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The legend of Wade Davis

Wade Davis is making himself into a legend.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I’m going back out because I want to go to the World Series. - Wade Davis

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Baseball is a grind, and anybody who says otherwise is a liar or does not understand. The regular season begins in April and ends at the end of September, spanning 162 games in about 183 days depending on the schedule for the year. Teams that make the postseason play up to 20 games in another 30 days, and regardless of postseason berths each team will play an additional 31 spring training games in February and March.

Things in baseball are viewed in a long-term light because it is simply necessary. A marathon runner cannot sprint out of the gate lest he be easily passed in the middle of the race. A pitcher cannot throw 160 pitches in a start if he expects his arm to hold up for the next month, let alone a lengthy career. Statistics take time to for the sample sizes to settle, and production or lack thereof can as easily be a mirage as reality.

It is this precise reason why postseason baseball is so joyously exciting. It is the only time in baseball where winning takes complete control over long-term concerns. Win, or leave the dance. The pressure mounts exponentially.

And it is in this environment where heroes are truly made. The magnified existence of each contest, each at bat, each pitch creates the only place where transcendence can be found in baseball. It is a harbor where predictive stats are almost meaningless and one swing of the bat can mean happiness or grief to millions.

To those in Kansas City, Wade Davis has always been something more than just another guy. His story is a great one, the kind that involves professional redemption and personal tragedy. But this Friday night is turning Davis into something else entirely: a legend, the kind only born in the postseason.

Wade Davis deserves to be a legend.


Dude's a savage. - Danny Duffy

There have been an awful lot of bizarre things that have happened in Kansas City sports. One of the weird things happened in 1996, when the new professional soccer team was called the 'Wiz,' a word that is more suggestive of fake cheese and terrible ideas than magic, soccer, or a responsible naming process. They extended their name to the Wizards the following year, fortunately fixing their mistake but unfortunately still gladly participating in a culture that valued teal and purple squiggles as a legitimate fashion statement.

Equally as bizarre has been the Kansas City Royals' uncanny ability to field star closers, sometimes even as the rest of the roster rotted away with the stench of dirt and shattered dreams. It began with Joakim Soria, plucked by General Manager Dayton Moore out of the San Diego Padres through the Rule 5 draft. Soria's function on the team was the same function as a decadent cheesecake after three courses of cold, day-old tacos from the school cafeteria; the best Royals team under Soria's reign as closer won 75 games. Still, Soria performed impeccably. Possessing an unusually full arsenal of pitches for a reliever due to his previous life as a starter in the minor leagues, Soria implemented his fastball, slider, changeup, and curveball to surgically remove hitters from the plate.

And oh, that curveball.


Soria would undergo his second Tommy John surgery in 2012. He accumulated 160 saves with the Royals, good for third all-time behind Jeff Montgomery and Dan Quisenberry. Afterwards, he pitched for the Texas Rangers, Detroit Tigers (as evidenced above), and the Pittsburgh Pirates. He is now a free agent.

Without their preeminent closer, the Royals wandered through the Jonathan Broxton Desert for half a season before stumbling across yet another elite reliever: Greg Holland.

Holland was the 306th overall pick in the 2007 draft. One of Moore's own, Holland rose quickly through the minors as a reliever. He spent part of 2010 and 2011 with the club, but made his mark in 2012 after he took up Broxton's role as closer. And there he stayed.

Holland was Daniel Craig to Soria's Pierce Brosnan. Soria was sleek, efficient, and cunning in his usage of his pitch arsenal. Holland instead used pure, nasty force to dominate. His fastball averaged 95.5 MPH, and his hard-breaking slider was often equal parts perfectly located and utterly unhittable.

Holland gif

For two years, Holland was the best pitcher in Major League Baseball. His Earned Run Average was a league-leading 1.32 from 2013-2014. By Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), a statistic which focuses on what the pitcher can control himself set to the ERA scale, Holland possessed a league-leading 1.59. Batters helplessly flailed against Holland, looking like professional ballplayers even less than Grandma Jane looks like a professional League of Legends player. Greg Holland's strikeouts questioned the existence of physics itself.

But as Soria before him, Holland would not last. Holland succeeded through fastball velocity and a high slider usage, both of which can contribute to Tommy John surgery. And so it went. This year Holland saved 32 games, but suffered through velocity drops and intermittent periods of injury. It turns out that his elbow tore at the end of last season. Holland decided to try and work through it. He could not put off the Elbow Reaper forever, though, and went under the knife as this season came to a close.

Holland won the first Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year award last year. But some joked that it should have been the Wade Davis American League Reliever of the Year award. Supplementing Holland in one of the most (if not the most) deadly closing due in history was Davis, who had a phenomenal year. Davis' legend began in Kansas City that year.


I don't know. I haven't seen him bleed yet. - Dave Eiland, on if Wade Davis is human

In December 2012, the Royals and the Tampa Bay Rays pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade. The Royals sent top prospect Wil Myers, as well as other prospects Jake Odorizzi, Mike Montgomery, and Patrick Leonard and in return received ace James Shields, starter Wade Davis, and utility man Elliott Johnson. The big pieces were Myers and Shields, for good reason. Myers was ranked as the fourth best prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2012, and Shields just had his sixth consecutive 200 inning, top-of-the-rotation season.

But it was Davis who intrigued the most. Davis was a starter in the minors and for the Rays in 2010 and 2011, but had been shifted to the bullpen in 2012. To many, Davis was the guy that could make or break the trade...

...from Craig Brown here at Royals Review,

Davis hasn't come close to meeting expectations he set in the minors, but given his performance coming out of the bullpen, he's a low risk guy with some upside. The best case scenario: He finds his place in the rotation. Probably in the back end, but he can be a guy who can give you some solid innings and a half-decent chance to win every time he starts. Worst case: He flames out as as starter, costs the Royals some wins and heads back to the bullpen to work behind Kelvim Herrera, Aaron Crow and Greg Holland.

To me, Davis is the key to this deal. With five years remaning at $32.6 million, Davis has a strong chance to repay his deal. He's just going to need to be worth around 1 fWAR for each of his five seasons to match the investment. The catch: In his two full seasons as a starter, he totaled just 1.5 fWAR. I'm assuming the Royals, with an already strong pen, will shift Davis back to the rotation. If he doesn't pan out in the rotation, the Royals are on the hook for $10.1 million and they can let him go when he becomes prohibitively expensive prior to 2015.

to Rany Jazayerli at Grantland,

Wade Davis, the other pitcher the Royals acquired, may also help their rotation in 2013, which says more about the state of their rotation than about him...

It’s unlikely that this trade will work out for the Royals, but if it does, Davis — not Shields — will be the key to the trade.

to Buster Olney at ESPN.

Davis then spoke with Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore, who told him flatly that the Royals acquired him to be part of their rotation -- a role that Davis once had with the Rays, and something that he wants again. "I've been champing at the bit to step back into starting," said Davis.

He is the real wild card in this trade. James Shields has a long-established resume as a frontline starter and Wil Myers, the centerpiece of the deal for Tampa Bay, is widely regarded as an elite prospect. If Davis ascends into a quality starter, as a complement to Shields and Jeremy Guthrie, the Royals' rotation will look very different, in a division in which lineups are generally weaker than in the AL East.

The consensus was that if Davis could become a valuable rotation piece, then the trade would shift significantly in the Royals' favor. Getting Shields for two years and a valuable starter for another five was a good return.

This did not happen. Davis failed as a starter in 2013.  It did not matter.


He's Wade effing Davis, man. - Kris Medlen

If Chris Young was built by people who hate baseball, Wade Davis was purpose-built to be as terrifying as humanly possible. Standing at 6' 5", Davis is an imposing force on the mound. He shows no emotion and throws his pitches fearlessly and powerfully. After an inning-ending strikeout, Davis will often stare at his shoes with the same range of emotion that R2-D2 shows on his dome in the Star Wars films. Wade Davis has already found Waldo, and was not amused or impressed.

As a starter, Davis failed because he did not have an acceptable changeup, meaning that he could not put away left-handed hitters, and he did not have a true strikeout pitch. As a reliever, Davis' entire approach changed. The changeup was unnecessary, and his increased fastball velocity allowed him to place hitters on the defensive.

Then, Davis developed a cutter, perhaps the best in the Majors. Mariano Rivera threw a cutter, and that was basically his entire career. It's a good pitch: it can be thrown hard, and a good one can have a sharp break on it. Davis made it his own.

Davis cutter

Davis' cutter is unreal. As can be seen in the GIF above, it has late-breaking movement. But Davis has two additional things in his favor: he throws it with extreme velocity, and the movement is severe. Cutters are thrown all the time, but cutters that are thrown as hard and as moving as Davis are like a Salvador Perez walk: equal parts rare and astounding.

Add to that cutter an impeccably located, 95 MPH fastball and a slower, biting curveball and you've got an arsenal that violates international weapons treaties.

Being a musician or athlete is difficult, because there is always somebody better than you. Some freak from Hays, Kansas has perfect pitch and can learn instruments more quickly than Terrance Gore can run to second base, or some suburban kid from Gladstone, Missouri sits in his parents' basement playing clarinet for five hours more per day than anybody else has time or effort to practice. Maybe you're a star football player from high school, a fantastic athlete, and you go to a Division I school and get bumped from the team because there are others who are slightly stronger and faster.

Maybe you're Eric Hosmer, and then there's Albert Pujols and Joey Votto. Maybe you're Yordano Ventura, and then there are Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Maybe you're even Lorenzo Cain, and then there are Mike Trout and Josh Donaldson. There are individuals better than you at every rung of the ladder you ascend. Cain is better than tens of thousands of baseball players in their 20s, and even Cain isn't the best outfielder in baseball.

Soria, the best reliever seen in Kansas City decades, was surpassed by Holland within a few years. And yet, Davis is better than both of them. Davis combines Holland's firepower and Soria's penchant for baseball surgery.

The guy better than Davis is...well, no one.

Davis ought to be a legend. He's never been the closer for an entire year, and so hasn't received the accompanying accolades. But he deserves them. Out of all relievers in the history of recorded baseball with at least 200 innings pitched, Wade Davis has the lowest ERA. Davis is fourth in FIP--but is behind three pitchers, Craig Kembrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen, who have pitched their entire careers in the offensively inferior National League. A legitimate case can be made for Wade Davis, best reliever of all time. Davis was indeed the key to the Myers/Shields trade, but in a way that nobody expected.


I’m going back out because I want to go to the World Series. - Wade Davis

On Friday night, Royals' manager Ned Yost almost bumbled away the game. Yost elected to put in Ryan Madson into the game in the eighth inning with a two-run lead. Davis was available and warm. Ben Revere led off with a single. Yost declined to put in Davis. Jose Bautista hit a game-tying two-run home run. Yost declined to put in Davis. Madson then walked Edwin Encarnacion. It was then, with one man on and one out with the game tied, that Yost decided to send Davis to clean up Madson's mess. Davis did so easily.

Then the rain came. The top of the ninth came one hour later. Pitchers usually do not stay in the game, especially relievers, after such a lengthy delay.

Davis did. He wanted to go to the World Series.

Ahead one run in the top of the ninth, Russel Martin hit a luck blessed bloop for a single. Dalton Pompey pinch-ran for Martin, and then stole second and third base. Kevin Pillar walked, then stole second base. With two men in scoring position and no outs, Davis struck out Dioner Navarro and Ben Revere. Finally, Davis induced an easy ground ball from Josh Donaldson to end the game.

At its core, baseball is about players, about humans. While the human element often interferes in proper statistical analysis, the games that we play as a culture would be meaningless without people. What Davis did on Friday was incredible. It was an amazing display by a man who is better at his job than any of us will be at anything.

The Legend of Wade Davis should continue, especially if the Royals win the World Series. Even if they don't, Davis' performance as a Royal will never be forgotten.