Wade Davis came to Kansas City enveloped in a cloud of anger. It was hardly his fault. The anger was of a fanbase frustrated with losing and with the trade of top prospect Wil Myers. It was called the James Shields Trade, but really, we should adjust our thought process. Turns out, Davis was the key to the trade after all.
It didn’t look that way out of the gate. Davis hit the shelf in his first spring training with the Royals with shoulder soreness. He opened the year in the rotation but through his first 24 starts he was punished by hitters to the tune of .320/.386/.465 with a 5.67 ERA. It wasn’t working. The Royals sent him back to the bullpen in September (he worked there for one season in Tampa) where he ditched his change and found success. In 10 innings, he allowed just three hits and one run while striking out seven.
Faced with a pile of evidence that he was better suited to relief, the Royals chose to ignore it and wedged Davis back to their rotation to open their Cactus League title defense in 2014. He didn’t make it to mid-March. The Royals pulled the plug on Davis as starter and, despite his objections, he went back to the bullpen.
Sometimes, Plan B is the better plan.
Yet it wasn’t obvious at first. Davis as a full-time reliever got off to a bit of a rocky start. He pitched in each of the first four games of the 2014 season and blew two save opportunities. Quickly though, he found his Zen. The Wade Davis Experience was born.
The Wade Davis Experience.
— Craig Brown (@CraigBrown_BP) April 16, 2014
If I may deviate for a bit of a personal note. Oftentimes, during the course of the game, I have been known to open up my Twitter. On the night of April 30 in a game against the Blue Jays, Davis entered the game having thrown just over 11 innings on the year with 20 strikeouts. Quite amazing. However, he also had walked seven and allowed six hits. Freakish dominance wrapped around a few baserunners and some of those early season runs. It was obvious he was finding his groove. Still, I couldn’t resist. As he entered the game, I submitted this Tweet.
Wade Davis prediction. 1 single, 1 walk, a hit batter. 3 strikeouts.
— Craig Brown (@CraigBrown_BP) May 1, 2014
Here’s what happened.
It was, thanks to Wade Davis, my finest moment on Twitter. (Seriously, you couldn’t have drilled Chris Getz?)
Perhaps inspired by my predictive powers, or maybe it was a cool new nickname, Davis flipped on the afterburners and straight dominated the rest of the season. Over the final five months of 2014 he threw 59.2 innings with 86 strikeouts and a 0.60 ERA. Oh, yeah… He didn’t allow a home run all year and didn’t even surrender an extra base hit until July 31.
He followed that up with another exceptional season in 2015. How do you improve upon perfection? He allowed a few home runs which was always shocking. His strikeout rate dropped. But hitters still had a difficult time squaring him up and once again, he rode his dominance into the playoffs. This time, as a closer, replacing the injured Greg Holland. He didn’t miss a beat.
In 25 postseason innings spanning two Octobers, Davis surrendered 14 hits and one earned run. One earned run. That’s a 0.36 ERA. He limited the opposition to .163/.209/.209. Of the 14 hits he allowed, only four went for extra bases, all doubles.
There is dominance and then there is Wade Freakin’ Davis in the postseason.
To comprehend the filth, the nastiness of Davis in October, I can only point you to his performance in Game Six of the 2015 ALCS against the Blue Jays. The Royals were six outs away from advancing to their second consecutive World Series, but hit a speed bump when Ryan Madson allowed a two-run home run to tie the game. Enter Davis.
Five outs sandwiched around a rain delay. Oh, and there was the pesky bit of business about the tying run on third with no outs.
I mean, I saw it. I was there. And I’m not sure I still believe it.
Teams don’t last forever. Players drift and find new homes. Saying goodbye to our heroes isn’t easy. It’s not supposed to be. We each have players we root for just a little bit more than others. Davis is one of those guys for me. I admire how he approaches his craft. The stoicism. The filth that comes out of his right hand.
While the Royals were absolutely right in trading Davis, the fallout is potentially troubling. For starters, you have Ned Yost who is the ultimate push-button manager when it comes to the bullpen. Think about it. The Royals greatest success was when Yost could go to Herrera-Davis-Holland. And then there was Herrera-Madson-Davis. Automatic. The times when Yost struggles with his bullpen (think #Yosted) is when he doesn’t have his guys in set roles. He’ll figure it out eventually, but how long exactly will it take? He needs to feel comfortable and his relievers need to share that comfort.
It will be impossible not to miss that feeling when Davis strides in from the bullpen, late inning, game on the line. Give me three outs.
The Wade Davis Experience.