Fantasy Baseball: How Worried Should You Be About Wade Davis?

The Cubs' new closer has not had a good spring. Is it cause for alarm?

This offseason, the Chicago Cubs bid goodbye to the closer that helped them win a World Seires (even if he did almost blow Game 7), Aroldis Chapman, perhaps the most dominant closer in baseball.

To replace him, the team traded young outfielder Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals for Wade Davis, who has been a pretty phenomenal ninth inning man himself over the last few seasons.

He earned his second straight All-Star nod last year with a 1.87 ERA, 2.29 FIP and 27 saves in 41.1 innings. Since becoming a full-time reliever in 2014, Davis has a 19-4 record and a 1.18 ERA (best among all qualified MLB relievers), averaging 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings while walking 2.9 batters per nine. His WHIP of 0.892 over the last three years is third-best in baseball, and his fWAR of 6.3 is fifth-best.

Only Kenley Jansen, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman and Dellin Betances have a higher WAR than Davis since 2014. In other words, he's pretty darn good.

Reasons to Be Concerned?

But last year, some warning signs emerged. He spent two different stints on the disabled list with a flexor strain in his right forearm, and there were concerns the 31-year-old might require a more serious surgery. However, he did put up a 2.79 ERA after returning to action last September, striking out 36.6% of batters he faced in his final 9.2 innings. His fastball velocity was also back at normal levels, averaging 95-96 miles per hour.

That September stat line gave Chicago the confidence to make the deal, but things have not gone swimmingly this spring. In 5 games (3.2 innings), he's given up 8 earned runs, 9 hits, 5 walks and 6 strikeouts with a 19.64 ERA and an opponent batting average against of .474. However, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Davis' shaky spring training (and the inherent small sample size) doesn't have him concerned.

“Velocity looks good. The break on the breaking ball looks good. He’s just not throwing the ball where he wants it. And this guy is normally the kind of pitcher that can dot it up really well. But everything else looks really good to me, (because) I had him back with the Rays and in spring training you always saw him throwing like 86, 87, 88 (mph). I’m seeing easy 94-95. I’m seeing sharp break on some breaking stuff. It’s just bad counts and bad command right now.”

Maddon referenced his time with Davis in Tampa, when Wade was a starting pitcher, through the 2011 season. He became a relief pitcher in 2012, and then went back to the starting rotation upon joining the Kansas City Royals in 2013. He's been strictly a reliever ever since, so let's take a look at his past spring performances since that switch in 2014.

2014 12.0 3.86 18 4 .227
2015 10.0 2.70 12 0 .300
2016 9.0 1.00 8 3 .133
2017 3.2 19.64 6 5 .474

Again, these are small sample sizes, but they do say one thing; that Davis has never struggled in the preseason like this since becoming a full-time relief pitcher.

Projecting a player's 2017 season based solely on his current and past spring numbers is generally folly. The velocity reports from Maddon indicate a pitcher who is just having trouble locating the baseball but still throwing hard and showing no ill effects from his injuries last year.

Does that mean you shouldn't be worried if you're a fantasy baseball owner shopping for a closer, though?

2017 Fantasy Outlook

FantasyPros' ADP has him as the ninth relief pitcher being taken off the board, and our projections have him as the sixth-best fantasy option among relievers, with an nF score of 3.30 off the strength of a 2.31 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and 39 saves.

Given his struggles, it would be wise to slide Davis down your list of upper-tier closers, but he's still worth drafting before moving on to the second tier, inhabited by players like Edwin Diaz, David Robertson and Craig Kimbrel.

His spring struggles are not a reason to avoid drafting him, but it might be a factor in waiting a little bit longer than normal.