Milwaukee Brewers Should Audition Zach Davies for 5th Starter
After Kyle Lohse was relegated to the bullpen in the beginning of August, the Milwaukee Brewers gave 26 year old Tyler Cravy the first crack at the fifth starter role in the major league rotation. Cravy wowed fans in his June 2nd MLB debut, pitching 7.0 innings of four hit, one run ball against the Cardinals, but he failed to deliver a quality start in three August appearances. He was placed on the DL after giving up seven runs in 2.2 innings in his last start, and Adam McCalvy reported yesterday that Cravy and his 6.67 ERA/7.25 DRA will join the bullpen after he is reactivated (he’s eligible to rejoin the team on September 3rd).
The Brewers are currently taking advantage of a string off of days in the schedule by employing a four man rotation, and won’t need to schedule a fifth starter until September 5th. With September comes expanded rosters, meaning the Brewers will be able to add more options to their stable of pitchers than the uninspiring Tyler Thornburg. With three open slots on the 40 man roster to add prospects to the fold, now could be an opportune time for the Brewers to give RHP Zach Davies a chance to show what he can do in the big leagues.
The Brewers acquired the 22 year old Davies this season in a deadline deal with Baltimore. A former 26th round pick in 2012, Davies has never made head turns with his underwhelming size (6 foot, 160 lbs) and lack of plus velocity, but it’s hard to argue with his bottom line results. Zach has never posted an ERA above 4.00 in four minor league seasons, displays above average control (2.9 career BB/9, 55 grade control on 20-80 scale), and has been a ground ballin’ machine (~53% GB rate since 2013) during his minor league career.
With a projected future value of 50 according to Fangraphs, it’s unlikely Davies ever develops into much more than a fourth or fifth starter at the major league level. What the Brewers’ 11th ranked prospect lacks upside, he makes up for with having a high floor (risk rating of just 2) and being Milwaukee’s most polished pitching prospect at the minor league’s highest level. The righty offers a bit of a different look than the rest of the Brewers’ mostly sinker/slider rotation; he features a plus changeup as his best pitch mixed with a fastball and curveball and throws a touch softer than Milwaukee’s current quartet. He still manages to generate a solid amount of swings and misses (7.8 career K/9), however, and uses his pinpoint control to generate weak contact to the tune of just a 16.8% line drive rate against this season.
Davies missed some time last season with right shoulder tendinitis, but he has been otherwise durable throughout his career and has pitched at least 110 innings in each of his seasons as a professional. Health will be a key factor for Davies. whose undersized frame isn’t ideal for holding up through the wear and tear of a full season of 30+ starts. The Brewers’ award-winning medical staff apparently didn’t have significant concerns, and the team’s analytics department lobbied heavily for his addition, according to outgoing GM Doug Melvin.
Davies has seen some struggles since joining the Sky Sox, but there is no doubt the rare air of Colorado Springs has been playing an effect. He’s generating more ground balls and less line drives since the trade, but he’s seen a marked increase in his BABIP against and his home runs against. While this doesn’t explain the rise in walk rates, the fact that is less than a month’s worth of sample size should be little cause for alarm long term. All told, Davies has a 3.24 ERA in 122.1 innings pitched in AAA this season, a mark that is 1.14 runs better than PCL average. Pretty good results despite being nearly five years younger than league average, no? Davies’ KATOH projections peg his WAR at a strong 5.8 wins through his age 28 season and offers the likes of Wade Miller, Scott Baker, and John Lackey as a few of his closest comps.
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The Brewers have a history of using the last month of the season as a testing ground for young starters that are MLB ready. Wily Peralta made his first five career starts in September of 2012, allowing seven earned runs in 28.0 innings and locking down a spot in the rotation for 2013. After his stretch of strong starts to end 2013, Tyler Thornburg would’ve earned his spot in the 2014 rotation if not for the Matt Garza signing. Mike Fiers replaced an injured Garza in the rotation last year, pitching brilliantly down the stretch and earning himself a slot in the 2015 starting five.
With little left to prove in the minor leagues, the only thing that would really hold Davies back at this point would be service time considerations. Milwaukee could try and shoot for a near extra year of control if they wait until mid-April next season to call him up (assuming he sticks at the major league level), or could try and stave off Super 2 qualifications by waiting longer. If they do call him up in September and he struggles, they could always just start him at AAA next season and wait a few months to give him another shot in the rotation, thereby negating some of those service time concerns.
If he can stay healthy, there seems to be little stopping Zach Davies from becoming something close to a league average starter at the major league level. He’s proven himself at every level of the minor leagues, has above average command of his three pitch mix, and his above average ground ball rates should help him when pitching at a hitter’s stadium like Miller Park. Davies has the potential to be an anchor at the back end of Brewers rotations for the next several years, and for a team that’s rebuilding and has a history of giving young starters a look in September, it could soon be the perfect time to give Zach Davies his first taste of the major leagues.