Don’t Let the Stats Fool You, Wade Davis Actually Looks Good This Spring

We’re not here to throw other media outlets under the bus, but I feel compelled to do a Javy Baez “piss-off” gesture when reading the following introduction to a recent Wade Davis article: “It was only three springs ago that the Chicago Cubs witnessed Jose Veras eroding from their closer to being released only two months into the 2014 season.”

The Davis/Veras comp was prompted by the new Cubs closer’s 19.46 spring ERA. Joe Maddon doesn’t seem perturbed by Davis’s numbers, even suggesting that the former Royal and Ray has never looked better in camp.

“Honestly, I’ve know him long enough to where it’s not (a concern),” Maddon said to the media recently. “You’re not going to believe this, but he’s throwing better than he normally does in spring training. The biggest problem he’s having now is command.”

Say what you will about his bullpen management, the World Series champion manager isn’t wrong here. Indeed, Davis’s PitchFX data suggests his stuff is as strong as ever.

According to the 65 pitches tracked thus far, Davis’s velocity looks nearly identical to years past. The Cubs closer’s fourseam has averaged 94.91 MPH this spring, close to his career average of 95-96 MPH. You may notice that his cutter has been thrown a little slower, but the fact his fastball velocity is on par with previous seasons yields no concerns over arm strength.

Further, Davis’s pitch-movement recordings are similar to his career norms. In fact, his changeup has twice the tailing action of his career rates. And while his cutter has averaged one less inch of movement than last year, he recently had a spring outing in which he averaged 2.5 inches of cutting action.

Maddon is also right in saying that the command isn’t quite ready yet. Just as Jake Arrieta’s release point has been off in spring training, so too has Davis’s arm slot. The below image illustrates the closer’s horizontal release point, with bars showing the degree of inconsistency. Take note of the wider bars in spring training, suggesting he’s still working off the rust.

Theo Esptein obsessed over trading Jorge Soler for Wade Davis by watching every pitch the former Royal threw after coming back from injury last September. He wanted to ensure that the Cubs were acquiring the same man who was a top-three closer over the last several seasons. So far this spring, nothing suggests that Theo and Co. aren’t getting that same elite arm, as his velocity and movement look close to mid-season form.

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