[Quick note: All caps team name signifies home, and the win probability graphs always go towards the home team at the top.]
That one was forgettable. Seeing as there was a 91.3% win probability for the Cubs when Claudio Vargas replaced Doug Davis in the top of the 4th, I feel completely justified in putting this one on Davis’s shoulders. Let’s take a look at what happened this start.
First of all, his line: 3.1 IP, 89 pitches (52 strikes), 19 PA, 7 H, 2 HR, 2 BB, 4 K, 6 ER. Seven hits in 3.1 IP is never good to see, but clearly what killed Davis today is the two home runs allowed. The first came at the hands of Xavier Nady, and then again two batters later versus Jeff Baker. The first came on a curve ball right over the heart of the plate, and the second came on an 84 MPH fastball in the upper half of the strike zone. With the kind of stuff that Davis possesses, he can’t afford to make these kinds of mistakes – as Rock tends to remind us, you’d rather have him walking guys than leaving pitches in these location.
Let’s get back to his stuff. He hasn’t ever been a hard thrower, but today he was about 2 MPH slower with the fastball and the cutter. None of his 17 straight fastballs drew whiffs, but he did get 3 swinging strikes out of his cutter, which he throws a majority of the time. The resultant 6.25% swinging strike rate (48 thrown) is close enough to his career mark of 7.3% swinging strikes that it doesn’t suggest any problems. He a only managed to get a swinging strike on his curveball, of which he only threw 13 (7.69%). That, however, is a problem, as pitchers should draw a higher swinging strike rate on off-speed pitches.
So it’s possible that the issue with Davis is that his off-speed pitches just haven’t been as effective as they have been in the past – that wouldn’t be a surprising issue for an aging, “crafty” (read: slow) pitcher like Doug Davis. He had similar issues in his first start against Colorado – only 1 swinging strike generated between 26 changeups and curveballs. A quick glance at the movement numbers on the pitches doesn’t really suggest any problems.
Right now, the problem just appears to be control. First of all, Davis has to find the strike zone – only 58% of Davis’s 168 pitches this season have been strikes, even lower than his 7th worst (among 100 IP pitchers) 60.2% strike% last season. More importantly though, is just his command. Here’s a plot of Davis’s pitches today, from Brooks Baseball‘s wonderful Pitch/FX tool:
Davis isn’t pounding the corners – he’s either missing the zone entirely or throwing very hittable pitches to the heart of the plate. That’s a recipe for disaster, and disaster is what we’ve seen so far. His recovery will be dependent on his ability to move towards the corners, which should lessen the number of home run balls and line drive hits he allows.
It’ll take a couple more starts at least for me to get too worried, and we have two suitable replacements in the bullpen in Chris Narveson (who looked excellent today) and Manny Parra. Still, Davis needs to get this turned around, and fast.