Wade Davis is the key to The Trade.

I’m convinced I wrote something like that. Probably about two years ago. And I probably thought I was damn clever. After all, the Royals had James Shields for only two years before he was moving on to greener free agent pastures. The Royals hold three affordable team options on Davis, who would be with the club for five years total if they are exercised. Yes, that made him the key to the trade.

Let’s get right to the numbers. Because they are damn impressive.

Year Tm W L W-L% ERA G SV IP H R ER HR BB SO BF ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2014 KCR 9 2 .818 1.00 71 3 72.0 38 8 8 0 23 109 279 399 1.19 0.847 4.8 0.0 2.9 13.6 4.74
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 2/17/2015.

I mean… Just look at those. Then look at them again. They are almost impossible to comprehend. They’re video game numbers. That’s it. Wade Davis set the difficulty level to “rookie” and played an entire season.

It’s the Wade Davis Experience.

Davis scrapped his sinker, relying on his fastball, curve and cutter.

DavisUsage

The fastball has gained a couple ticks of velocity since moving full-time to the bullpen. His heater averaged 91-92 mph as a starter. Last year as a reliever, he brought the fastball at 96.7 mph. It’s a true weapon, generating a swing and miss over 16 percent of the time. As you can see from the graph above, it gained velocity as the season progressed. Opposing hitters managed just a .161 batting average against his fastball and in 135 at bats that resolved with that pitch, Davis yielded just three extra base hits – a pair of doubles and a triple.

The cutter is a ground ball machine. Over 73 percent of the balls put in play on his cutter are ground balls. Is it any surprise that opposing hitters managed a minute .115 batting average against. Oh, and not a single batter managed an extra base hit against the cutter. Davis features the pitch to both lefties and right-handed batters, but it’s his go-to secondary pitch to same side batters when he’s ahead in the count. Doesn’t matter that hitters may know what’s coming. They’re not going to touch that pitch.

And the curve? It features the 12-to-6 break and like the cutter, is an infielder’s friend. Davis gets a ground ball on about 63 percent of his curves put in play. That’s the pitch he throws to left-handed batters when he’s ahead in the count.

I try to avoid hyperbole, but I’m not sure we have seen anything quite like Davis’s 2014 performance in a Royals uniform.

As you would imagine for an eighth-inning guy, Davis had the second-highest leverage index on the team at 1.59. (Any thing above 1.0 is considered “high” pressure.) At this time last year, we were debating the merits of sticking Davis back in the rotation for another shot, or moving him to the bullpen. There will be no such debate this spring. The question this time around is: Can he repeat his performance?

I don’t see why not. His pitches are nasty, his ground ball rate is lofty and the Royals will place a fine infield defense behind him once again. His 87 percent strand rate looks like it’s due to regress, but given the small sample size of the relief pitching game, it wouldn’t be crazy if the correction was minor. He struck out 39 percent of all batters faced. His command was impeccable. There was no smoke and mirror component to Davis’s 2014 season. No fluke or outlier that will be difficult to duplicate.

Wade Davis’s 2014 was real, and it was spectacular.

Davis is signed for $7 million for 2015 and the team holds another option for $8 million in 2016 and $10 million for 2017. That’s a fair amount of coin for a reliever, but considering Greg Holland is going to earn $8.25 million in his second year of being eligible for arbitration, Davis’s contract isn’t extreme in the least. What could be extreme is the Royals committing over $15 million to two relievers. Granted, the pair are among the best (if not THE BEST) in the game at what they do. The Royals actually have both on what the industry would view as team-friendly deals.

As much as you’ll hate to hear this, I think the Royals need to explore a trade. Either Davis or Holland. The return the Royals get for either of the relievers would justify making this move. Especially as we move through spring training and teams are assessing their needs as Opening Day approaches. There will be trade partners and some will reek of desperation. The Royals bullpen is an embarrassment of riches that should be leveraged for the greater good. Trade Holland and Davis can slide into the closer role. Trade Davis and Kelvin Herrera can move up an inning. There are so many options concerning this bullpen. I get the appeal of standing pat. It’s easy and we saw how excellent it was last season. Another October run would totally justify keeping the pen together. But can the Royals recapture the magic from last fall? That’s a post for another day. For now, the bullpen is a nice problem for Dayton Moore to have. He just needs to make the right decision on how to deal with it in the way that gives the team the maximum benefit.