Heading into the season, Wade Davis was a victim of a numbers game. The Rays had six starters with major league experience and only five spots in the rotation. Davis was the odd man out, and was sent to the bullpen as their long reliever.
Davis had projected as a middle of the rotation starter with the potential to occasionally dominate. In fact, his top comparisons for age 24 and 25, his two full seasons as a major league starter, are former Royal Dennis Leonard and Joe Blanton. However, in his new role in the bullpen, he has been the Rays second most valuable reliever, posting a WAR of 1.1, behind only Fernando Rodney.
Part of the transformation may be due to the increased velocity on his fastball. Last year, his fastball came in at an average of 92.19 MPH, as opposed to an average speed of 93.8 MPH this season. His command of his fastball has improved as well, with 30.88% of his fastballs being called a ball, compared to 32.1% in 2011.
Davis has also added a cutter to his arsenal. While he has not used it very often, having thrown a total of 42 cutters all season, it has generated a swing and a miss 19.05% of the time, ranking behind his seldom used slider. When the cutter has been thrown for a strike, it has been deadly, as 38.1% of swings against the pitch have been missed.
Aside from a stretch where he gave up five earned runs in 3.2 innings from June 21st through June 28th, Davis has appeared quite comfortable in his role in the bullpen. For the season, he is 1-0 with a 2.59 ERA. Through 48.2 innings, he has allowed only 38 hits. Even though his walk rate is up, having allowed 21 walks for an average of 3.9 walks per nine innings, his strikeout rate has skyrocketed, with 57 strikeouts for the season.
The lack of rotation room at the start of the season may ultimately be a positive for Wade Davis. With his newfound strikeout capabilities, it may be possible that the Rays have located a closer for the future. If nothing else, he has become one of the most valuable pieces of a dominant bullpen.