Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 10/11/11

The Rays have an obscene amount of pitching depth. Every season it seems like they churn out another quality young pitcher. They have a rotation consisting of five starters 29 or younger, in addition to at least three pitchers who could step into their rotation next year with relative ease. Alex Cobb did a very respectable job in nine starts before being shut down for the season in August due to an impingement in his rib. Alex Torres, acquired in the Scott Kazmir deal, had a 9.6 K/9 in AAA this year and came up huge in the Rays playoff push, throwing five scoreless innings against Toronto in relief of Jeff Niemann. Then there’s that Matt Moore guy. In case you’re living under a rock, the best pitching prospect in baseball made just his second MLB start in Game One of the ALDS against the Rangers. And he made them look pretty stupid. Since Moore is probably going to slide into the Rays’ rotation next season, someone has to go. There has been recent speculation that person could be Wade Davis.

Wade Davis is another product of the Rays’ farm system. He was Baseball America’s 17th best prospect in 2008. I remember the first time I saw him pitch. It was a Spring Training start in 2009 against the Yankees. Davis made quick work of Derek Jeter and the rest of the Yankees’ “A” lineup by pumping 96 mph fastballs with a nasty curve over two innings. This was right after the Rays won the pennant and I was pretty confident that combined with David Price, this guy would be good enough to help put the Rays over the top. Granted, it was only spring training and Davis was probably jacked up to be facing the Yankees, but he looked pretty damn good. Davis joined the Rays rotation full-time in September 2009 and did well, posting a 2.90 FIP with a 1.1 WAR in his small sample size of six starts. However, it has all gone downhill from there.

Davis began the 2010 season in the Rays’ rotation. In his first full season in the MLB, he posted a very solid 4.07 ERA along with a strand rate of 78.1%. While those aren’t eye-popping numbers, they are very respectable for a 24-year-old rookie pitching in the AL East. There were some causes for concern though. Davis posted a FIP of 4.67 and his strikeouts plummeted from an impressive minor league K/9rate of 8.81 to just 6.05 in 2010. Davis gets a mulligan for the decline in punch-outs though, since it was his first season in the Show and he was pitching in the best division in baseball. However, things got worse this past season. Davis posted a 4.22 ERA and a 5.14 K/9 rate in 184 innings. Out of 93 qualifying starting pitchers, Davis ranked 93rd with an xFIP of 4.82. Ouch.

So, what has happened to the pitcher that Baseball America dubbed as one of the premier power pitching prospects in the game, with frontline starter potential? Well for starters, the pitcher who used to sit 92-94 with his fastball averaged 91.8 MPH last year. Not quite power pitching material. However, the one of the main concerns with Davis should be the development of his changeup, or lack thereof. This year, he posted a wCH/C of -4.66, which is an improvement from his 2010 number of -9.04, but is still really bad. Davis’s curveball, his favorite off-speed pitch, was also below average at -1.40 wCB/C. So essentially, Davis has become a pitcher with a slightly above average fastball and two below average off-speed pitches.

The Rays can do three things with Davis. They can trade him, keep him in the rotation or send him to the bullpen. The Rays are in desperate need of a good, cost controlled hitter. More specifically, a left-handed hitting first baseman. They could package Davis and a couple of other prospects for someone like Logan Morrison or Yonder Alonso. Morrison seems to be wearing out his welcome in Florida and Alonso is position-less with Joey Votto in his way. Davis seems to be a great fit for the Marlins, as they need a pitcher who can slide into the middle of their rotation and eat innings. If the Rays decide to leave Davis in the rotation, it probably means that another pitcher (Jeff Niemann) will be on the move. There’s only so long Cobb, Torres and Moore can rot away at AAA Durham. Putting Davis in the bullpen is an intriguing option. He made the first two relief appearances of his career in the ALDS against the Rangers, throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings. While the sample size is small, Davis’ average fastball velocity out of the bullpen was 94.3 mph, a sizeable increase from 91.8 as a starter. The Rays are probably going to have a pretty significant bullpen turnover in 2012 – Kyle Farnsworth’s $3.3 million option might be declined, J.P. Howell is a non-tender candidate and Joel Peralta could probably get a multiyear contract elsewhere. Andrew Friedman did a good job of going outside the organization to find cheap bullpen arms for this season and will probably have to do the same for next year. With his spike in fastball velocity in his ALDS bullpen stint, Davis could be a prime candidate to pitch the late innings for Rays next season.

A potential problem with Davis shifting to the bullpen next season is his contract. At the end of Spring Training this year, the Rays signed Davis to a 4-year $10.1 Million deal with three team options for 2015-2017. The contract looked like a good deal from both sides. The Rays would be paying a promising young pitcher at a team friendly rate through his arbitration years and Davis was able to obtain the financial security that many young players seek. While Davis is due to make only $1.5 million in 2012, the number jumps to $2.8 million in 2013. The Rays probably don’t plan on paying any of their relievers that kind of money, especially ones without a long track record of success pitching out of the bullpen. Not to mention he is due to make $4.8 million in 2014, before the options start kicking in. Although it seemed like a good idea to give Davis his extension at the time, the Rays may have hamstrung themselves in terms of being able to send him to the bullpen. His stuff could play well there and it could turn out to be a good transition, but it seems unlikely. As a result, don’t be surprised if another team looks at Davis’s contract and former prospect status and decides to take a flier on him in a trade this offseason.

-Cohen

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