Last week, Richard Justice of MLB.com released his top 10 dark horse candidates for Most Valuable Player in 2018. That list included two Milwaukee Brewers - Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw. Earlier this week, Justice followed up his dark horse MVP post with one choosing his top 10 dark horse Cy Young Award candidates, and once again a member of our local nine is included as an under-the-radar name to keep an eye on: right-hander Zach Davies.
Atop the list sits Aaron Nola of Philadelphia, followed by Trevor Bauer of the Indians and Lance McCullers from the defending-champion Astros. Fourth on the list is the 25 year old Davies, who is entering his third full season at the MLB level. Here’s what Justice had to say about Milwaukee’s hurler:
Davies’ 3.91 ERA in 67 Major League starts reflects the talent of a guy capable of pitching atop a postseason-caliber rotation. As the Brewers continue their quest to add more pitching, Davies is a huge reason they’re so confident about 2018 in the wake of a season in which he started 33 games and had a solid 3.90 ERA.
Following Davies on the list is Jose Berrios, Michael Wacha, Mike Leake, Matt Moore, Dylan Bundy, and German Marquez.
As Justice alluded to, Davies has been a steadying force in the middle of Milwaukee’s starting rotation since he debuted in the big leagues in late 2015. Through 388.2 innings since then, he’s posted a 3.91 ERA and 88 DRA- with 6.6 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, and a 48.8% ground ball rate. Davies doesn’t miss many bats with his less-than-intimidating stuff, but is arguably the best command pitcher in the big leagues and thrives on generating weak contact. He ranked first among qualified starters last season with a 3.23% Called Strikes Above Average Rate, and his Command Score of 73 also was the best among qualified starters in 2017. Only 13 qualified hurlers (including new teammate Jhoulys Chacin) allowed a lower rate of hard contact in 2017 than Davies’ 28.8%.
Zach doesn’t throw hard and his skill set is one that is often undervalued by projection systems, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the computer algorithms are much more bearish on his outlook for 2018 than Richard Justice is. Steamer thinks Davies will only be able to produce a 4.71 ERA across 176.0 innings during the upcoming season, while the newly released PECOTA projections believe Davies will put together a 4.14 ERA while tossing 174.0 innings.
A Cy Young-caliber season is pretty far towards the optimistic side of what to expect from Zach Davies, but he does figure to be able to join forces with Chase Anderson and Jhoulys Chacin to form a dependable 1-2-3 punch in Milwaukee’s current starting five. There is a considerable amount of uncertainty in the rotation beyond that trio, however, barring another outside addition. Junior Guerra, Brent Suter, Yovani Gallardo, Brandon Woodruff, and Aaron Wilkerson are set to compete for the final two spots in the starting five as things stand right now, and there are reasons to approach each one of those players with both optimism and reservation. An unexpected breakout by Davies - perhaps coupled with a trade or free agent signing of another starter - would go a long way towards helping Milwaukee secure a spot in the postseason in 2018.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Prospectus