In some leagues, reliever-eligible starters are useful for their ability to rack up starters for a team punting saves. But usually it’s the starter-eligible relievers that can keep ratios down out of the starter spot. Some times, the move back to starting from relieving can work out for the pitcher in question. But usually they are just about as good as they were when they started before. Wade Davis will attempt to buck these trends and be useful next year.
C.J. Wilson lost three miles per hour off his fastball when he went to the starting rotation from the bullpen, but he had a decent year, thanks to a great batting average on balls in play in 2010. Daniel Bard lost almost four miles per hour of HIS fastball, and it didn’t turn out well, but that might have been because of the utter loss of control. In general, though, the move is supposed to help/hurt your fastball velocity in a smaller magnitude. Jeremy Greenhouse famously found that moving from the rotation to the pen should mean a little less than a one mile per hour boost.
As Jeff Sullivan pointed out, we have Wade Davis‘ results as a starter, and they weren’t exciting. His swinging strike rate (and strikeout rates) were well below average, and his ground-ball rate did not make up for it. His league average control was the only aspect of his game that ever beat the league rate (in a good way). Even with better-than-average BABIPs and home-runs-per-fly-ball rates, he had terrible WHIPs and poor home run rates. In short, it wasn’t good.
But not all starters-turned-relievers-turned-starters-again lose all their velocity when they return to the rotation. Look at Phil Hughes. He was a starter in 2008, and had a 91.2 mph fastball velocity. He was sexcellent as a reliever in 2009, when his fastball humped up to 93.8 mph. Then the Yankees needed him in the rotation, and his fastball fell to 92.6 mph. After a one-year dip, he’s settled in around 92 mph, and has retained some of the gains that he made after moving to the pen. That would be an okay path for Davis to follow.
There are other reasons to like the comp between Hughes and Davis. Even as a reliever, Hughes used three pitches (fastball, cutter, curveball). So did Davis (fastball, slider curveball). Their actual pitches are about the same. Hughes is a little bit stockier, but they’re both six-foot-five. Both had excellent numbers in the minor leagues that they haven’t replicated in the major leagues.
It’s not recommended to just use this comp to say that Davis could see a better fastball velocity than the 91.4 mph he showed in 2011 when he was starting, but it is an asterisk. But add in the fact that Davis had 92.3 mph gas in 2010 when he was starting, and you could say that Davis could have retain some of the oomph he added. It didn’t help a ton in 2010, but if you added that velocity to Davis’ newer pitching mix (more curveballs, fewer mediocre changeups), you could squint and see a better year coming.
But then you get to the park factors. Yesterday, in the James Shields post, we covered the fact that Kauffman Stadium is nicer to pitchers than the Trop, and that the division boasts weaker offenses and friendlier parks for pitchers. But that difference might be smaller than we think. Chad Young ran the numbers for all of the division parks before and after the trade and found that the move from the Rays to the Royals would do the following to a pitchers’ park factors:
K park factor goes from 101.45 to 95.9
HR goes from 95.96 to 95.24
R goes from 94.26 to 100.73
Three-quarters of a percentage point might not save as many homers as Davis might need to overcome the loss of velocity and the difference in the other factors. So far the move looks neutral to bad, but considering the offenses in each league, it’s still okay to call the move a positive.
Until you look at the defense, as you rightly pointed out on the Shields post. Raw UZR had the Royals at -10.2 to the Rays’ +8.4 last year. UZR/150 was kinder to the Royals (+1 somehow, compared to +2 for the Rays). DRS liked both teams some (+22 for the Rays, though, and +12 for the Royals). But coaching staffs matter too: The Royals allowed a .311 BABIP (worst in the American League), while the Rays allowed a .277 BABIP (best in baseball).
Generally speaking, though, it was worse on the infield, where Alcides Escobar and Eric Hosmer were some of the worst regulars with the glove. Jeff Francoeur‘s declining wheels might be more of a negative to Davis, though, considering he’s a fly-ball guy and all. Let’s call this a slight negative that helps to undo some of the good Davis would get from avoiding the Yankees and Red Sox and Blue Jays more often.
So it’s possibly a neutral move for Davis. A nicer home-run park factor at home is offset by worse park factors for strikeouts and runs. A weaker offensive division is offset by worse defense behind him. And any possible velocity gains he might retain from his move to the bullpen is offset by the fact that he’s a lock to lose velocity, and that he was already mediocre at 92 mph in the starting rotation.
A neutral move suggests that we should probably believe Davis’ numbers from the past. It’s not likely that he’ll be a great starter, and it’s not likely he should be drafted as anything other than a final starter in deeper leagues.