The Milwaukee Brewers just signed Doug Davis to a one year deal worth $4.25 million, with a mutual option for 2011 for $6.5 million. No matter how you look at it, the Brewers were going to sign at least one more pitcher this offseason. In Davis, the Brewers are getting another option in what was once a depleted rotation.
It's hard to be disappointed in the contract considering the length and money involved. While Davis is not an ace by any standards, he has proven to be a usable pitcher in the major leagues.
This will be Davis' second stint as a Milwaukee Brewer. Davis pitched in Milwaukee from 2003-2006, before being traded to Arizona as part of the Johnny Estrada deal. Over his career, Davis has racked up a respectable 6.7 K/9. The one thing that has always hindered Doug has been walks. Last season, Davis walked an incredible 103 batters which lead MLB. Davis' constant stubbornness to give into batters has lead to a career average of 4.1 BB/9.
Despite high walk totals, Davis has been able to keep a relatively low ERA. While in Arizona, Davis posted ERA's of 4.25, 4.32 and 4.12. Those number need to be taken with a grain of salt considering he played in the light hitting NL West. Looking at those numbers closer, Davis' advanced stats aren't as pretty. His FIPs (Fielding Independent Pitching) for those same seasons were 4.72, 4.15 and 4.84. Davis' walks lead to a high number of baserunners. In those same seasons, Davis posted WHIP's of 1.59, 1.53 and 1.5, which is much higher than the MLB average of 1.41. So how was Davis able to post decent ERA's? Well, he stranded runners. A lot of runners. On average for those three seasons when a runner reached base, he was left there 74.8% of the time (MLB average is 71%). While a 4% might not seem like a big deal, it can be the difference of a good and bad ERA.
While his years in Arizona weren't bad, Davis' prime occurred in a Brewers uniform. After being a waiver claim in 2003, Davis went onto pitch very effectively in Milwaukee. In his three full seasons as a Brewer, Davis posted ERA's of 3.39, 3.84 and 4.94. While his last season in Milwaukee was unspectacular, Davis' first two were a great surprise. In those first two seasons, Davis racked up 430 innings. Davis struck out 377 batters and walked 172 in that same time frame, posting a very solid K/BB ratio.
The real question that needs to be answered is what are the Brewers getting in Davis? I think the real answer falls somewhere in between what he was in Milwaukee and Arizona. While another 200+ strikeout season would be nice, it's tough to expect that out of Davis. The walks are going to be there, but Davis needs to limit them to be effective. While I hate the term "innings eater," that is exactly what Davis is. He has consistently posted 200+ innings throughout his career. Even in 2008, when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, he was still able to log 146 innings. While both Davis and Jeff Suppan can eat innings, Davis has the ability to give quality innings, while Suppan cannot. Considering how overworked the Brewers bullpen was last season, Davis' durability should be a huge addition.
Looking at next years projections, Davis is not very highly regarded. Bill James projects Davis to post a 4.46 ERA in just over 200 innings, while CHONE has him at a 4.69 ERA in 167 innings. While those are certainly not the numbers the Brewers are looking for, it would still be an upgrade over last year's staff.
Looking at the rotation now, the Brewers are loaded with depth. Still in the running for the rotation are Davis, Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Dave Bush, Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and Chris Narveson. The question now becomes, who are the odd men out? Davis, Gallardo and Wolf are all locks, so the final two spots will be distributed between the others. While Narveson impressed at the end of last season, he is unlikely to start the year in the rotation. When asked who would start in the rotation, I absolutely loved Doug Melvin's answer. "Players help us make those decisions." Judging by that response, I would guess the last player out will be determined in spring training. It will be important to see who is left out considering how wide open the NL Central is this year. Sure Suppan is in the final year of his contract, but starting him over Bush/Parra could be a huge mistake. In a year like this, a huge mistake could be very costly.