When we talk about the still-controversial 2012 deal that eventually helped the Royals make it to the World Series, it’s generally referred to as “the James Shields trade.” Shields has been a huge contributor to the Royals (Game 1 of the World Series notwithstanding), but it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t the only piece the team got from the Tampa Bay Rays for Wil Myers, Jake Odorizzi and others. The Royals also acquired Wade Davis along with Shields, and Davis has been an enormous piece of the three-headed bullpen monster that has made late-inning comebacks against Kansas City all but impossible.
Davis didn’t start out as a relief star, however. In fact, he didn’t even start out as a reliever. After two mediocre years in the Rays’ rotation, Tampa Bay shifted him to the bullpen, and he responded with a successful 2012 campaign. The Royals put him back into the rotation in 2013, where he was again disappointing, but sent him back to the bullpen this year. It’s a trick the team had pulled last year as well, getting an outstanding relief season from Luke Hochevar after five uninspiring years as a starter. Kansas City’s American League Championship Series opponent, Baltimore, also had three quality relievers in Andrew Miller, Zach Britton and Brian Matusz who had been shifted to the pen after many failed attempts to master a starting gig.
When pitchers are no longer asked to pace themselves for a six- or seven-inning outing, and can instead go all-out in shorter stints, the benefits are obvious. Velocity often increases, as it did for Davis and Britton. An ineffective secondary pitch, such as Miller’s changeup, can be discarded. This isn’t a new idea — even the great Mariano Rivera was once a middling starter — but it’s one that has yielded incredible success in the right situations.
So with that in mind, who might be the next Davis? Let’s identify a few starters, not older than 30, who have struggled in the rotation but remain good candidates to be successful relievers. Obviously, a Clayton Kershaw or David Price would be great in the bullpen as well, but they’re more valuable as starters. We’re looking for someone like Davis, who might not be equipped to help a team in the rotation but could be a lights-out reliever. Read the rest of this entry »