Colorado Rockies: What’s wrong with Wade Davis?
The Colorado Rockies signed former Royals and Cubs closer Wade Davis last December 29 to lock down the ninth inning after the departure of Greg Holland, hoping to get the same dominant reliever that Kansas City and Chicago had. It has certainly been a roller-coaster debut season in the Mile High City for Davis, much to the dismay of the Rockies.
August 2, 2018. The Colorado Rockies led the St. Louis Cardinals 2-1 entering the bottom of the ninth inning as Davis jogged in from the visitors’ bullpen at Busch Stadium. The Rockies were playing the last of a four-game series on the road against the Cardinals, trying to earn a series split. Starter Antonio Senzatela labored through six innings of one run ball. Newly-acquired Seunghwan Oh threw a perfect seventh inning and, with the help of a crucial replay overturn, Adam Ottavino continued his dominant 2018 season with a scoreless eighth.
The first pitch Davis threw to Yairo Muñoz was a 90 mph cutter and induced a groundout to third baseman Nolan Arenado. Then the wheels came off. Davis allowed two straight hits to Greg Garcia and Harrison Bader, as well as a stolen base to Bader, putting two runners in scoring position for pinch-hitter Jose Martinez. Martinez lined a walk-off, two-run single off an elevated 92 mph fastball to right field and the Cardinals won the game and the series.
It was Davis’ fifth blown save of the season, and fourth losing decision, raising his season ERA to 4.57. That’s not what the Rockies were hoping for when they signed him. His five blown saves match his season totals from his previous three seasons combined. His 4.57 ERA is a full 2.27 runs higher than his 2.30 ERA with the Cubs last season, and would be the second-worst of his career if his season ended on August 2.
It begs the question, what has happened to Wade Davis this season?
A search on baseballsavant.com reveals some shocking numbers. Davis relies on five different pitches: his four-seam fastball (which he uses 44.9 percent of the time), cutter (31), curveball (22) sinker (1.8) and changeup (0.3). Because he so rarely uses his changeup, I’m going to ignore it.
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Of his four main pitches, all have steadily lost average velocity each season since 2015. His fastball, the pitch he goes to the most, has decreased from 96.5 mph to 93.7 mph over that span. Conversely, his swing & miss percentage had actually risen since that span on his curveball, cutter and fastball, but peaked last season and have decreased this year.
His sinker has done the opposite. The swing & miss percentage on his sinker had decreased from 2014-2016, and has increased since then, to a career-high 37.5 percent this season. The average exit velocity on his sinker was 98.2 mph last season, and has dropped to 51.8 mph this season. That’s a 46.4 mph difference!
Now, I’m no pitching coach, so I’m not going to pretend that the easy solution is to tell him to throw his sinker more and that it will be an automatic fix. It would logically seem like a good start, though. As Davis gets older and loses velocity on his pitches, it would make sense to back off of his fastball and focus more on effective offspeed pitches, similar to Ottavino’s approach with his slider.
The fact is, though, the Rockies are currently experiencing the same thing with Davis that happened with Holland last season. Davis had a 3.72 ERA in 38.2 innings before the All-Star Break. He gave up 17 runs, 16 of which were earned, on 24 hits. In 6.2 innings since the All-Star Break, Davis has already given up seven earned runs on eight hits, good for a 9.45 ERA.
The Rockies’ fast start last season helped them overcome a shaky second half from Holland and hold on to the second Wild Card spot, but this year Colorado doesn’t have the same luxury. A healthy and dominant Wade Davis is crucial for the Rockies to make a second-half surge for the playoffs, which is why the Rockies need to fix what’s wrong before it’s too late.