On 23 separate occasions this season, Wade Davis has taken the mound with the game on the line and converted the final three outs for a save. In that respect, he’s been perfect as the Cubs closer this season.
Of course, just like the “Pitcher Win” stat, simply converting 23 of 23 saves does not tell the whole story (and it certainly doesn’t help project how well Davis may be in the coming weeks/months).
So, in fairness, we must point out: after posting absolutely stellar numbers through the beginning of June, Davis’ stats lately have actually shown some serious signs of weakness. Let’s take a look at the two different sides of his season with the Cubs.
April 1 – June 9 (21.1 IP)
- 12 saves
- 0.84 ERA, 2.02 FIP
- 36.3 K%, 8.8 BB%
June 11 – Today (16.2 IP)
- 11 saves
- 4.32 ERA, 4.16 FIP
- 30.4 K%, 15.2 BB%
As you can see, although Davis was able to convert eleven straight saves in a row since June 11, the numbers are significantly worse overall. For example, his FIP suggests that he’s earned the giant spike in ERA, his walk rate has absolutely ballooned to uncomfortable levels, and his strikeout rate, while still high, has dropped considerably.
And while there are some “bad luck” things to point out during that ugly stretch (his BABIP is WAY above his career norms, for one example), there are reasons to believe he was lucky in other ways too (his strand rate is elevated, his ground ball rate has plummeted).
I guess what I’m trying to say here is Wade Davis has been scuffling for a while now, and the save streak has covered up the depths of his struggles.
So, you know, what gives?
Well, Joe Maddon seems to believe the lack of clean outings lately has to do with his cutter. “It seems he’s trying to possibly be too fine early in the count,” Maddon told Cubs.com. “For me, it’s cutter-related balls, as opposed to fastball-related balls.”
Cutter: April 1 – June 9
- 30.5% usage, 90.5 MPH
- 3.1 Pitch Value
Cutter: June 11 – Today
- 30.4%, 90.5 MPH
- -0.3 Pitch Value
Well how about that? By the Pitch Value ratings, Maddon is right. Despite throwing his cutter just as often as ever and with as much velocity as he did in the (artificial) first half of his season, the effectiveness of that particular pitch has trended way down. This requires a closer look.
At Brooks Baseball, we can see that after peaking in the middle of June, Davis is getting fewer and fewer swings and misses on his cutter lately.
Worse, the absolutely terrifying .800 slugging percentage and .600 ISO against his cutter in August is miles worse (as you can imagine) than any other month this season. It’s a tiny sample, to be sure, but it’s definitely noteworthy.
I’ll point out here that although Davis’ slugging doesn’t quite seem like the problem the month of July, there are a ton of caveats to that. For one, despite a 40% fly ball rate and just 15% soft-hit rate, Davis got had a 0.00% HR/FB ratio. That’s not necessarily likely to repeat itself, as we saw just the other day when he gave up two home runs. And given that he allowed a 20.0% walk rate in July, I’d say he was extraordinarily lucky overall.
For what it’s worth though, Davis disagrees with Maddon’s assessment – particularly with the concept of being too fine early in the count.
“No. Not even close,” Davis told CSN. “There’s never any time where I’m trying to be too fine with anything.” Well, in Maddon’s defense, Davis’ first-pitch strike rate from June 11 until now is two percentage points lower than it was before that mark in the season. You’d be forgiven for correlating that with trying to be too fine early in the count.
In any case, Davis went on to suggest that he’s simply going through a slump and that happens from time to time. Though he did offer that although his arm feels stronger and better than ever, his timing has been a bit off lately. And apparently, for him, that can mean all the difference in the world.
Fortunately, you’d rather have your shut-down closer struggle with timing than any arm issues and you rather he do it in August than October, but still this is far from the ideal arrangement. Let’s see if he can pull himself out of it and continue to be the Cubs’ perfect closer, while also being slightly less flawed than he has been lately.