After the first week of September, the Rockies find themselves in first place of the NL West, which should come as a surprise to just about everyone including the Rockies. They’ve had an unorthodox path to success. Their .321 wOBA is tied for their worst ever as a franchise, but their starters have put up the third best ERA in team history. They’ve relied on pitching to win, which is unusual for a couple reasons. First, they’re the Rockies. Second, their bullpen has been atrocious.
Luis Torres wrote back in July about how the Rockies’ free agent spending hasn’t worked out. The name that came with the biggest price tag and thus the biggest disappointment was Wade Davis. After an effective but otherwise unimpressive year with the Cubs, the Rockies signed Davis to a three-year, $52 million contract. In his first year in Colorado, all the warning signs that had cropped up in Chicago exacerbated themselves. The walks have stayed about the same, the home runs just went up, and the fastball velocity hasn’t magically come back.
Thus far, Davis has put together a 4.55 ERA, 4.13 FIP, and a 4.21 DRA. Unfortunately for the Rockies, they don’t have a lot of options to hide Davis behind. Even with Davis’ struggles, his ERA is fourth best among Rockies relievers behind Adam Ottavino, Seunghwan Oh, and Scott Oberg. The rest of the bullpen has been a rotating cast of characters that’s consistently been roughed up.
Despite Davis only making one appearance before the ninth inning, Davis has the highest average leverage index when he enters a game. Ottavino is right behind him despite being the clearly better option to come in when the game is on the line. If Black hasn’t lost confidence in Davis yet, he’s not going to.
Still, there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about Davis down the stretch. The last time he gave up a run was nearly a month ago. His strikeout minus walk percentage is an improved 22.1. It was 14.7 in the first half. Striking out more batters and walking fewer is always a good sign and Davis is trending that direction.
That doesn’t mean this will continue through the end of the season and into a theoretical postseason. The past month is small sample. Davis has certainly been streaky this year. But if you’re looking for reasons to be optimistic, it’s that Davis is throwing more strikes recently.
Of course, his numbers haven’t exactly been good even in small samples. Throwing more strikes has come with the side effect of throwing more hittable pitches. In the last outing in which he gave up a run, he surrendered up two dingers.
Davis is by no means fixed, but he has shown signs of improvement and he’s a better option than most of the bullpen. He’ll continue to pitch high leverage innings. Someone has to. The Rockies’ playoff hopes more or less rest with him. For better or worse, they’re counting on him.
Kenny Kelly is a writer for Beyond the Box Score, McCovey Chronicles, and BP Wrigleyville. You can follow him on Twitter @KennyKellyWords.