Doug Davis vs. the Top Lefties

Doug Davis vs. the Top Lefties

GM Josh Byrnes wanted a lefty. He wanted a starter. He got both on Saturday when the D'Backs traded Johnny Estrada, Greg Aquino and Claudio Vargas to the Brewers for Doug Davis and a pair of minor leaguers. But did he get the right lefty? FutureBacks.com matches Davis up against top lefties Dontrelle Willis, Barry Zito, Johann Santana, and Tom Glavine.

Was Doug Davis the right choice for the Diamondbacks?  Let's take a look at the numbers.  At FutureBacks.com we took Davis and matched him up with four other left handed pitchers.  Barry Zito and Tom Glavine are among the most recognizable names available on the free agent market, Dontrelle Willis is perpetually involved in trade rumors because the Florida Marlins are so cash strapped, and Johann Santana is not just the best lefty currently pitching, he's starting to make a case for being one of the greatest lefties of all time.  How does Davis match up?

The Obvious

2006 Santana Zito Willis Davis Glavine
Won-Lost 19-6 16-10 12-12 11-11 15-7
ERA 2.77 3.83 3.87 4.91 3.82
Age (On Opening Day 2007) 28 28 25 32 41

Again, Santana is here just to remind everyone that the best left handed option isn't available.  His numbers are, as they have been, stunning.  Davis' ERA is more than a full run higher than the other three, and he had the fewest wins.  He was also on, by far, the worst team, and even though he is truly a #2 starter because of the injury to Ben Sheets last year, he spent the majority of the season facing #1s.  At 32, Davis is older than Willis, Zito and Santana, but nearly a decade younger than Glavine, and should be entering his prime at 32 years old on opening day '07.  But those numbers are easy, and often misleading.  Let's dig a little deeper.

Durability

One of the keys to D'Backs GM Josh Byrnes' philosophy is clearly durability.  Byrnes likes innings eaters, that's why he locked up Brandon Webb long term and traded for Livan Hernandez

2006 Santana Zito Willis Davis Glavine
Innings Pitched 233.2 221.0 223.1 203.1 198.0
Innings Pitched Per Start 6.85 6.5 6.56 5.97 6.18

As will become a trend, Santana is tops, and tops by a long shot.  Zito trails Willis by a hair, and Glavine tops Davis by a bit.  Still, Davis' just a smidge (yes, that's a technical term) under six innings a start, and pitched over 200 innings, the magic number.  Looking at their performance over the last three years combined we see more of the same.  Again, Davis comes in behind the other four, and just under six innings per start, but again, he has averaged more than 200 innings pitched a year. 

2004-2006 Santana Zito Willis Davis Glavine
Innings Pitched 693.1 662.1 656.2 603.1 621.2
Innings Pitched Per Start 6.86 6.42 6.56 5.85 6.34

Ballpark Numbers

Chase Field is a hitter's park.  There are no two ways about it, the ball travels.  What does that mean?  It means keep the ball down, and keep it in the strike zone.  Clearly the home run numbers for each of these guys is going to vary (Zito and Willis have been pitching in the pitcher's paradises that are Oakland and Florida, while Santana and Davis have pitched in hitter's parks in Minnesota and Milwaukee), but the strikeout to walk ratio shouldn't be affected.

2006 Santana Zito Willis Davis Glavine
Strikeout/Walk 245/47 151/99 160/83 159/102 131/62
Home Runs Allowed 24 27 21 19 22

The good news here is that even in a hitter's park, Davis allowed the fewest home runs of any of these pitchers, the bad news is that no one walked as many hitters, and as Brandon Webb can attest (from Webb's 2005 season) when you walk opponents in Chase Field you get hurt.  The last three years combined show that Davis' lack of control is a fairly recent development.  Why?  FutureBacks.com had a hunch, and it too related to Webb's 2005.

2004-2006 Santana Zito Willis Davis Glavine
Strikeout/Walk 748/146 485/269 469/199 533/274 345/193
Home Runs Allowed 70 81 52 59 54

The Verdict

Is Doug Davis the best left handed starter available?  Probably not.  If the D'Backs could have landed Dontrelle, it would have been better from an age standpoint, but far more costly when it came to contract time, not to mention what the D'Backs would have had to give up in a trade to get him.  Glavine might have been a good choice if you were willing to give a multiyear contract to a guy who probably only has one year left.  As for Zito, though he will likely earn the biggest free agent contract of any pitcher not named Roger Clemens this offseason, his inconsistency both in and out of the strike zone doesn't bode well, and one has to wonder what his home run numbers would have been like if he hadn't been playing in the vast expanse of the Oakland Coliseum.

Good work Mr. Byrnes, now lock him up for four more years.

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