February 26, 2013
Painting the Black
The Other Pitcher the Royals Got
Not long ago Wade Davis placed near the top of prospect lists. At 6-foot-5 with a simple delivery and easy arm action Davis was the textbook power pitcher. He had a lively fastball that ranged into the mid-90s and could touch higher, a knee-buckling curveball, a solid slider, and a developing changeup. You weren't alone if you thought Davis could turn into a frontline pitcher. The Rays showed confidence in their young arm by refusing to trade him for Jason Bay or others, and by signing him to an extension after just 35 big-league starts. Success seemed like a birthright to Davis back then.
Davis reached the majors as a 23-year-old. In his first start in the majors he struck out nine batters, including three in a row to start the game—his first six outs were recorded via strikeout. After six starts Davis had a 118 ERA+ and a 2.77 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But that early success turned out to be a tease, a figment of small-sample magic, and not an omen. Davis would spend the next two seasons in the rotation looking average. He made 58 starts, posted a 90 ERA+, and struck out 1.74 batters per walk. Faced with an overcrowded rotation the Rays opted for Jeff Niemann over Davis last spring, then Alex Cobb over Davis when Niemann suffered an early-season injury.
To Davis' credit he took his relegation to the bullpen about as well as you could hope. Though he spoke about his desire to start he went out and pitched the best season of his career to-date—he struck out 11.1 batters per nine after posting strikeout rates that added up to 11.2 the previous two seasons. After the season Andrew Friedman said he would not ask Davis to pitch in relief again. True to his word, Friedman sent Davis to Kansas City in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade, thus rewarding Davis with the opportunity to once again take the mound e