San Diego Padres: Zach Davies has my whole heart

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) /

In a year filled with breakouts, Zach Davies was one of the most underrated pitchers in the National League.

As we enter into the oh-so-glorious month of December, it’s customary to start reflecting on the many highlights of the year. End-of-year lists — whether it be movies, TV, music, video games, or even memes — are as abundant as the holiday special offers for items you probably don’t need but will desperately seek because, well, Christmas! It’s also a time to be grateful for the small things, and this year one of those things is sir Zach Davies of the San Diego Padres.

The term “underrated” gets thrown around far too often for my liking, as it’s meaning can be stretched out to fit any number of scenarios. Does a movie qualify as underrated just because it received a 7/10 score but you believe it actually deserved an 8/10? Is underrated just in reference to attention? Does it mean…actually, let me stop here before I bore you with semantics. Bottom line: I genuinely think we use the term too often.

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But with all that said, I’m going to be using the term anyway; I’m nothing if not an insufferable hypocrite. Zach Davies was perhaps the most underrated pitchers in all of the National League — heck, maybe even in the majors — in 2020. He finished the season with a 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 63 K’s across 69.1 innings pitched (the most of any 2020 Padres starter); not too bad for a guy that was projected to be the team’s 5th starter in the rotation (that’s right, even behind Joey Lucchesi! Remember him?) But while the numbers were excellent in a vacuum excellent, it was all the other extenuating circumstances surrounding Davies’ 2020 performance that made it all the more sweeter.

The most obvious was just the fact that he did all this at the perfect time: the Padres had finally had a great team that made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. It needs to be emphasized just how much credit Davies deserves for that. After all, the rocky sophomore season from the team’s 2019 ace, Chris Paddack, was by itself a major reason for why Davies needed to step up. A guy with a grand total of 102 strikeouts in 2019 (a K/9 of just 5.7) with the Brewers, and a velocity that tops out around 88 MPH, isn’t what you would’ve expected.

That’s what I love so much about Davies. By and large, when you think of professional athletes, he hardly has the body, or look, you’d typically associate with it. You’d sooner believe Davies to be the next actor to portray Peter Parker on the big screen — pre-spider bite and getting shoved into lockers by Flash Thompson — before you’d expect him to be a borderline ace on a playoff team in Major League Baseball.

But there he was, all season long, throwing that devastating change-up and 87 MPH sinker that suckered countless numbers of opposing batters into silly ground outs — each one accompanied by a walk of shame to first base surely thinking, “I can’t believe I keep falling for that same trick.” It was beautiful.

Adding to his legend, Davies was also able to smite the foulest of villains this baseball world had to offer. Perhaps the most underrated singular moment of Davies’ underrated season came way back in mid-August when the Padres had successfully purchased the state of Texas. In the second game of the series against the Astros, Davies was able to go a full 8 innings en route to a 13-2 Padres victory. Sure, the offense was the story of the game, but the timeliness — with the Padres bullpen being struggling and being almost entirely used up — can’t be stressed enough. It was the first time a starter had gone that deep into a game; yes, even the mighty Dinelson Lamet had not achieved the feat.

I racked my brain a bunch trying to think of a more underrated pitcher as valuable, and unexpected, as Davies from this season. Kenta Maeda? He was projected to be one of the top guys for the Twins, so I wouldn’t say he fits the “unexpected” billing. Dallas Keuchel? Maybe, but he’s literally a Cy Young winner (back in 2015), so counting him out is a fool’s mistake.  Devin Williams? Well, he was literally nominated for Rookie of the Year honors. J.A. Happ? I mean, we’re really scratching the bottom of the barrel here. I guess you could say Zac Gallen, especially since there were a total of, maybe, three people that had a conversation about the Diamondbacks this season.

But you get my point: Zach Davies was a welcome oddball to the Padres staff. While it’s certainly possible that he played over his head, and guys like Tatis, Machado, Grisham, and fellow 2020 breakout Jake Cronenworth provided some welcome security blankets for the groundball pitcher thanks to their defensive prowess. You could also say that his propensity for relying on locating his sinker at the same part of the plate will come back to bite him in a full season, and that he’s simply a gimmick that will soon be figured out. It’s all fair criticism, and I, too, believe it may be the case for 2021.

Despite all of that, we must appreciate and respect the 2020 Davies did deliver for us. In a year littered with much sadness and anger, the Padres were one of the few things that warmed my heart and Davies deserves plenty of credit for that. Tatis is a young god, but let us not lose sight of the smaller, more delicate, and more unexpected pleasantries of a Zach Davies. I think it’s only right we give a tribute to a more overlooked player from our favorite squad; it’s a different outlook on the holiday, one might say.

This holiday season, let’s remember the small things and appreciate that, in the words of Vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron (bad movie, I know, but stick with me), something isn’t beautiful because it lasts. Instead, we appreciate what we have in the first place and hope for the best. Heck, maybe we’ll look back on this one year and enjoy the nostalgia fuel that’s garnered from it. How this article ended up getting overtly sentimental towards the end is something else entirely odd, too, but I suspect that’s only appropriate for what was truly an unconventional — but absolutely lovely — 2020 season for a Padres pitcher.

Next. Padres: A look at a recent trade proposal with the Reds. dark