As recently as this last spring, Wade Davis has expressed his desire to be a starting pitcher. It’s not going to happen, Mr. Davis. First, you’re not good enough as a starter and secondly, you are too darned good as a relief pitcher. The difference between the two variations of Wade Davis is remarkable and if the Royals’ reliever wants a long, long career in baseball, he is right where he needs to be.
It is easy to understand Davis’ desire. He was groomed to start by the great Rays organization and had early success for that team when it was just starting to become a perennial winner. Plus, he is only 28-years-old. But he has had plenty of chances to prove himself as a starter and it just didn’t pan out.
Take last year, for example, when the Royals tried to maximize the trade they made, giving up their best prospect, Myers, for Shields and Davis. Davis made 24 starts in 2013 after being in the bullpen for the Rays in 2012 and it simply did not work out. That is putting things kindly. In reality, he was terrible and according to baseball-reference.com, was worth -2.1 rWAR. His last three seasons as a starter have led to FIPs of 4.70, 4.67 and 4.18 respectively.
And yet, when the Rays did give up on him as a starter and put him in the bullpen in 2012, he was terrific with 87 strikeouts in 70.1 innings with a 2.78 FIP. And this year, he is just killing it in the bullpen for the Royals. According to Fangraphs.com’s leaderboard, Wade Davis has been the second most valuable relief pitcher behind Betances. That’s right, he has been more valuable than his own closer and Kimbrel and a bunch of other top notch relievers.
As stated, the results from the two different roles are striking. As a starter with 88 career starts, his starting ERA is 4.57 with a WHIP of 1.452 and 6.3 strikeouts per nine leading to a 1.88 strikeout to walk ratio. His OPS against as a starter is .778.
Davis has now pitched 87 times in relief and has a relief ERA of 1.97, a WHIP of 0.985, a strikeout per nine rate of 11.7 and a K/BB ratio of 3.23. His OPS against as a relief pitcher is an incredible .496.
Yeah, Mr. Davis, you are a relief pitcher.
It’s understandable that Wade Davis would want to be a starter. There is more money to be made being a good starter than a good relief pitcher. A good reliever might garner in the $5 to $8 million range where a good starter can make $15 million on a good day. Just look at the money Hughes got from the Twins after a horrible season last year for the Yankees.
Which brings up a good point. As starters, I have always made a strong comparison between Hughes and Wade Davis. I even wrote about it once. And now Hughes is having a great season with the Twins. That could add fuel to the fire for Davis since they are so similar. Hughes also had good success as a relief pitcher.
Davis could look at Hughes and say, “Don’t give up on me as a starter.” But let’s face it, the odds of him duplicating what Hughes is doing are remote. He should stick with what he does well. As a reliever, Davis can keep throwing 95 MPH four-seam fastballs instead of the 91-92 MPH fastballs he throws as a starter. The immediacy of what he does with his fastball in relief makes his off-speed stuff that much more effective.
Let’s look closely at Davis’ number this season. They will blow you away. He has given up four hits per nine innings. Four! He has struck out 48 in just 29.1 innings. His FIP is currently at 1.18. He has allowed no homers and has a WHIP of 0.818. Holy smokes!
Fangraphs.com rated Wade Davis’ season higher than baseball-reference.com did a year ago, by quite a large margin. And they rated his season last year as worth $8.7 million. His season this year is already worth $7.5 million and we are not yet to the halfway point of the season.
In other words, based on his years as a starter, Davis is worth a contract of about $5 to $6 million a year. As a relief pitcher, he is worth at least $8 to $10 million. In this case, Davis wants to be a starter because in his mind, he can make more money, plus, there is more prestige to it. But in his case, he can make more money for far longer as a relief pitcher and if this year is any indication, he should accept his fate and smile all the way to the bank.