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Noah Davis had a frustrating 2023 season

Injuries and misfortune derailed what should’ve been an extended look as a big league starter, but Davis has the tools to make a jump in 2024.

Welcome to the 2023 edition of Ranking the Rockies, where we take a look back at every player to log playing time for the Rockies in 2023. 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 lowest rWAR and end up with the player with the highest.

★ ★ ★

No. 49, Noah Davis: -0.7 rWAR

So much of what put the Rockies over the 100+ loss edge in 2023 was injuries to starting pitchers. Germán Márquez, Antonio Senzatela and Ryan Feltner, three core members of the rotation, combined for barely over 70 innings this season. Even Kyle Freeland and Austin Gomber — the only two regular starters who didn’t miss extended time — failed to reach 30 starts. Colorado didn’t have a single pitcher who qualified for the ERA title in 2023, and the team used 14 different starters (discounting openers).

26-year-old Noah Davis was one of those 14, and his season was a frustrating ride. After a very brief big-league cameo in late 2022, Davis was recalled from Triple-A early in the 2023 season and pitched quite well in his first two starts, allowing just one earned run across 9 23 innings. But the fates wouldn’t be kind to him — following a rough third outing against the Diamondbacks, he was placed on the 15-day IL with right elbow inflammation and missed all of May.

The rest of his season was defined by very good pitching down in the pinball machine that is the Pacific Coast League and a lack of consistent big league opportunities. Even as he pitched well in Triple-A (a 4.50 ERA in 14 starts is no joke in Albuquerque) and with the Rockies’ rotation falling apart down the stretch, Davis only got three more scattered big league starts under his belt in 2023. With only nine total appearances in the major leagues so far, he remains a relative wild card as far as the Rockies’ pitching situation goes.

In my opinion, however, Davis has a very good shot at being a good big leaguer, and the depth of his repertoire only increases the chances of that big league future being in the rotation. Davis features a wide array of pitches, with his most used in the majors so far being his two-seamer and cutter, both of which you can see below:

As visually pleasing as his fastball looks, it’s a vulnerable pitch, especially against lefties who can extend against it. It does have its uses, especially against righties, but Davis’ path to a stable big league career does not lie in his fastball. Instead, looking at his real outlier skills will give us a better idea of who he can be as a hurler.

Davis can really spin the ball, excels at creating horizontal movement on his pitches, and has something many starters would only dream of: a pairing of both a good curveball and a good changeup. Davis’ upper-70’s curve in particular is a beauty, a gorgeous sweeping breaking ball that could realistically serve as both a strike-stealer early in counts and a finishing pitch if thrown a little bit harder.

His cutter and slider are still works in progress, and the future of those offerings will be key in his hopeful ascension. Because his fastball’s tailing profile makes it dangerous for him to throw against left-handed hitters, Davis needs his cutter to pitch lefties in on the hands and keep them from diving over the plate to hit his curveballs and changeups away. It’s a relatively new pitch for him, so it’s reasonable to expect his comfort level with it grow as he throws it more.

His slider has an interesting evaluation. It’s long been his most reliable pitch, but its movement has changed a lot over the years. Davis’ ability to spin the ball gives him a lot of different potential paths he can take with it, but I would look for it to be a designated righty killer. Both a big sweeping breaking ball or a sharp bullet slider would work, and I would recommend initially going with the one Davis himself feels most comfortable with and one he’s able to command consistently.

I believe Davis is capable of being a good starter in the big leagues, and his evolution will provide insight into the Rockies’ own evolution (or lack thereof) when it comes to pitching philosophy. The righty came into the Rockies system from the Reds as a breaking ball-dominant hurler, but he’s clearly been steered into the direction of throwing a lot more fastballs.

This is, in my estimation, a mistake. Good big league pitchers aren’t generated via doing a lot of average things, but rather by embracing outlier skills and building upon them. For Davis, his fastball is not all that good, but his ability to spin the ball and kill spin on his changeup is. The end goal is clear here, in my opinion: a breaking ball-dominant starter who mainly throws sinkers, sliders and curveballs to righties, and cutters, changeups and curveballs to lefties.

There’s a lot of talk about in terms of the Rockies needing to add pitching depth and signing/trading for starters. But with the right game plan and some health, Noah Davis could very well be a quality member of the rotation for years to come.

★ ★ ★

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