First things first – Wade Davis is an incredibly gifted closer. His 32 for 33 in save attempts placed him as the Chicago Cubs lone All-Star and helped a team who experience late-season bullpen issues. Since converting to a reliever, Davis owns a 1.45 ERA in 241 1/3 innings and 79 career saves.
But the Cubs might have dodged a bullet with Davis. That might be blasphemous to say, but hear me out here…
Davis’ 40.5% groundball rate, which is down significantly from the 48.5% he tallied in 2016. We noticed this, especially late in the season when he started giving up a more than normal amount of home runs. Now yes, he only gave up 6 HR this season but to put it in context, he had only given up 3 HR in the previous three seasons.
Not only was Davis allowing more flyballs, he was throwing more balls in 2017 than he did in 2016 and 2015. This past season he walked 28 batters and threw 405 pitches that were recorded as balls. In 2016 he walked 16 and in 2015 he walked 20. He did pitch more innings in 2017 than ’16, but less than he did in ’15, but he averaged 18.2 pitches per inning in 2017. He averaged 15.6 and 16.7 in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Davis’ velocity dropped rather alarmingly in 2017 as well. Since he has been a reliever, Davis averaged a 96.2 MPH fastball. For the Cubs, he was throwing 94.3. That isn’t all, he experienced a nearly 2 MPH difference on just about every single pitch he throws.
This usually indicates a couple of different things, A) he’s older and the arm speed is naturally slowing, B) he was slightly injured. I would put more of it on A since there wasn’t really a mention of injuries with Wade, nor did he appear to be suffering from any lingering issues.
Putting more people on base, allowing more home runs, and a reduction in velocity has never been a recipe for success in baseball – especially for a closer.
All of these and Davis is a 32-year old reliever. Relievers tend to fall off the cliff in their 30’s, and usually, closers end up having a good three or four year run before they flutter out. We can see some of the proof in Bleacher Report’s Top 30 Relievers list. Here we find the avg age of the relievers on this list is 29.3 years old. To add, if you remove Matt Albers (34), Pat Neshek (37), and Ryan Madson (37), the average age drops to 28.9 years old. There are 16 players on the list under 30 and four more under 32 years old.
While there were players 32 and older on BR’s list, there were only three that were older than Davis. When you look at the reliever ERA list, those same three pitchers are the only older players on it. Further, looking at the oldest pitchers to ever play, the list is filled with all-time greats, not just three or four year performances.
Handing Davis a three or four-year contract, when he will be 33, 34, and 35, and then possibly 36 while under that deal – didn’t make sense. Wade’s performance is already dropping, he is getting older, and he was looking for a deal that would take him to an age where only ONE player in baseball was able to still perform at a high level.
Having a legitimate and proven closer is certainly something that most championship teams have. But overpaying an aging player when his performance is already sliding is another thing altogether.
The Cubs are a championship caliber team, and every single move they make should be made in order to better their chances of winning another title. But there should be some strategy to that process. The Cubs strategy is split between filling out the best roster in 2018 and looking ahead to next winter’s free agent class. A class which will have guys like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, Dallas Keuchel, and Madison Bumgarner.
Each of those players has a greater ability to impact future championship hopes than Wade Davis does. Let’s be thankful the Cubs didn’t offer the highest AAV ($17.33 M) to a reliever in MLB history.