Sam Mellinger

Royals’ Wade Davis is human, even if the statistics suggest otherwise

Wade Davis at spring training.
Wade Davis at spring training. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Wade Davis is a human being. Let’s start there, because this is apparently easy to miss. He has feelings.

Sometimes he is happy and sometimes he is sad and sometimes — if an amazing thing happens, like, for instance, the Royals win the American League pennant — he even smiles. He gets hungry. Probably even sleeps.

Maybe you suspected some of this to be true, but better safe than sorry here because Davis has so established himself as one of baseball’s most destructive pitching forces that his teammates and coaches tend to talk like he is an infallible machine put on this earth for one purpose, which is to eliminate the world’s best hitters three at a time.

Like, take Saturday afternoon here at O.co Coliseum. Davis and Royals lead the A’s by one. It is the eighth inning, and the A’s have the top of their order up. Davis walks the leadoff man, Sam Fuld. The second hitter, Brett Lawrie, hits a line drive that goes foul a few feet from being a home run.

Then he walks, so it’s two on and no out, and then Davis throws three straight balls to Stephen Vogt, who is having a breakout year and is a near lock to make the All-Star team.

So, quick recap. At this point, the A’s have two runners on, nobody out, and one of the league’s best hitters at the plate with a 3-0 count. A win expectancy calculator that applies results of past games in the same situation indicates the A’s had a 59 percent chance of winning and, well, here is where the men who work with Davis begin to talk like he is as good at his job as the roof of your home is at keeping you dry.

“Was I worried?” shortstop Alcides Escobar asks. “No, because I have the best pitcher. Wade Davis, man.”

“I trust Wade,” catcher Sal Perez says. “Always. Always I trust him. Any count, I always trust him.”

You probably know what happened next. Davis came back to strike Vogt out on a perfectly placed cutter, then got a double play on the first pitch to cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist. With the final out of the inning secured, Davis — and men who know him well say this is the first time they’ve seen him do anything like this — screamed and punched his glove.

It was the single biggest moment of the Royals’ 3-2 win over the A’s, but because Davis was on the mound, the ultimate outcome apparently held all the suspense of a San Diego weather report.

Because you should hear what Royals manager Ned Yost said. Once Davis got to 2-0 on Vogt, pitching coach Dave Eiland went out to the mound to talk about a mechanical flaw. In the simplest terms, Davis was pushing off the mound too hard and lost his release point. When Davis threw strike one, he was behind 3-1 with nobody out and two runners on — and Yost exhaled.

“I sat back in the dugout at that point,” Yost said. “Like, ‘OK, this inning’s over.’”

Yost and the Royals come by their expectations of Davis honestly, of course. He is following up a historically good 2014 with what might be an even better 2015.

In 32 innings, he has faced 120 batters and allowed 26 to reach base. Thirty-six have struck out. The league is hitting .130 against him with a .217 on-base and .167 slugging percentage and, as a point of reference, big league pitchers are hitting .132/.157/.159.

Davis’ ERA is 0.28, which looks like a rounding error from a normal pitchers’ ERA. He has given up one run in 32 games, and that took a botched replay by umpires in New York and second baseman Omar Infante couldn’t turn a double play. So, basically, Davis has not given up a run in innings where he asked to get fewer than five outs.

There are a hundred reasons the Royals are tracking for their best regular season since 1977. Mike Moustakas is hitting well over .300. Alex Gordon is having his best season since since his promise to dominate. Kendrys Morales is a significant upgrade at DH. The defense is, again, spectacular.

But particularly as the rotation is largely kept together by Chris Young, Edinson Volquez, and hope, the Royals’ signature is again the bullpen. They are undefeated when leading after seven innings, and 34-2 when leading after six.

This is about more than just Davis, of course. Kelvin Herrera and Ryan Madson each have ERAs under 2.00, and have struck out 59 batters in 59 2/3 combined innings. Greg Holland has blown one save, and in that game came back the next inning and got the win.

Also, and this is easy to miss, but after the first inning the Royals’ highest scoring frames are the sixth and the eighth. So their relievers give up nothing, and they tend to score on the other team’s relievers.

But Davis is the guy. He is the one with the outlier statistics and heavy curveball and overwhelming fastball. He is the one who comes in from the bullpen like a prize fighter, all stares and frowns and spits. He is the one who never seems to have a wasted motion — even after strikeouts, his steps around the mound are as efficient as a new air conditioner.

All of that is why moments like Saturday tend to stick out in the memory. Not just for the two walks — that’s the sixth time in 32 games he’s given up more than one baserunner — or Lawrie’s near home run.

But also for the way he got out of it, first with the strikeout and then with the double play, screaming and jumping and punching his glove in celebration.

What was up with that, anyway?

“Sometimes you feel like you get a little lucky,” Davis says. “And it excites you.”

So, see that? He is human. Machines don’t get lucky.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments