Out of the gate, Zach Davies was one of the worst pitchers in baseball. Through April, he had the sixth-worst earned run average among those with over twenty-four innings pitched at 6.57. He walked over four batters per nine innings in April and allowed and batting average on balls in play close to .400. Davies’s struggles could be tied to troubles with his sinker and curveball, his two most frequently thrown pitches. Batters slugged .673 and .909 against his sinker and curveball, respectively, in April.
Since the calendar turned over to May, Davies has been one of the most productive pitchers in baseball. His 3.30 ERA since May 1st is nineteenth-best among pitchers with over 100 innings pitched. He has gotten his free passes under control, walking just 2.4 per nine innings since April. Hitters are no longer mashing his two most important pitches, his sinker and curveball. Now they are slugging just .359 and .441 against the pitches respectively.
Davies has been even better when looking at just his second half stats. His ERA is fourth-best in the league among those with over 60 innings pitched since the all-star break at 2.25. His hard hit percentage is just 26 percent over that same stretch, which places him at fifth in the league.
The righty has already thrown more innings than he did last year, becoming and workhorse in the Brewers rotation along with Jimmy Nelson. Davies has thrown fewer than five innings in a start just once this year, which was his very first start of the season against the Colorado Rockies. Last year, in fewer total starts, he threw fewer than five innings on three different occasions.
Despite the slow start, Davies has already been a more valuable pitcher than last year. He was worth 2.1 Wins Above Replacement (WARP) in 2016, and has already been worth 2.5 WARP this year. Overall his advanced statistics look extremely similar to the ones he posted last year. His Total Average (TAv) allowed is one point lower than last year, .265 vs. 264. His Deserved Run Average (DRA) is one point higher this year, 4.25 vs. 4.24. Even his Pitchers Park Factor and Opponents TAv are identical to last year, at 94 and .265 respectively.
The bad news is, Davies’s Fielding Independent Pitching suggests he’s pitching a little over his head. The lack of strikeouts holds him back, as he has struck out just 6.01 batters per nine innings this year after striking out 7.45 per nine last year. If Davies can back to striking out nearly seven-and-a-half batters per nine, while still keeping his walk rate down, he can take it to the next level. Eventually, he’s going to have a hard time turning all those balls in play into outs, his April of this year being a prime example. Even when taking his FIP into account, Davies remains a viable middle of the rotation arm, just not the dominant pitcher his ERA suggests.
After just under two-and-a-half years in the big leagues, it is easy to forget Zach Davies is still just twenty-four-years-old. Although the young right-hander did not deliever on the breakout 2017 season that many tabbed him for, it is encouraging to see him recover from such a horrendous April after the high expectations that were placed on him.
Davies may never develop into the 2016 version of Kyle Hendriks Brewers fans had hoped for, but he will remain a key cog in the middle of the Brewers rotation while this next wave of talent joins the big league club. He may not lead the team to a deep playoff run, but he is an essential piece that every winning team has and needs.
- Photo Credit: David Kohl, USAToday Sports Images