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Wade Davis signs with Rockies, earns largest relief pitcher contract ever

It appears like another classic Coors Field pitcher overpay.

MLB: NLCS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Wade Davis became very wealthy Friday morning. The ex-Chicago Cubs closer signed a contract with the Colorado Rockies, becoming the highest-paid relief pitcher on a per-year basis in Major League Baseball history.

Davis and Colorado agreed to a three-year, $52 million contract. The deal includes a four-year vesting option that could take the total value up to $66 million if he finishes 30 or more games in the 2020 season.

It’s a big deal, but it continues a trend for Colorado. The team has invested huge sums of money for relief pitching over the past two offseasons. After committing a combined $106 million to Bryan Shaw, Jake McGee and Davis this year, and with Adam Ottavino and Mike Dunn on board already, they are now prepared to spend approximately $46 million in 2018 on just five relievers alone.

The strategy has seemingly worked for Colorado, as the team made the postseason in 2017 for the first time since 2009, losing to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a very exciting National League Wild Card game. The Rockies will be replacing 2017 closer Greg Holland with Davis, and in many respects, the $17.3 million man does provide an upgrade.

Wade Davis vs. Greg Holland, 2017

Player ERA ERA- FIP DRA fWAR K% BB% FB% HR/FB%
Player ERA ERA- FIP DRA fWAR K% BB% FB% HR/FB%
Wade Davis 2.30 53 3.38 2.99 1.1 32.6% 11.6% 38.2% 12.0%
Greg Holland 3.61 72 3.72 3.42 1.1 29.8% 11.1% 45.3% 11.3%

Across the board, Davis is the better pitcher than Holland, but what's most important to note are their fly ball rates. Davis’ fly ball rate is 7.1 percentage points below Holland’s. At Coors Field, this will be a significant factor. Holland gave up home runs at the highest rate of his career after moving to Colorado. Davis, who already gave up an uncharacteristic amount of long balls last year — six! In 58 innings! — should be expected to do the same.

Even if his home run per fly ball rate remains high, Davis should be expected to produce fairly well for Colorado. His ERA will probably rise, but Steamer projects his strikeout-to-walk ratio to be in line with his historical average going forward.

While the Rockies paid Davis a lot to come pitch for them, that's representative of the contracts that they've had to give out in the past few years. In what I like to call the “Coors overpay,” the Rockies have had to dole out potentially larger contracts compared to the going rate to get pitchers to come to Denver. It took $9 million per year to get Shaw and retain McGee. Going all the way back to 2013, they gave Boone Logan almost $6 million per year in a similar situation.

That’s why Davis got $17.33 million per season, which tops Aroldis Chapman’s $17.2 million annual average value as the highest contract (by AAV) for a relief pitcher in Major League Baseball history.

The length of the deal is obviously a win for the Rockies, who likely had to up the overall guarantee to keep it a short-term deal. At a maximum, Davis will be pitching for Colorado just through his age-35 season.

Davis bolsters a Colorado bullpen that already ranked among the best in baseball. The team's relief corps ranked sixth in MLB in fWAR while posting the eighth-best ERA-. Holland, McGee and co. excelled in 2017, and with Davis now in the fold, there's reason to think the good times will continue.

Adding to a strength is certainly a positive for the Rockies, but as of right now, it still seems they need more pieces to contend again in 2018. According to FanGraphs, Colorado is projected to go 80-82 following the Davis signing. The team will still need more upgrades, likely offensive, to contend in the National League Wild Card race again in 2018.

For now, the Rockies have their closer, and Wade Davis made top dollar in a deal that improves one of Colorado’s biggest strengths.


Devan Fink is a Featured Writer for Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.