Padres: Zach Davies tweak to pitch usage leading to more success

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 12: Zach Davies #17 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 12: Zach Davies #17 of the San Diego Padres pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning at Dodger Stadium on August 12, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Zach Davies was acquired in the offseason, and a tweak to his pitch usage has paid dividends for the Padres thus far.

On Wednesday, the Padres offense was stymied by Dodgers starting pitcher Tony Gonsolin, who struck out eight over 4.2 innings. The team’s fifth-best prospect – according to MLB Pipeline – made his second spot start of the year, and the Padres had no answers for him, although a questionable strike zone aided him.

Padres starter Zach Davies went seven innings, allowing two earned runs while fanning five batters on 87 pitches. And then Craig Stammen came in to officially put the game out of reach, allowing four runs over the final two innings. Stammen is another story on his own, but Davies, by no means, deserved to lose that game.

He’s made a small tweak to his pitch usage in 2020, which has sent his game to another level. Looking back at last season, Davies threw his sinker fastball 52.6 percent of the time, followed by his changeup at 31.3 percent and cutter at 11.8 percent. I love watching Davies pitch because he doesn’t have blazing fastball velocity, but utilizes deception and offspeed pitches to earn his outs. He truly is a masterful pitcher.

Davies posted a 4.26 ERA at the hitter-friendly Miller Park in 2019 and a 2.94 ERA on the road, and the latter is more of the pitcher that we’ve seen through his first several starts. But as noted, Davies’s primary pitch yielded a .291 average against with 13 of his 20 home runs allowed coming off his sinker fastball.

Flash forward to 2020, and Davies is relying heavily on his changeup, and not his sinker, with a 37.9 percent and 33.6 percent usage, respectively. As such, he’s allowing a .200 average and 32.7 whiff rate off his changeup while his sinker fastball has yielded a much-improved .167 average. He’s just so talented at finding his location with most of his pitches falling just below the zone, so guys are swinging right over the top of it.

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He’s also dramatically decreased the usage of his curveball this season, which produced a .429 batting average on 95 pitches last year. Davies has tossed just six curveballs this season, and the primary three-pitch mix of changeup, sinker, and cutter appears to be working for him. In last night’s start, the 27-year-old utilized his changeup 48 percent of the time.

Davies reminds me so much of Kyle Hendricks, in that they both utilize offspeed and deception. For the sake of comparison, Davies’ changeup has 0.9 more inches of break – or seven percent more – than the league average.

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Hendricks’s changeup is yielding a .200 average and displays 0.9 fewer inches – or eight percent less – than the league average. So statistically speaking, Davies’ changeup is better than Hendricks right now.

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