You have seen the tweets or simply thought of it yourself: What if the Royals had not traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler? What IF?
Full disclosure, I speculated during the off-season that Davis might be approaching the end of the line. He had, after all, missed time due to injury twice during 2016 and upon returning in September had allowed 11 hits in 9.2 innings of work along with 3 runs. Not bad numbers, but maybe not WADE DAVIS numbers. Relievers, closers especially, have a tendency to fall off the cliff. Trade a somewhat expensive reliever with some question marks (however ‘gut’ related and possibly unfounded they might be!) for a young, controllable everyday player with lots of potential? Yes, I was onboard.
It might yet yield positive results, but this trade certainly did not work out in 2017. Soler has been a non-factor in the major leagues for Kansas City. In-house option, Jorge Bonifacio has surpassed what Soler has provided by a huge margin. Meanwhile, Wade Davis is 29 for 29 in save opportunities for the Cubs in 2017. Oh, my friends, what if?
To be fair, Davis has been very good this year, but not perfect. He has allowed four home runs, which is one more than the three previous seasons combined. Davis has allowed a run to score in 9 of his 51 appearances and in four of those nine has allowed two runs. Fun fact, the Chicago Cubs have won eight of the nine games in which Davis allowed a run. The only blemish was a loss to Arizona on August 3rd in which Davis allowed two home runs. The last time Wade Davis allowed two home runs in a game was back in May of 2013 when he was still a starter.
By contrast, Kelvin Herrera has allowed a run or more in 17 of his 56 appearances. Nine times he has allowed two runs or more and in four of those nine he allowed three runs or more. Davis, by the way, has not been charged with three runs in a relief appearance since September 28, 2012. In those 17 runs-allowed appearances by Herrera, the Royals won eight times, which leaves us nine games (by very crude logic) hanging in the balance.
Does Davis give up a home run to Jake Marisnick on April 9th (Herrera’s first blown save)? You can say he does not, but Davis has allowed four homers this season. This was one bad pitch and an otherwise good inning in a game the Royals would eventually lose in twelve innings. We can dig in deeper here and envision a different reliever usage for this game, too, with both Herrera and Davis in the bullpen, but you can also stretch alternative reality scenarios so far that they have no relation to the reality we currently reside in if you are not careful. (Yes, I watch Star Trek, shut up.)
On April 30th, Herrera gave up a run in the top of the ninth with to Minnesota with the Royals already down by two. Kansas City would score a run in the bottom of the ninth, but still lose by two. Nothing to see here, move along.
May 6th against Cleveland is a game that might well stand out. Leading 1-0, Joakim Soria gave up a run in the top of the eighth to tie the game. Herrera entered in the ninth, still tied, and gave up back to back home runs. With Davis on the roster, does Herrera pitch the 8th more effectively than Soria? Again, here we are changing history in the 8th inning, the 9th inning and possibly beyond.
Herrera’s next blown save came on May 19th against Minnesota where he allowed a two run home run with Kansas City leading 3-1. The Royals would lose this game in the tenth inning, a frame in which they pitched Al Alburquerque and Travis Wood. Prior to Herrera, Kansas City threw Matt Strahm, Mike Minor and Soria for an inning apiece. You do the math here, but Davis in the pen likely means that either Strahm or Minor is available to pitch the 10th, ASSUMING Wade blows a two run ninth inning lead – something he has not done all year for the Cubs. This one stands out a bit more to me as ‘Wade Davis might have mattered game’.
The next runs allowed in a loss occurrence on Herrera’s ledger came on June 5th when he entered a game against Houston with the Royals down 4-3 and allowed three runs (two earned) in the top of the ninth to seal the team’s fate. Too many ifs and buts to say Davis makes a difference, but worth noting nonetheless. Later in that same series, Herrera entered a tie game on June 8th (1-1) in the top of the ninth, faces five, retires one and the Royals lose 6-1.
On July 1st, Kelvin entered a game once more in the top of the ninth with his team down 7-5 and surrenders three runs (two earned) to Minnesota. Later in the month, on the 19th, Herrera would blow a save against Detroit, but Kansas City would win the game despite the allowance of a two-run home run to Mikie Mahtook.
The last two games are fresher for all of us. Last Thursday, Herrera would blow a 2-1 lead over Minnesota by allowing three runs in the top of the ninth. To be fair, Herrera did not get a ton of defensive help on the Jason Castro ‘single’ to short left, but he also walked the intimidating Robbie Grossman after that, so he hardly gets a pass on this game, either. Herrera’s part of this ninith inning featured two singles, two walks (one intentional) and a sacrifice fly. I do not feel like that happens against Wade Davis.
Just to cover all the bases and rub some more salt in the wound, Herrera’s last runs allowed in a Royals’ loss, came the next night when he entered in the eighth, down by a run and allowed two additional runs before being excused from further work.
In reviewing the above, I look at the games on April 9th, May 19th and September 7th as the three that one could make a very reasonable argument that Kansas City wins if Wade Davis is on the roster. Given that the first two of those three came down mostly to one bad pitch that left the yard, a logical view says Davis blows a save in at least one of those. We could also fancy a reality in which one of the two tie games (May 6th and June 8th) goes the Royals’ way with Davis in place of or in addition to Herrera.
Take those five games and change a Royals’ loss to a win in three of them? One could very certainly make that case. In doing so, however, we have to honestly ask if Herrera would have performed any better back in his set up role versus being the closer. In doing so, it would be wise to remember that Joakim Soria allowed runs in just two of his first 22 appearances in 2017. Conversely, as rocky as Herrera has been, would he have given up four runs to Minnesota on April 28th and four to Detroit on May 29th as Soria did in the eighth inning of games his team entered with the lead?
We could also factor in the idea that despite the trials and tribulations of both Herrera and Soria, they certainly offered a level of effectiveness somewhere beyond that exhibited by Travis Wood, Neftali Feliz, Al Alburquerque and so forth and so on. There are fifty some innings worth of Wade Davis that are taken not from Soria and Herrera but from the bottom portion of the Royals’ bullpen. No, I don’t have the spreadsheets to prove this, but common sense tells you it almost has to have some sort of knock-on effect to the positive.
In the end, taking all the theories of the preceding three paragraphs and remembering that, contrary to what we remember, Wade Davis is also a human being and not an android, it would still seem that you could piece together a three game swing to the positive for the Kansas City Royals. I might even allow discussion of Davis changing the stars on four games, but that might be stretching it.
Still, three more wins. How would you feel about the Royals’ playoff chances if they had three more wins?