You’re reading the 2018 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at the season had by every player to play for the Rockies in 2018. The purpose of this list is to provide a snapshot of the player in context. The “Ranking” is an organizing principle that’s drawn from Baseball Reference’s WAR (rWAR). It’s not something the staff debated. We’ll begin with the player with the least amount of rWAR and end up with the player with the most.
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No. 11, Wade Davis (1.1 rWAR)
Over the 2017-2018 offseason, General Manager Jeff Bridich made it his goal to build a “super bullpen” for the Colorado Rockies. No signing was bigger than the contract for then-32-year-old Wade Davis. And it wasn’t just the biggest contract that the Rockies dealt out that offseason—it was the largest contract for a relief pitcher ever. Davis’s 3-year, $52 million contract was a record for major league pitchers in terms of average annual value, at $17.33 million. The contract also contains a vesting option for the fourth season valued at $15 million, which vests if Davis finishes 30 games in the 2020 season. If the option does not vest, a mutual option between Davis and the Rockies will exist. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. What set Davis apart and made him among the best relievers on the 2018 staff?
Along with Davis, the Rockies brought in Bryan Shaw and re-signed Jake McGee over the offseason, each to 3-year, $27 million contracts. Davis was by far the only reliever signed by the Rockies last winter to come close to his actual salary.
Davis had a respectable season. In 65 1/3 innings, Davis pitched to a 4.13 ERA with a 3.65 FIP. His strikeout numbers were in line with where they had been since he became a reliever and his walk rate improved from the previous season. The one fly in the ointment was his home run rate of 1.1 per nine innings, which was the highest he allowed since 2011, when he was a starting pitcher with the Tampa Bay Rays. A career-high 12.9% home run to fly ball ratio was partially to blame for this, but the hard-hit rate against Davis’s pitches was also a career-worst, suggesting more than just luck was getting in the way of his success. A high home run to fly ball ratio does not bode well for a pitcher, particularly at Coors Field. At home, Davis saw opponents slash .210/.277/.412, and his ERA was an unsettling 4.73. On the road, Davis found more success, with a .158/.267/.272 opponent’s line and 3.55 ERA.
More than just the struggles at home, it may be more accurate to paint Davis’s season as a rollercoaster split between the months of the year. Davis began the season delivering as the Rockies had hoped, producing a 2.36 ERA from March to May. The month of June saw Davis struggle, as he joined the rest of the team in the proverbial June swoon, collecting an ERA of 9.31. In July, Davis settled back in, pitching to a 3.65 ERA in 12 1/3 innings. August saw an unwelcome time for Davis’ struggles to return, as fans watched his ERA for the month sit at 7.71. Davis was responsible for two losses in August, including a heartbreaking walk-off three-run home run at the hands of Eric Thames of the Milwaukee Brewers. However, the month of September saw Davis at his best when it truly mattered most. The final month of the 162-game schedule saw Davis produce an 0.82 ERA, with 16 strikeouts and only one walk (all three his best marks in a single month on the year).
Despite all the ups-and-downs, Davis collected 43 saves in 2018, more than any other reliever has garnered in a single season for the Rockies. While Saves may be overvalued, it was important for a young pitching staff to have the veteran presence at the back end of the bullpen locking down games en route to the first consecutive postseason appearance in franchise history. With the struggles of Shaw, McGee, Chris Rusin and Mike Dunn, the Rockies leaned heavily on Davis to shoulder the burden in the bullpen. Fortunately, Adam Ottavino, Scott Oberg and trade deadline acquisition Seunghwan Oh also chipped in to prevent the proposed “super bullpen” from turning into a super disaster.
Davis will have the closer role on lockdown once again in 2019 and the Rockies will be hoping that the good-to-elite Davis that showed its true potential at times in 2018 will be a frequent presence in the coming year.