Wade Davis will probably rejoin the KC Royals’ bullpen. Will he add real value?
Between now and Opening Day, the Kings of Kauffman writers are analyzing how various KC Royals performed last season and predicting Wholesale Kansas City Royals Jerseys how they might fare this year. Up today is relief pitcher Wade Davis.
No matter the slant or spin applied, or statistical adjustments made, there is no question the KC Royals improved last season. Perhaps nowhere were they better than in the bullpen, where a suddenly competent band of relievers made a sore spot a strength. And if Wade Davis has anything to say and do about it, the relief corps could be even better in 2021.
Davis is in Kansas City’s spring camp on a pass, a non-roster invitation that came with the minor league contract he signed to get a shot at rejoining the team he pitched for in two World Series and for which he obtained the final, winning out in the 2015 title game. So far, Davis has done nothing to discourage the Royals from converting that minor league deal to a major league contract, and is almost certain to be sitting in the Kauffman Stadium bullpen when the Royals open the regular season against Texas in 10 days.
Davis last pitched in a Cactus League game Saturday, another in a series of one-inning stints mirroring how the Royals typically used him after making him a reliever in 2014. An infield single was all Arizona could manage against him, and one of only four hits he’s given up in six games. He hasn’t surrendered a run and, in many ways, looks like the Davis who pitched so well for the Royals, Cubs and Rockies before finally falling into decline and disrepair (oblique and shoulder) in Colorado. He lost his closer’s job in 2019, had an 8.65 ERA, and pitched only briefly in 2020.
But Davis doesn’t strike out as many batters as he used two; in fact, he’s fanned only two this spring, a rate far below his career 8.5 SO9, career-best 13.6 in 2014, the 8.9 he posted despite having that ultra-high ERA in 2019, and even last season’s 6.2. Not surprisingly, he doesn’t throw as hard as he used to and, at 35 (36 in September), he probably won’t.
Davis is proving he can still pitch and, unless things change drastically in the next few days, won’t be looking for work when Kansas City breaks camp after its last exhibition game a week from today. Instead, he’ll be employed as a Royal again.
How will things shape up for him when the club starts playing for real April 1?
Baseball and FanGraphs projections for Wade Davis’ 2021 KC Royals season
Baseball Reference and FanGraphs predict Davis’ 2021 won’t resemble his good Kansas City seasons. Baseball Reference foresees him going 2-3 with a disturbing 5.91 ERA (and, curiously, seven saves), characteristically striking out nine batters per nine innings, and walking too many (4.4 BB9). FanGraphs (Depth Charts version) projects a 3-4, 4.99, no save campaign with a 9.02 SO9 and 4.98 BB9.
What kind of campaign will Davis actually have for the KC Royals?
Davis won’t last the season in Kansas City if he pitches like Baseball Reference and FanGraphs predict he will. Even nostalgia and his history with the club won’t convince the Royals to use him when younger internal options can do better, especially if they’re in, or close to, contention.
But a Davis free from the oblique and shoulder issues that plagued him during his last two Colorado seasons will pitch more like he has this spring than how Baseball Reference and FanGraphs project. Look for a few wins and losses, but not many of either, and an ERA closer to 3.00 than 5.00. He won’t strike out hitters like he once did, but his control will improve and he’ll be effective.
Davis’ role in manager Mike Matheny’s system will be the same as other KC relievers—the best matchups generally determine who gets the ball in any given situation. Davis can expect to pitch in early, middle, and late relief, will rarely get more than an inning, and might receive a few save opportunities.
No matter when he pitches, Davis has another responsibility with the Royals’ young bullpen. Together with former teammates Greg Holland and Ervin Santana (if Santana makes the club), mentoring, and setting on and off the field championship examples, will be the order of each day.
Expect Davis to make the Kansas City bullpen better.
NEXT: Salvador Perez’s Royal deal
It looks like Wade Davis is headed back to the Royals. His return should be a good one.