Wade Davis And Quality Starts

With Wade Davis’ most recent start in the books, it is becoming apparent that he hopes to squat on the naming rights for the Niemann Start. Thanks to Davis’ performance on Saturday, and Joe Posnanski’s performance on Sunday, I spent some time over the extended weekend checking out quality starts. What I found might surprise you.

It’s early July and Davis has made 16 starts this season. In those 16 starts, Davis has compile just shy of 100 innings pitched, and—barring a catastrophe—will top the mark in his next outing. Yet, Davis’ season-high in strikeouts is five, and he has only reached that threshold once this season. Compare that to James Shields, who has struck out at least five batters in 14 of his 17 starts, and makes Davis look … well, putrid.

Then again, Shields’ 2011 season is making many pitchers look putrid. There are reasons Shields will head to Arizona next week, same as David Price. There are reasons why Jeremy Hellickson has the fifth-best run average amongst rookie pitchers with 50-plus innings too. Davis has been unspectacular. Say what you will about the velocity dips and spikes, but Davis’ struggles versus right-handed batters are undeniable. He has allowed the highest ISO versus righties of any pitcher (again, with more than 50 innings pitched) and the fifth-highest OPS. That is a problem.

With those issues and the relative strength of the other starters, then it is no surprise that Davis has only the fourth-most quality starts on the staff. After all, Davis hasn’t been Shields or Price, but he hasn’t been Jeff Niemann or Andy Sonnanstine either. Still, Davis still has a fair amount of quality starts—10 in fact. As discussed in the runs batted in post, opportunity is a denominator that must be defined to make sense of counting stats. That’s why it’s a little startling to see Davis with one fewer quality start than Price and Hellickson, and with two fewer starts than Price.

The league-average for pitchers with 10-plus starts this season is 59 percent quality starts. Davis is at 56 percent—tied with CC Sabathia, Scott Baker, Ervin Santana, and Chad Billingsley. Davis is just behind Price, Derek Lowe, Chris Carpenter, and Shaun Marcum. To take it a step further, Baseball Prospectus tracks blown quality starts—essentially, starts where a pitcher achieves a quality start, only to blow it in the seventh, eighth, or ninth inning—Davis leads the league with three blown quality starts—although the blame for losing the quality start is difficult to pin down. Sometimes it’s a slow hook, sometimes it’s just a pitcher falling apart.

Regardless, if you add the percentage of quality starts and blown quality starts into one, then Davis would rank second on the Rays, and would be tied with Josh Beckett and just behind Tim Lincecum and Cliff Lee. Prospectus also tracks Fair Quality Starts, which is based off Fair Run Average (read more about that here). Through that methodology, Davis has the third-highest rate of Fair Quality Starts on the staff.

I wouldn’t count on quality starts being more predictive of peripherals, but as poor as Davis has pitched peripherally—and whether you subscribe to FIP, xFIP, or SIERA, he has pitched poorly—somehow, someway, he has kept runs off the board. I will not commend him for this, as I believe the defense is also quite responsible, but I will say that things could be far worse—and that I hope Davis picks up some quality starts that actually feel like quality starts heading forward.

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