In the wake of the Kansas City and Tampa Bay trade from Sunday night, many have speculated upon — and Jeff Sullivan has considered with something not unlike aplomb — how Wade Davis might perform in his return to the starting rotation (i.e. the role he’s likely to assume with the Royals). As Sullivan notes, Davis was a not particularly excellent starter from 2009 to 2011. Then, he (i.e. Davis, not Sullivan) was a considerably above-average reliever in 2012. One is compelled to wonder, naturally, if Davis learned something from his year as a reliever that will aid him as a starter — or, alternatively, if he was merely benefiting from the sort of improvement one sees while working out of the bullpen.
That, as I say, is something a person would wonder. It is not, however, my ambition to meditate on that question at the moment. One reason is because Sullivan mostly did that. A second reason is because the answer (see: “we don’t know”) merits only so much attention.
Instead, what I’d like to examine here — with the aid of, like, 10 or 50 animated GIFs — is what Davis’s likely ceiling is. What, in other words, does Wade Davis look like — and what, in particular, does his repertoire look like — when he is being the best possible Wade Davis.
Fortunately for all of us, Wade Davis was pretty much that Wade Davis for an inning this past September 28th. In his second-to-last relief appearance of the season, Davis posted simultaneously the lowest single-game xFIP (-2.91, which he achieved one other time) and highest average fastball velocity (96.6 mph) of his 118 career appearances. Davis faced three White Soxes — Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn, and Paul Konerko — in the seventh inning of that game and struck them all out (hence, the perfect -2.91 xFIP).
While certainly of some use, PITCHf/x is far from infallible so far as classifying Davis’s pitches is concerned. Probably to his benefit, Davis seems to resist classification, throwing his (technically) three-pitch repertoire with enough in the way of minor alterations that it also, likely, resists classification from opposing batters, as well.
In this appearance alone, Davis throws what we might call six or seven different pitches. Here are some of the notable ones, organized into two basic categories: Fastballs and then Less Fast Balls.
Davis threw variants of two main types of fastball against the White Sox: a four-seamer and a two-seamer, with five of the former hitting 97 mph. His typical four-seamer has less run than a major-league average one will, maybe just about four inches.
Here, for example, is Davis throwing a pitch at both 97 mph and with four inches of run to strike out Paul Konerko.
Here’s a called strike from earlier in that same plate appearance — in this case, a fastball with even less (i.e. just about 2 inches) of armside run:
Now here’s the two-seamer, distinguishable for having more armside run and less of what we’d call “rise.” Of the two that he threw, this one had much more (a little over 9 inches) of lateral movement:
Less Fast Balls
Davis appears to throw a number of pitches on the curve-slider-cutter continuum — or, at least, he did do that against the White Sox.
For example, here’s a pitch that was both classified as and more or less resembles a slider, thrown at 92 mph and with 1-2 inches of gloveside run:
However, here’s a pitch thrown with a little less velocity (91 mph) and basically zero lateral movement, and which we’d likely call (despite having less velocity than the previous pitch) a cutter. PITCHf/x, likely confused, calls it a two-seamer. Kevin Youkilis, also confused, swings and misses for strike three.
Here’s a third pitch, from earlier in the Youkilis at-bat, with almost identical velocity and movement:
Davis also threw two types of curveball in his appearance. Consider, first, this first-pitch called strike to Youkilis at 80 mph, which we might say is of the “get me over” variety:
But then keep considering this other curve, too, to Paul Konerko at 86 mph (i.e. kind of a lot faster) and thrown with the intention, it seems, of getting a swinging (and not called) strike:
Credit to Brooks Baseball for PITCHf/x data.