2017 Reds

Slowing Things Down With Rookie Davis

Once upon a time, in a not too distant sitcom, there was a young man named Ben Wyatt. Wyatt, only 18-years-old at the time, was elected mayor of his hometown, Partridge, Minnesota because of his impressive political talent.

While he had a natural ability to sway or manipulate voters into electing him, his inexperience governing anything at all would soon lead to his impeachment. Wyatt poured most of the town’s money into a winter sport’s complex called “Ice Town,” which led the town into financial ruin and caused Wyatt’s impeachment after two months.

You can’t blame him really. A winter sport’s complex sounds pretty appealing to an 18-year-old growing up in Minnesota. In a similar situation, 18-year-old me would have considered dropping some serious tax payer cash on less useful ideas.

Wyatt would re-enter politics as a campaign adviser/strategist about 15-20 years later to great success. His talent was always there, but he needed to cultivate those skills through experience and proper mentoring. If he had that mentoring in the first place, he may have succeeded in office, though probably at a later date.

In 2015, the Reds pushed a 23-year-old starting pitcher to the Major Leagues after only 43 innings in AAA. While he had a 1.88 ERA at the time and immense ability, his strikeout rate was alarmingly low at 11.5%.

In the Majors, he immediately struggled to put away hitters, walked way too many of them (11.1%), and finished the year with a 5.40 ERA. That young starter was Michael Lorenzen.

Lorenzen was inefficient and had trouble getting outs even when he got ahead in the count. That out pitch he lacked would come at the very end of 2015 when he began throwing his devastating cutter, a pitch he may have developed earlier if he spent the entire year in the minors. Without the cutter, Lorenzen was just like a teenager trying to run a town’s finances: ill-equipped.

It’s too early to conclude anything, but I fear the Reds are doing it again. When they broke camp in early April, they surprisingly put Rookie Davis into the Major League rotation. Davis, the key piece in the Aroldis Chapman trade, has plenty of talent, which he displayed in Spring Training this year. Bryan Price raved about his improved slider to the Enquirer beat writers, and Davis posted 17 strikeouts in 15.2 innings. Overall, he was quite impressive.

But there’s a big difference between Spring Training/the minors and the Major Leagues. Reds management can’t rely on a tried and true formula to decide when to call up a prospect because we have no such information. However, Davis’ minor league numbers from last season and the early returns from his first two MLB starts suggest he could use some more development time in the minors.

2016 Minor League Numbers

In 2016 in AA, Davis struggled mightily to miss bats, striking out only 15% of batters. The ERA was kept low (2.94) because of an extremely low BABIP of .254, but Davis had never limited hitters to anything less than a .324 BABIP since his professional career began in 2012 so that number was an extreme outlier.

Davis dealt with injuries that reduced his velocity from 93-96 to 90-92, which may have played a role is his declining strikeout rate. In spite of the red flags, the Reds promoted him to AAA to finish the year. International League hitters roughed him up pretty good in 24 innings, giving Davis a 7.50 ERA and a .352 AVG against. His FIP of 4.42 was the same as he had in 101 innings at AA.

Having started only four games in AAA, Davis seemed likely to return there in 2017 and try and recapture some of his lost velocity and bat miss ability. The velocity ticked back up in Spring Training, he pitched fairly well, and the Reds started him in the third game of the season.

Some pitchers have successfully made the leap from AA to the Majors, but those guys tend to have elite stuff, like Jose Fernandez, who actually went from high A to the Marlins. Those pitchers also dominate the minor leagues before they make the leap.

Johnny Cueto threw only four games in AAA, and he pitched poorly his first two years in Cincinnati. Still, he overpowered hitters in AA, posting a 30.6% strikeout rate and walking only 4.4% of batters. Davis’ 15% K% and 7.7 BB% don’t nearly compare to that. Hitters weren’t overmatched as they were with Cueto.

I would prefer to see Davis impress in the high minors before throwing him on a Major League mound. If he can’t fool AA hitters, should we expect him to pitch quality innings against the best players in the world?

Early MLB Returns

While Davis has only made two starts, the data suggests he needs some more development time before he can effectively attack Major League hitters. First, it’s no secret that Davis has labored to put away hitters. In 2016, an average MLB pitcher got swings and misses on 10.1% of pitches. Thus far, hitters have swung and missed at only 6.2% of Davis’ pitches.

The new slider, a pitch Bryan Price hoped would be a “put away” pitch, has garnered one swing and miss out of the 17 times Davis has thrown it. Amir Garrett, another first-time MLB starter, has collected eights swing and misses on his 29 sliders. Instead of working on this new pitch at the Major League level, Davis may benefit from refining it against minor league hitters when the stakes aren’t so high.

Some talent evaluators think his curveball is his best pitch. In spite of the praise for the curve, Davis does not seem to view it as a possible out pitch because he hasn’t thrown it once this season. Maybe, he believe the slider can replace his curveball, but it seems strange that Davis would give up what some view as his best pitch.

Because of his inability to put away hitters, Davis has walked six batters in seven innings and thrown 162 pitches. His inefficiency has not been extreme wildness as much as hitters taking him deep into counts. Until he can establish a strikeout pitch, Davis will not consistently pitch deep into games.

Conclusion

Perhaps the seven innings of work don’t mean anything, and Davis would quickly improve if given the chance. Based on his track record, I doubt that’s the case. As Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs (now of the Atlanta Braves I believe) said of Lorenzen before his MLB debut, Davis needs more refining in setting up hitters and putting them away.

Rookie Davis possesses good stuff that will be useful at some point soon. Because the Reds have other starting options who have less to prove in the minor leagues, they should consider sending Davis to AAA when he returns from the disabled list.

Let Davis develop an out pitch that sets him up to succeed in the big leagues. If the Reds don’t, he may have his own Ice Town experience, which would set his development back and keep more ready starters from pitching his innings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

24 thoughts on “Slowing Things Down With Rookie Davis

  1. This article could have been about Garrett, Romano,Reed, Stephenson. All young guys burning service time who need more seasoning. I know someone will say Garrett is ready, but it’s early and he only had a few AAA starts and could have honed his control more. We will lose a year of control for 2 starts either way.

  2. No offense to you in specific Gaffer because it’s a common refrain here but I’m tired of this “year of control” mantra. That only really matters enough to worry about with absolute can’t miss guys (think Kris Bryant). Rookie Davis isn’t in that category. While he’s on the DL along with Finnegan, guys like Reed, Stephenson and Romano will get starts. If / when they get healthy Bailey and DeSclafani will get starts. And Rookie Davis will spend some time in AAA working on his craft when some of those guys inevitably succeed, at least for a while. The service time issue will take care of itself. But I agree with Nick. It looks like Davis and probably Romano need to be in Louisville unless injuries in Cincinnati force them into the rotation. I’d love to see Davis and Romano both get 10-15 more starts in AAA this year, and be readier for the big leagues once they return for good. In the meantime, I’m very curious about Davis’ curve vs. slider question. If the curve is even pretty good, why haven’t we seen it? If it’s not then both breaking balls need attention in the minors. Somebody has to start each game in Cincinnati – I get that – but it’s a tough place to develop basic pitches. Here’s hoping Davis gets to do that some under a much less bright spotlight this year.

    • The curveball thing is weird to me. Maybe, Doug Gray can shed some light on that. I remembered reading that Davis had a nice curve, so when I saw that he hadnt thow it yet, I was shocked.

      • Most likely is that what is being referred to as a curve isn’t registering as a curve when looked at by PitchFx and/or StatCast.

        • He’s probably throwing it but the pitches are being identified by the system(s) as a different pitch.

  3. Yep, this is not about managing major league service time. This is about managing major league readiness. I think both Romano and Davis will have an impact at the major league level, but they are not yet ready. Garrett may be an exception. With his late development and physical maturity, he may be capable of making the transition to the major league level with less difficulty, but he may also have a lower ceiling for success.

    Let Reed, Stephenson, Garrett, Adleman and Feldman put in the innings for the starting rotation until Bailey and/or Disco are ready to return from the DL or Romano and/or Davis complete the needed development time in AAA. By then, the Reds should have a pretty cl;ear picture of who can be a contender for a strating role and who has been just a pretender.

    • I feel very similarly to you about Davis and Romano, Cossack. I will point out that Garrett had 12 AAA appearances (11 starts) and at least looked capable. Romano and Davis haven’t been tested at that level yet, having 6 AAA starts between them.

      Your rotation is exactly what I’d like to see minus Adelman (not Arroyo either) until Finnegan, Bailey, and/or Disco return.

  4. I completely disagree. I see no difference learning at the major league level or at AAA. He will have to deal with success or failure wherever he is at. Enough with the coddling already.

    • You have a weird definition of coddling. I wish someone would coddle me and hire me for a position that I haven’t shown that I could perform well at, for more money.

  5. The only reason Lorenzen isn’t a starter is because of injuries. Professional assessment determined just like Iglesias that his arm couldn’t take pitching of starter level.

    • Not true. The Reds said they had no concerns about Lorenzen physically being able to start.

      “The team may face decisions on both in the offseason. Any discussion about Iglesias’ future role will take into account his history of shoulder problems, but the health issues are in the past for Lorenzen. The debate will be about where he can be most effective, not what his body can handle.”

      http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/mlb/reds/2016/09/10/michael-lorenzen-no-longer-pitching-scared/90207736/

      • Correct me if I’m wrong Nick but didn’t Lorenzen get bumped from starting due to arm injury and mono? Now he has to prove greater value over other potential starters…

        • Disingenuous to suggest arm injury is reason he isn’t starting now, especially when the Reds have said injury isn’t a factor in the decision.

          They were desperate for bullpen help and put him down there when he came back from mono. It appears that desperation played the biggest factor in the initial decision based on their statements.

          • And yet he is still in the bullpen.you would rather believe mismanagement and I would rather believe there are determining factors that we are not privy to. Maybe I am alone but I’m ok with Lorenzen in relief especially for high leverage situations. Makes him even more valuable. Apparently anyone can start including a 40 year old who hasnt played in 2 years who’s top velocity is around 86mph.

          • Time will tell. But injuries and poor performance from the other young starting candidates will give Lorenzen a chance to pitch in the starting rotation this year. Reed and Stephenson will get the first opportunities but Lorenzen will be next.

          • I wouldn’t rather believe anything. The Reds were forthcoming that they had concerns about Iglesias’ ability to handle a starting workload. They were also forthcoming that they believe Lorenzen could handle it. It’s printed in paper.

            The Reds thus far feel Lorenzen is better suited to the bullpen. They said so at the Redleg Nation/Reds Reporter outing last year. You either take them at their word or suggest they are lying to no benefit and for some strange reason.

  6. I would let Davis and Romano take the ball every 5th day in AAA through the the all Star break and re-evaluate..Let Garrett Reed and Stephenson log starting spots.Adelman can give long relief. Disco is a long time away still. I would also build lorenzen innings….2-4 inning stints with a progression through the bullpen in April thru June and replace Feldman mid season. Let Homer come back and fill Lorenzen’s spot in the bullpen and build his arm for next year.

    • I was with you up until Homer to the bullpen. I would put him right back in the rotation. That said, the approach worked well for the Braves and Smoltz.The idea is a a very solid one.

  7. I agree with you Nick, particularly about Davis, he could become a very capable starting pitcher, but he is not ready now. We often get so excited when pitchers (or hitters) do well in Spring Training, but those are not the same thing as performing at the Major League Level. I am not against letting Reed and Stephenson work out of the pen for a while as they get acclimated to Majors but I don’t think they should be given up on as starters. I think one of the biggest mishandling is that of Lorenzen. In my opinion we are wasting a great arm right now. Instead of shuffling up pitchers that need time in AAA, why not give Lorenzen a chance to start and then Reed and Stephenson.. Perhaps none of them can do it but we will never know until they are given the opportunity.

  8. Love the Reds/Parks&Rec analogy. And while I do enjoy the Reds finally starting the youth movement, I agree with some pitchers needing more time in the minors. Yes, Arroyo and Feldman may lose us some games our offense keeps us in, but so will many of our young guys, so no harm in letting them develop in the minors.

  9. Agreed, Rookie and Sal need to be in AAA longer. BobSteve especially, and Reed to a lesser extent, are at the point where they either sink or swim as MLB starters. Let them start for a while and find out.

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