Davies Improved Dramatically Last Year, Hendricks and Mills, Defense, Mental Game, and Other Cubs Bullets

I was minding my own business this weekend, flossing like a good boy, and the dang floss popped one of my fillings out! What the hell is that?! Clearly, we’ve all been lied to. The lesson is: never floss.

I mean, I kid, obviously, but that was awful. Thankfully I should be able to get in this afternoon to get it fixed …

•   It’s his curveball that got the most attention in his time with the Brewers, but Zach Davies started cranking up his changeup usage with the Padres last year, to great effect:

•   Davies became largely a sinker-changeup guy last year – accounting for nearly 85% of his pitches – continuing a trend that had started in 2019, but became really extreme in 2020 (a year in which he posted a career-best 2.73 ERA, a 3.88 FIP, and his strikeout rate shot up to 6/7 percentage points 22.8%). The nature of his move to the Padres, combined with the short season, makes it a little difficult to project that he is that guy now, but it’s worth noting that Davies only just turned 28, so he’s hardly outside the band where guys improve themselves as they work on their pitches and their mix. What’s most interesting to me about the evolution? Davies had always gotten a load of whiffs on his changeup (30 to 40%), but he mostly threw it to lefties, which is pretty common practice for a righty of his style. But then in 2019, he started throwing it to a lot more righties, and then in 2020, he actually threw the changeup MORE often to righties than to lefties.

•   In 2020, even on a per-pitch basis, only TWO pitchers in baseball had a more valuable changeup than Davies: Yu Darvish and Kenta Maeda. Kyle Hendricks, for reference, was 14th. I understand – and participated in – the sadness about the nature of the Yu Darvish trade, and no one can reasonably project that Davies can replace Darvish’s expected performance. But if you could just set aside the trade and think about Davies individually, there’s a whole lot to like about him being in the Cubs’ rotation this year.

•   And, as referenced in the tweet, it can’t hurt that Davies is now paired with the best low-velo sinker-changeup guy in baseball in Kyle Hendricks. Think he might not pick up a thing or two? And in his walk year, to boot? Maybe Davies picks up a four-seamer from Hendricks (who has increasingly relied on one to give a different look and shape on his fastball)? Or gets his curveball back? Still a 60+% sinker/changeup guy, Hendricks is now up to a solid 30 to 35% of his mix being his four-seamer and his curveball.

•   Oh, also? Alec Mills was 16th in changeup value last year. Wonder if he, too, could glean quite a bit from the combo of Hendricks and Davies. Bonus fun fact? Mills is actually a year *older* than Davies. Bonus whatever:

•   All of that discussion there about Hendricks, and Davies, and Mills (and the rest of the rotation, to be candid) underscores how important the defense is this year for the Cubs. Yes, Hendricks gets more strikeouts than people give him credit for, and Davies bumped up to league average last year. Maybe a different mix for Mills gets him up there. Adbert Alzolay will get his Ks. And maybe Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams bounce back on that front. Maybe, maybe, maybes. In the aggregate, I think we all know that, realistically, this is going to be a pitching staff that gets a lot of balls put in play, and will try to be FIP-beaters by managing that contact. The Cubs have a lot of pitchers who can do it now. But they’ll also need the defense to convert those balls in play.

•   Joe Maddon does think deeply about his player relationships and mental health, and it’s definitely important for a manager to be attuned to this stuff in his players:

•   Beautiful throwback:

•   Shark vacuums, Galaxy tablets, exercise bikes, and jewelry are among the Deals of the Day at Amazon today. #ad

written by

Brett Taylor is the Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and on LinkedIn here. Brett is also the founder of Bleacher Nation, which opened up shop in 2008 as an independent blog about the Chicago Cubs. Later growing to incorporate coverage of other Chicago sports, Bleacher Nation is now one of the largest regional sports blogs on the web.

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