Yesterday, Chris Davis became the first position player to record a win in the last 40 years. Here we’ll look at Davis’ win By The Numbers. First we’ll look at how clutch Davis’ performance was in the 16th and 17th innings and then we’ll look at the “stuff” Davis brought with him to the mound.
By the numbers, Chris Davis is a clutch pitcher. Fangraphs has recorded how important a particular situation is in a baseball game depending on the inning, score, outs, and number of players on base for every game since 1974. The statistic that quantifies the importance of a situation is referred to as the leverage index. It is considered a smart practice to use a team’s best pitcher in situations with the highest leverage index. The informed reader will have no trouble guessing most of the names whose average usage has come during the highest leverage situations. The list of names of the top 10 pitches in terms of highest leverage average usage since 1974 includes Brian Wilson, Bruce Sutter and Mariano Rivera. However, currently Chris Davis leads them all. In his only (and thus 2.35 leverage index average) usage the innings Davis pitched were more important than the average usage of the top closers in baseball, and during those innings Davis was successful.
Part of what enabled his success in such a high leverage situation was that he was throwing a not awful fastball and a filthy splitter/change/something. During the game, Kevin Goldstein tweeted that he would grade Davis’ fastball at a 45 on the 20-80 scouting scale. So, in short, Davis was throwing a slightly below average fastball after serving as the designated hitter in the first 15 innings of a baseball game. While Goldstein didn’t weigh in on Davis’ out pitch, we will. It was filthy.
Against both Salty and Gonzalez Davis got ahead 0-2 in the count and then proceeded to maintain his fastball grip but drop his arm slot to get a swinging strike #3. The speed, sink and armside run of the pitch is very reminiscent of James Shields change up, which was the 3rd most effective change up in baseball last year. The heat map for James Shields’ change up against lefties is shown below. Given the similarities between the two pitches, I would expect Davis’ heat map for the pitch to lefties to be very similar over an increased sample size.
Usually, watching position players pitch is like witnessing a traffic accident. Its bound to go horribly wrong and we can’t help but watch. Darnell McDonald demonstrated that perfectly yesterday. However, Davis bucked the trend. With an almost average fastball and a good off-speed pitch, Davis was effective in some of the most high leverage innings of the season.