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Wade Davis’ Run Of Dominance Is Bizarrely Overlooked

I mean this as a compliment, but the 2014-2015 Royals were pests. They just won differently. They rarely hit for power, but they put the ball in play. They played great defense and ran the bases incredibly well. But the one word that comes to mind when I think of that run is “bullpen.” No team shortened the game quite like the 2015 Royals. If a team got past the 4th inning without a lead, it was likely game over. At the forefront of that was Wade Davis, who had one of the greatest seasons ever by a modern reliever…twice.

Despite pitching exclusively out of the bullpen in 2012 with the Rays, the Royals attempted to make Davis a starter again in 2013. The results were brutal. As a starter in 2013, Davis was 6-10 with a 5.67 and an abysmal 1.755 WHIP. On August 24th of that year, Davis gave up seven runs over six innings against the Nationals. That start probably changed the trajectory of the Royals organization because it was the last time Wade Davis would ever start a game. Davis would finish the year pitching out of the pen, posting a 0.90 ERA over ten innings. It was a sign of things to come.

Davis was converted into a full-time reliever in 2014 and set the world on fire for two years. You could argue that for two years, Wade Davis was the best pitcher in the American League. The NL featured studs like Kershaw, Grienke, Wainwright, and Arrieta, but when you look at what Davis did for those two seasons, especially in October, it’s hard to argue that anyone was more dominant. Don’t get me wrong, Corey Kluber and Dallas Keuchel deserved the Cy Youngs they received in 2014 and 2015, respectively, but few pitchers in the world were as automatic as Davis for a while. He made 160 appearances over those two seasons (including the postseason), and his numbers looked like this

163.1 IP 85 H 18 R 16 ER 48 BB 225 SO

24 saves

54 holds

4 blown saves

0.88 ERA

0.814 WHIP

Those are video game numbers. In October alone, he was 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in 20 appearances. The Royals were 18-2 in October in games Davis pitched in during that stretch, including an 8-0 record in their 2015 championship season. Davis will never be a Hall of Famer. He fell off fast. After a dominant stretch from 2014-2017 in which he posted a 1.45 ERA, Davis put up a 6.56 ERA over his last four years before ultimately calling it a career after 2021. I view him as one of those bizarrely overlooked anomalies. We talk about Mariano Rivera (rightfully so, of course), Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Josh Hader, and even Zack Britton, who probably had the most remarkable regular season by a modern reliever in 2016. But for a brief period, there was no reliever in the world more dangerous than Wade Davis. When you think of that Royals core that brought them a championship for the first time in 30 years, I think he’s probably not one of the first names that come to mind, but he should be. For a short time, there was no one better.