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Opening Day Countdown: Zach Davies #27

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A mere 27 days separates us from real baseball folks! Are you ready for it yet?

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Marco Estrada was always a favorite of mine when he was with the Brewers. He was never the best pitcher on the team, but he was pretty solid for the majority of his time in Milwaukee. It's a shame so many fans will only remember the last season he played for the team when he led the league in home runs allowed. He was a bit undersized with a fringe fastball, but an excellent changeup and command to match. And more often than not, he was more than the sum of his parts. So when I say that Zach Davies reminds me a lot of Marco Estrada, I want you to understand it's meant as a compliment.

The Brewers sent pre-pumpkin Gerardo Parra to Baltimore to acquire Zach Davies. He pitched with the AAA club for a month before receiving a September call-up. In 6 starts he threw 34.0 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 3.81 FIP. That's pretty solid, but September lineups provide notoriously uneven competition, so we have to be careful about making too many assumptions.

We see that his average fastball velocity according to PITCHf/x was 88.9 mph. Scouting reports have him hovering around the 88-91 range. Considering he was pitching in more innings than he's ever done before, it's possible he was tiring out. He was also just 22 pitching in his 3rd professional season. His height and slim frame suggest he's not going to add more velocity. But I think it's possible he could increase his endurance which could allow him to maintain his velocity closer to that 90-91 mph range. Hopefully anyway. This fastball velocity is pretty close to the 89-91 mph range Marco Estrada lives in.

From scouting reports (onetwothree) and PITCHf/x we can also get a glimpse at Davies' pitch repertoire. Scouting reports tell us Davies uses a fastball, curveball, and changeup. PITCHf/x categorized Davies pitches as a 2-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and sinker. Compared to Marco Estrada the main differences are in 4-seam vs 2-seam and cutter vs sinker. Estrada uses the former in each instance while Davies uses the latter.

The biggest problem Estrada had was with home runs allowed. Both pitchers are the same height which means Davies could also face similar issues with the longball. However there is an interesting difference in the two pitchers. Estrada is an extreme flyball pitcher. Davies induces a lot of ground balls--his minor league ground ball rates were typically in the 55-58% range and never dipped below 52%, in his time with the Brewers he induced a 57% ground ball rate.. That's because nothing he throws is straight and the sinker tends to induce grounders. Cutters tend to induce weak contact, but not necessarily ground balls. So maybe Davies will do a better job of limiting home runs.

One thing to note about Estrada is that he induced a lot of pop-ups (infield fly balls). Those are basically the same as strike outs because for the most part it's an automatic out and runners can't advance. I'm not at all sure how Davies will fare in this area, so it's possible he ends up giving up more meaningful contact.

With the acquisition of Chase Anderson--another changeup specialist--Zach Davies will be heading back to AAA to start the season. But he's either at or near the top of the minor league depth chart. Early in the season I would expect him to be the first starting pitcher called up when that time comes. Later in the season as Jorge Lopez becomes more ready I could see him getting the call. But I expect them both to be the Brewers during the season and perhaps both part of the rotation before the season ends.

P.S. - Pretty much everything in terms of velocity, pitch repertoire, and batted ball profile that applies to Marco Estrada also applies to Mike Fiers. He is a couple inches taller though. But if you like Fiers better than go with that comp. ;)