In Defense of Zach Davies
Updated: May 3, 2021
The early struggles of Zach Davies are causing some super uninformed, molten hot taeks around social media from beat writers and fans alike. To wit:
Yes, that's Molten Taek King Gordon Wittenmyer actually inferring that if the Cubs trade one of their star players, it will be the fault of Zach Davies. Because that's the only reason the Cubs are currently a few games under .500 in what is still a very winnable division.
So while we're not even a month into the season yet, guys like Gordo want to start talking trade deadline even though every single team in the Cubs' division is pretty much mediocre. And we're... pointing the finger at Zach Davies for this?
Then there are the fan taeks. Honestly, I had a reply come into my mentions the other day that might be in the top 5 uninformed taeks I've ever seen on the Twitter website, and that's saying something.
Let's break this down for a sec, shall we? First, there's the assertion that Davies has only pitched more than 70 innings once in the last four years. In the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, no pitcher pitched more than 83 innings, and that high mark was held by Lance Lynn. The NL Cy Young award winner Trevor Bauer topped out at 73 innings (and probably won the award using sticky substances, but that's for another farticle on another day), and most starters hovered around the 70-inning mark because it was a FREAKING SIXTY GAME SEASON. And in the interest of not being willfully obtuse, Davies entire IP stats look like this:
So, his rookie season, a COVID-shortened year, and a 2018 season where he was plagued by injuries are the years he didn't break 100+ innings. We good? Got that straightened out? Facts all settled? All right, let's move on.
As long as we're breaking into B-Ref, let's look at the "that ain't good" part of the uninformed hot taek. You know how OPS+ (or its FanGraphs equivalent, wRC+) tells you the adjusted offensive value of a player? Well, ERA+ is kind of like that for pitchers. Let's give Zach's a look, shall we?
What those numbers show is that Davies has been a good to very good, productive starter other than in his injury-shortened year in 2018. So, when meatballs on Twitter are complaining about him being terrible, or that the Cubs should have asked for something else in the Darvish trade, I'll counter with the facts: Jed Hoyer was getting a perfectly good, productive starting pitcher from San Diego, plus four young, high upside prospects in that trade.
With that out of the way, I'll speak to the emotional aspects of all the meatballery: Blaming Zach Davies for any trade that may happen before the deadline is simply unfair, and someone like Gordon Wittenmyer should be better and know better than to go that route. I can guarantee you that, in a contract year, coming into an emotional situation with spazzy fans like ours, Zach Davies would like to be pitching better right now. There is also empirical evidence from around the league with other command-reliant pitchers like Dallas Keuchel (4.32 ERA), Patrick Corbin (10.47 ERA) and our own Kyle Hendricks, who has been almost as brutal as Davies (7.54 ERA) that those types of hurlers are struggling early on. Could the new baseballs be causing their issues? Something is clearly off with Davies, and with no historical basis for it, the only thing he can do is keep working with the Cubs coaching staff to try to identify the issue and try to pitch through it.
Do I think Zach Davies will keep being bad? Absolutely not. And you shouldn't either. Give the guy a little grace with his new team, will ya? After all, he didn't ask to be traded to this hotbed of meatballs. I probably wouldn't update my social media either if I was him.