbag a regular feature. Let me know)