(Flickr/BTats)

Another September and another strong finishing kick from Kyle Davies.  Although he’s made just two starts this month, he did have a fine outing (8.1 IP, 2 ER, 6 SO) on the final day of August, this isn’t the first time Davies has made a mad dash for the finish.

September, 2008
31.2 IP, 22 H, 8 ER, 7 BB, 24 SO
2.27 ERA, 6.8 SO/9, 2.0 BB/9

Three of Davies best starts of the 2008 season were his final three starts of the season.   This is where an urban legand was born, as it’s always easy to see how a player finishes and hope (and project) similar results for next season.  It’s “he’s turned the corner” disease.  It happens.

A close look at the numbers (Danger: This is where sabermetrics meets a small sample size.  If I make a false move, that will explain the mushroom cloud over Midtown.) reveals Davies had a touch of luck on his side the final month of 2008.  He posted a .244 BABIP (against a .308 BABIP for the full season) and a 3.70 xFIP (against a 4.82 xFIP for the entire year) in September.  The fact those September numbers are so far off his full season numbers (even with the small sample size) can point to a certain amount of good fortune being involved.

Of course, we can’t always look at divergences in numbers and claim “luck!” was involved.  Sometimes it’s something else a little more subtle… A change in mechanics, weaker opposition, unjamming his eyelids… Whatever.  I’m simply pointing out how Davies’ last few September’s have been far from the norm.  Whether it’s luck or something he’s doing on purpose, the results aren’t exactly carrying over to the following season.

The next season, Davies made only three September starts before the Royals shut him down with soreness in his shoulder.  In 2009, two of his best three starts came in the final month. (His best start of the season was his first, a three hit, seven inning lockdown of the White Sox.)  Here are his numbers:

September, 2009
17 IP, 10 H, 2 ER, 14 BB, 10 SO
1.06 ERA, 5.3 SO/9, 7.4 BB/9

Although there was a ton of ink spilled about how Davies was finishing strong, how can you be walking seven batters a game and be considered good?  How about when you’re limiting base hits thanks to a .178 BABIP?  Again, it’s a small sample.  There’s no way Davies is walking batters at that rate for a full year – although he did have a 4.8 BB/9 in 2009.  Just like there’s no way he’s going to have such a low batting average on balls in play.  So if we’re going to discount his walk rate and BABIP, we have to do the same with his ERA.  Yes, he didn’t allow any runs and that’s certainly the goal here, but his 5.92 xFIP gives us a sense of a chance for correction, as it were.

And now this season…

September, 2010 (so far)
12 IP, 8 H, 2 ER, 5 BB, 9 SO
1.50 ERA, 6.8 SO/9, 3.8 BB/9

The smallest of sample sizes, but again, you can’t ignore some of the same trends we’ve seen in the past.  Namely, a crazy low .200 BABIP and an elevated 4.89 xFIP.  Of course, those two September starts rank among his top four for the entire season.

As long as Davies doesn’t implode over his final three starts of the season, he could finish with a sub-5.00 xFIP for only the second time in his career.  That’s good – for Davies, at least.  Although his current ERA+ of 83 says this year is his worst full season as a Royal.  Baseball Ref’s WAR says it’s a toss-up between this year and last.

I feel certain that this year we’ve seen the true talent level of Davies.  A guy who will post an ERA around 5, will walk about four batters per nine innings and will strikeout about six per game.  It’s not that this is horrible… It’s just you can pull guys like this off the scrap heap for minimal cost.  (I’m looking at you, Bruce Chen.)

It’s funny how this works… Davies is OK because even though he stinks, he’s been a Royal for most of his major league career.  We traded for him.  That means he was worth something.  It wasn’t like he was a minor league free agent or some waiver claim.  We thought differently of Chen when the Royals signed him.  “Bruce Chen?  That bum?  Really?”  This was because he wasn’t our guy.  He was a castoff from more than one organization.  It turns out, they’re both roughly the same pitcher.  This year, at least.

Davies is eligible for arbitration for the final time this winter and I’m sure the Royals will tender him a contract and will eventually bring him back for around $2 million to fill out the back of the rotation.  That’s the safe move.  It’s also a move with zero long term implications.  It’s fairly obvious when the pipeline to the minors open and this influx of young talent begins arriving in the next couple of years, Davies won’t be good enough to shine their shoes.  He’ll be long gone.  A faded memory.

Nick thinks we may be focusing on the negative with Davies.  Perhaps.  But if the Royals want to do something bold, they’ll avoid resigning Davies and go fishing for a cheap arm this off season to drop in the back of the rotation.  Heck, they could try Bryan Bullington or Phillip Humber or any of the other journeymen that will undoubtedly cross their radar this winter.  Maybe they’ll strike gold.  It’s unlikely, but it could be worth the effort, simply because you may not know what you will discover.

Unlike with Davies.  We know exactly what he brings to the rotation.  Since we know about his true talent and we know it’s not good enough, why continue?  Hopefully the Royals will be bold and will go for some new blood in the back of the rotation in 2011.  It really couldn’t hurt.