The Milwaukee Brewers took two out of three games against the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers over the weekend, handing LA their first series loss since June in the process. Three stellar starting pitching performances powered Milwaukee’s wins this weekend, and perhaps most impressive was a start by the “Bat Boy” on Saturday night:
That was just the latest success in what’s been a very strong six week stretch of pitching for the man better known as Zach Davies. One of Milwaukee’s top performers last season, Davies was a big story in the first half of 2017, but for the wrong reasons. After the start against Philadelphia on July 14th where he allowed 5 earned runs in 5.1 innings pitched, Davies’ season ERA was sitting at 5.08. His strikeouts were down but more notably, his walk rate and home run rate had skyrocketed. He walked 5 batters in that July 14th start and had been battling his command all season long. Some even wondered if it might be beneficial to give Zach a trip back to the minors to see if he could figure something out.
Beginning on July 19th, however, Davies has really turned his season around over his last 8 starts. He’s worked 7+ innings in 5 of those contests, and overall he’s tossed 54.0 innings with a minuscule 1.67 ERA. FIP doesn’t think he’s been quite that good, but his 2.76 mark still supports that he’s been pitching excellently of late. The strikeouts remain low - just 36 total in that span - but more importantly Davies has cut his walk rate by better than 2% down to 5.6%. After coughing up 16 gopher balls and allowing hard contact at a 31.1% clip in his first 19 starts, Davies has allowed just 1 (!) dinger and only a 22.8% (!!!) rate of hard contact over his last 8 starts.
Davies reportedly found a mechanical fix to help alleviate the notable command issues that plagued him throughout the early portion of the season, an adjustment that has clearly paid significant dividends. These results can be seen in Baseball Prospectus’ “Called Strikes Above Average” leader board (CSAA), which is a metric designed to help quantify a pitcher’s command while they’re on the mound. Davies was the #1 pitcher in baseball last season with a 3.51% CSAA, but spent the early portions of this season outside the top-15. After his latest start, though, Davies now ranks 4th among qualified MLB pitchers this season with a 2.83% CSAA.
A change in pitch mix may be helping spur Davies’ recent run of success, as well. According to Pitch Info, Davies’ arsenal features 5 different offerings - a four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball, and changeup. In the first half of the season, Davies relied heavily on his sinker, throwing it 59.3% of the time due in part to being regularly behind in the count. As he’s been able to get ahead of batters more often in the second half, he’s cut his sinker usage down to 49.2% over his last 8 starts. Conversely, he’s increased the use of both his curveball and cutter, which opposing batters have hit a combined .220 against during Davies’ hot streak.
Thanks to his second half surge, the Bat Boy’s season-long ERA now sits at 3.91 through 156.2 innings pitched this season. The 24 year old right-hander is on pace for a second consecutive season of a sub-4.00 ERA, and both DRA- (95.6) and FIP- (94) support the fact that he’s been an above-average starter in the National League this season. The profile can be a little volatile, as we’ve seen how important having pinpoint command is to Davies’ success, but at this point it’s starting to look safe to say that he’s actualized his ceiling of a back-end to mid-rotation starter. Not a bad return for a half-season of Gerardo Parra, eh? (Thanks again Doug Melvin!)
An even 6 feet tall, weighing in at 155 lbs, and struggling to scrape 90 MPH on the radar gun, Zach Davies looks like he’s better suited to handing big league hitters their bats than he is to mowing them down on the mound. But with a career 3.92 ERA through 61 MLB starts and another four seasons of club control after 2017, is there any doubt remaining that the former 26th-round pick has earned a role as a long-term fixture in the starting rotation for the Milwaukee Nine?
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus
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