One of the big questions for the Royals this off season is what to do with Kyle Davies. The options include arbitration, release, or signing a contract before an arbitration hearing takes place. And if you look at this from a performance standpoint the chips don’t look good for Kyle. The argument against bringing Davies back is condemning. He’s had a rough year, he’s never lived up to expectations, he wouldn’t be worth the raise he’ll get in arbitration, and he’s too inconsistent. These are all valid points. However, I still see a great deal of potential in Kyle Davies and feel that it would be a great for the Royals to bring him back and put him into the rotation.
There is, as always, a caveat. Davies must make a few small tweaks in his delivery which will truly allow him to reach his full potential. The more I think about it, the more I believe that the Royals coaching staff allows you to do whatever you want once you make it to the Major Leagues. Rather than saying this is what you need to do and here is where you have to improve, they say, show me what you’ve got and we’ll see if you stick here. Now, we know this isn’t true in the case of the position players as they are given specifics. But perhaps on the pitching side of things, it is.
Kyle Davies was pitching with the Atlanta Braves when he was 21 years old. Drafted out of high school in Georgia, Davies moved very quickly through the system and had some immediate success. However, his career path took a turn when he was traded to Kansas City for journey man reliever Octavio Dotel. Did the Royals win this trade? You bet! Chalk one up for Dayton Moore. Now, if we can get this hard throwing right hander going like he is capable.
Davies throws hard. Last night against the Rangers he hit 97 mph and kept his velocity at 95 in the eighth and ninth innings. This is quite impressive and is one thing that you cannot teach a pitcher. Kyle complements his hard fastball with a cut fastball, 12-6 curve, change up, and a 2 seam fastball that has a little sink and arm side run to it. This is the first reason I believe Davies is not anywhere near his potential. He has good stuff with bad results.
Davies has exemplified moments of brilliance in his six year career. There are times when Kyle is just unhittable. In April, Davies spun a no-no through 5 against the Mariners. Of course the fabled Ichiro ended that with a single.
Davies has a pitchers body. He is big, strong, and seems to be in good physical condition as he keeps his velocity up in the mid-90s high into his pitch counts. He has a competitive mentality. Kyle wants to be successful and at this point in his career, is probably starting to get “hungry” which is an intriguing circumstance. The Royals can go to arbitration and say, he hasn’t been good, he is inconsistent, he walks lefties much more than righties, lefties give him problems with their bats, and so on and so forth. And I hope they do because they can give him some fuel for his competitive fire. This can be a challenge for Davies. This can be a moment in a man’s life when he rises to the occasion and says this is how it’s going to be! He can do something masculine here. Kyle can be the guy in the Old Spice commercial washing off dirt, construction equipment, and other manly items.
But here is the thing. The Royals must give Davies the platform to be successful. And for Kyle Davies to be successful, he must make a mechanical change. You’ve often heard me complain that the Royals pitchers don’t throw downhill. Kyle is a prime example. The purpose of the 10-inch mound that a pitcher throws off of is to give him a chance to build more momentum as he works down the slope. If the mound were higher, you would have even more ridiculous pitching success. If the mound was lower, it would be a hitter dominated league. There is an interesting history to raising and lowering the mound, and we might discuss it sometime but not today. If a pitcher is properly using the mound, his hips will be moving parallel with the mound. It’s a simple thing. The slope of the mound is one inch per foot. But if you watch Davies throw, his hips are actually moving straight toward home plate on a plane that is level, not slightly downhill as the parallel plane of the mound. And it is interesting as you would think a pitcher would have to throw downhill if he was doing this, but in essence, you have a drop and drive pitcher getting low enough that the ball comes out on almost the same plane it will cross the plate. Thus making Kyle’s fastball flat and straight. Why do you think Dave Duncan has so much success in Saint Louis? Because his pitchers throw downhill. What about Leo Mazzone with the Braves? His pitchers threw downhill. And why isn’t Kyle Davies having success in Kansas City? In part to this very thing.
Let me explain the effects of throwing downhill. The ball usually ends up lower in the zone which produces a lot more ground outs and weaker contact. This is due to how a batter sees the ball. It is harder to hit a ball going down than a ball staying flat. And if a ball is going down toward the height of my shins, I will have a propensity to hit it into the ground whereas the ball at my belt will be easily lifted. A pitcher will also be able to apply a little more force on a baseball. This makes the ball move more and also gives a pitcher a little more accuracy. I’m not sure why it works as I haven’t delved into these physics, but you always have more accuracy when you throw down the hill. And what would happen for Kyle if he didn’t walk a batter every 2 innings in his career? Fewer runners equals more success. Of course, nothing is concrete in these theories. It’s all based on potential and probability.
The biggest thing throwing downhill would do for Kyle Davies is increase the effectiveness of his off speed pitches. His curve is already sharp, but can you image if he had a better idea of where it was going and it came out of his hand with a tighter spin? He would have a renewed confidence in this pitch and would use it more effectively. I don’t know if Kyle would throw it more, but when he threw it, the pitch would do its job more frequently. Davies change up stays in a hitter’s zone because it often only moves on a single plain and that is side to side. For the change to be successful, it has to move down. And if he threw it downhill with downward movement, it would sink a little more. A hitter would say the ball seemed to disappear as he swung. But really, the ball had less velocity with a downhill plane allowing it to sink just a little more. It didn’t really disappear. The ball just ended up lower than a hitter was anticipating causing him to lunge and not be able to reach the ball.
Now, if you make this mechanical change, give Davies a little fuel with a challenge behind it, and show some loyalty of what you think he can do it, he will come to Spring Training a new pitcher. And if you combine this with his mid 90s fastball, good two-seamer, already decent cutter, 12-6 curve, and a change that has the right speed variation, Kyle Davies is primed for a breakout 2011 season in the Kansas City rotation. And who knows, with Meche in the pen and Hochevar unstable, he could become our number two pitcher. Does he have number two type potential? Realistically I think he could be a solid number 3 for KC in the AL Central. Davies is turning 27 and has the prime of his pitching career still in front of him, but I’ll use a Dayton Moore quote as your answer. “I never want to put a limit on what a player can do.”